This thread is along the lines of a post I made on letsrun a few weeks back after watching the Millrose Games on the thread titled “Why is track and field losing the TV war?”
Personally, I think a large part of it also has to do with the way races are run; one or two rabbits out front with a long single line chasing an arbitrary time. I am a huge track fan, I go to multiple professional meets every year and dozens of college races, but even I find it incredibly uninteresting. In most rabbited races, there is no passing, no tactics, no RACING for the majority of the race. Everyone just lines up and runs perfectly even splits until the pacer steps off. I know everyone is quick to blame the commentary, and I’ll be the first to admit it is pretty horrendous, but it’s not easy to talk for 13 minutes about a race where literally nothing is happening.
People on here often refer to the “casual fan” of track and field, which some argue doesn’t exist as far as watching meets go. I’ll go with the example of my parents. Both more knowledgeable about professional track than the average person, both can name probably 15-20 runners and know the backstory of 5 or so. They enjoy watching track when it’s on, but don’t seek it out, so if they come across it on tv on a weekend, they will watch it for a bit to see if they know anyone or if the races are exciting. With Millrose this past weekend, they loved the close races between Centro/Willis and Sowinski/Andrews. Dramatically different racing tactics made for very exciting races and close finishes. The 5000, where not much happened until the final 800, not so much.
In short, I (and most people I’ve asked about this) don’t find it particularly exciting to watch runners go for fast times. When you are watching on a screen (or in person for that matter), it doesn’t make much of a difference whether the runners are on pace for 13:05 or 13:25. 13:05 with a great battle back and forth throughout the race will be better than 13:25 with the same scenario, but if two rabbits are required to reach 13:05, and that means no racing until the final km, that’s when it becomes less exciting. Of course, I feel even more strongly about this in the marathon, but there are still several races (Boston, NY) that go without pacers there.
I think my biggest proposal to track meet directors would be to focus on big match-ups and building rivalries, not on fast times. Andrews/Sowinski/Solomon is a great one since they all have different tactics, OTC vs BTC vs NOP provides some sense of rival teams, Simpson vs Rowbury, etc. Those are the kind of match ups that will sell seats and get viewers. Save the pacers for rare occasions and very specific times.