Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Can Wrestling Get up off the Mat?

The International Olympic Committee has announced its intentions to drop wrestling after the 2016 Rio Games. Although the decision is not final, the prospect is likely of dumping a core Olympic sport from the Summer Games . The IOC can be questioned for the wisdom of such a move, but the decision also shines a spotlight on what various organizing bodies are doing to promote and protect the sport. According to a story appearing on ESPN.com, wrestling was not the only sport considered for elimination (modern pentathlon  and field hockey were other possibilities), but lobbying efforts on the behalf of those sports protected their interests. Wrestling was not so fortunate.

The IOC's recommendation clouds the future of the sport of wrestling. In the book The Elusive Fan, one segment of the sports industry is identified as sports that are in decline. Wrestling seems to fit that description - many colleges have eliminated wrestling programs because of financial reasons or to aid in compliance with Title IX regulations, TV ratings during the Olympics have been low, and the sport is largely without any star power. Can wrestling get up off the mat, or will it continue a gradual decline?

In Chapter 2 of Sports Marketing, five different paths to sports fan identification are identified:
  1. Participation (Especially youth involvement in grassroots programs)
  2. Community (Desire to be part of a group of people with shared interests)
  3. Socialization (Sport serves as social interaction point with friends or others)
  4. Family
  5. Star power
 Which of these paths hold the greatest promise for wrestling to attract more interest and ultimately, fans? Or, do you see wrestling as a lost cause, a sport whose fate of slow decline has been sealed?

While wrestling may not deliver the same numbers in TV ratings and overall interest as track and field and gymnastics, it is part of the tradition of the Olympic brand. Is it possible that a groundswell of support could be built globally via social media to influence the IOC that it should not eliminate wrestling? That question assumes that there is enough discontent with the proposed elimination of wrestling for people to take up the cause.

American Public Media - "Down for the Count: Olympics Drop Wrestling"

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