Michael Johnson reveals how he intends to get his track league into a fan-driven spectacle

Michael Johnson reveals how he intends to get his track league into a fan-driven spectacle

Mark Kinyanjui 19:30 - 10.05.2024

Michael Johnson has revealed how his track league will help make track and field more conducive to keep fans on board like in other sports such as football and Formula 1.

Athletics, a sport celebrated every four years at the Olympics and every two years at the World Championships, often struggles to maintain momentum outside of these flagship events. 

Recognizing this persistent challenge, four-time Olympic champion Michael Johnson has embarked on a bold mission to revolutionize the sport.

Johnson's journey into entrepreneurship and advocacy for athletics began after decades of witnessing its struggle for recognition beyond the Olympics and World Championships.

 Fueled by a desire to extricate athletics from this loop of mediocrity, Johnson unveiled plans earlier this year for a groundbreaking track league set to debut in 2025.

In his assessment of the sport's state, Johnson acknowledges the recurring question posed by the media over the years.

 Yet, despite the challenges, he remains steadfast in his belief in the sport's inherent greatness. He envisions a future where athletics captivates audiences year-round, offering fans the same exhilarating experiences they enjoy during major competitions.

"The best way to answer that is to say the media have been asking that question and I've been answering it now for 20-plus years, which tells us everything we need to know,” Johnson told Standard Sport.

"But it's the right question, as the sport has continued to struggle. But the fact that any other sport that hasn't really advanced beyond the media asking this question would be dead, but it's not, which tells you it's a great sport.

"It's fantastic every four years at the Olympics, every two years at the World Championships. But outside of that, it falls flat and doesn't really have much of a presence at all.

" But there's a real opportunity to change that. My research and from what I understand is that a large majority of those people who do watch during those times would do so again given the opportunity to have that same experience throughout the year."

Despite various attempts to reignite the sport through different formats like street events and the recent World Relays, athletics has struggled to broaden its appeal. Johnson's firsthand experience as a spectator at track meets further underscores the need for a fundamental shift towards a fan-driven product.

His frustration with the status quo led him to partner with Winners Alliance, securing significant funding to bring his vision to life.

 The track league, slated to feature a global calendar with top athletes like Noah Lyles and Mondo Duplantis, aims to showcase the best of the best in thrilling competitions.

Central to Johnson's approach is the importance of storytelling. Unlike other sports where each game tells a unique story, athletics often falls short in this aspect. Johnson believes that every race presents an opportunity for compelling narratives that go beyond mere record-breaking feats.

"You watch a football game and that's a story in itself," he said. "We don't talk about the fact that you've got eight people going to line up in a race, and each one has the opportunity to win and we don't know which one is going to win, and here's who they all are.

"That never happens in our sport. We talk about whether someone is going to break a record, that's not a story. We totally miss the story. Out track league will tell that story — and these athletes want to tell their stories, they want you to know them for more than just what they do on track."

In collaboration with World Athletics president Seb Coe, Johnson's venture has been met with encouragement and support. Coe, recognizing the need for innovation in the sport, sees Johnson's initiative as a step towards addressing longstanding questions about athletics' future.

As details of the track league unfold in June, there is anticipation that Johnson's vision may finally provide the answers needed to propel athletics into a new era of success. 

With a focus on delivering value to fans and amplifying the stories of its athletes, Johnson's quest offers hope for a revitalized and thriving future for the sport