Saturday, February 5, 2011

Superbowl weekend

I have a confession to make. Even though I have lived in the US for more than 25 years, I have never once watched the Superbowl. I have never watched American Football period. I do not know the rules of the game nor do I care to sit down and learn them. It appears to me those rules are mostly dictated by the need to insert commercials on a regular basis. The game itself has no flow to it and it does not surprise me that many viewers only watch it for the commercials.

Superbowl commercials are as big as the game itself. People write and talk about these commercials as much as the write and talk about the game. Commercial rating has become a sport in its own right. It would not surprise me if one day the commercials truly take over and the superbowl itself fills the breaks. We are very close already. But back to football.

To me, football seems like a boring display of machismo performed by steroid-pumped men with artificially inflated chests and shoulders and ballerina tights. But what do I know? I am just a smug cyclist. And perhaps not surprising road cyclists (not mountain bikers) were voted the smuggest sports participants by the readers of Adventure Journal. If you don't know what smug means just study this graphic that went with the article.

Am I smug or what?

Roadies outsmugged other sports participants by a very large margin (41% of the votes). Triathletes ended up second (just under 20%). Skiers were a very distant third at 7% and all other categories, from surfers to rock climbers, snowboarders to backpackers were practically in the noise. Mountain bikers too ended up in the noise, showing that it isn't cycling per se that is grating on people's nerves. 

Although I don't care for football, I do look forward to Superbowl Sunday. It is one of those very rare days when traffic is exceptionally light. That makes it an ideal day to go cycling. Traffic is light that day because most Americans hang in front the TV, drinking beer and eating chips, all afternoon long. 

The Superbowl experience is also very instructive. It shows one simple thing that most cyclists in this country never seem to grasp: to have a successful sport you need spectators. Human spectators that is, not cows. And the only way to get spectators is to schedule events at a time and place that is convenient for most people.

Look ma, no spectators!

But there is one other essential element. Spectators are people who are familiar with the sport. They are people who have tried the sport when they were young. Unless people have a personal connection to a sport, a connection that one can only get by practicing it, they will find it boring to watch. That is why Americans find European sports boring and vice versa.

Creating future spectators (and competitors) is the area where US cycling fails in the most dramatic way. Rather than promoting an all inclusive youth field, the people in charge do just the opposite: they drive youngsters away from teen-only events. They want teens to compete with adults as soon as the kids can stay upright on a bicycle. They drag them away from their friends and peers, out in never-never land before the crack of dawn.

They create an elitist environment that pushes kids out for all sorts of reasons. Reasons that go far beyond fitness. These inane moves not only limit the chances of promising youth who may become star cyclists, they assure that public interest will stay low too. The result is a group of licensees that gets older year over year. Already more than half the USA cycling license holders are masters. When you look at the membership from 2000 to 2010, one thing is crystal clear. Everyone is getting older.

No comments: