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 Dwindling spectator/media interest in sprints

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cmolburg Posted - 02/28/2007 : 07:35:52 AM
Probably most mushers have read the Alaska Daily News story about the drop of interest in this year's Rondy by the generl public and local media/broadcasting outlets. I had previously heard that Bill Kornmuller blamed it all on the Iditarod race, but can that be the sole reason?

Laconia (NH), to some extent is experiencing the same problem, but it certainly can't be blamed on the Iditarod. I think it is due to several factors inside and outside of the sport, but on the inside, when the Rondy was really popular, you had a long-running and fierce rivalry between a native Alaskan, Attla and a Massachusetts veterinarian, Lombard (in addition to challenges from other village mushers and teams from outside of Alaska).

Today, very few Alaskan natives are in the competition if any, and a Swede and Canadian have dominated the race in recent years. Although both have produced outstanding, record-breaking performances, a majority of the spectators don't seem to relate to them. They don't seem to give a damn who wins as over the years, much of the competition is made up of refugees from the Lower 48 and the Scandinavian and European countries.

And, of course, weather and urban growth has played a role, especially in Laconia. The Iditarod has never had to cancel a race because of its very nature. Similar to the situation in Anchorage, the Laconia championship now produces one "native" team, Keith Bryar III, as compared to years ago when the teams came from several surrounding lake villages in addition to the "outsiders." I think that has contributed to the diminishing local interest here.

Today I got a call from Roger Amsden, the former sports writer of the Laconia Evening Citizen which formerly produced pages and pages of news and features about the race in the 60s, 70s and 80s. He was doing a "dog" story for The Weirs Times, but was more interested on featuring the "type" of dogs used on teams today as compared to the "huskies" of the above mentioned era. It is apparent the Egil Ellis is having and impact on our race back here!

It would be interesting to hear from others who have observed this trend in their races and how the managers of sprint races can bring back the crowds of enthusiastic spectators and media coverage.
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northome Posted - 03/08/2007 : 2:17:45 PM
Here's what they did in the limited classes the same year they reverse seeded the open class at Ely.

In the 4 and 6 dog class anyway, they started 4 teams at a time, 4 minutes apart. The passing rules were such that you had to work out between the 4 of you how best to get along so as not to slow down the whole group. If you caught anyone from the group ahead of you, he had to relinquish the trail. It was a random draw so that you didn't get 4 fast teams together or 4 slow teams. I thought they could have closed it up to 2 minutes between groups, but that's just me. The strategy aspect made it the most fun limited class race I have ever been in.

Al Stead
leslie fields Posted - 03/08/2007 : 08:37:58 AM
Using pictures of huskies to promote a race may be false advertising but it does suck the public in to see the fluffy dogs. However deceiving. it is difficult to educate the public if you can't get them to attend "class". Perhaps dryland or specially promoted speed events that feature the "rat" dogs is the future for hounds. I personally run sibs but know that the relationship between the musher and their dogs is a very special thing, whatever the outside appearance of dog, or person. Promote that!

The world is constantly changing, we must acknowledge that the economy, climate, technology, media, etc and perceptions of working/multi-dog kennels are part of the change. Doing races like we always have in the past is not being sucessful. Let's push on the tradition bound organizations/people to try some different venues before its too late. Dual starts and reverse order are one way offer spectators more excitement. Relays, sourdough races, lead dod events and passenger races are other ways to attract public interest. Whatever our style of dogs, featuring not just speed but training and the animal/human bond may more interesting to the public.
otis Posted - 03/08/2007 : 08:18:51 AM
A person can take almost anything that they love, then twist it, turn it, cut it up and piece it back together again---Turning that which they loved so much into something they can make
a living at, or at the very least, cover some expenses in the case of dog racing.

The problem lies then in what may evolve will bear little to no resemblance to what you loved so much.
rbibber Posted - 03/08/2007 : 08:06:52 AM
Just last weekend I experienced my first ever dual start race at the Northeast championships in Jackman, Maine. At first I was a bit worried about the dual starts, but it added a new level of interest to see who could make it to the end of the chute first and get ahead of the other team. Also it seemed to result in some more exciting finishes with oftentimes 2 or 3 teams finishing close together. The race was much more spectator friendly than other races I've been in and I wouldn't mind it if ALL races were dual start - whenever the trail allows anyway.

northome Posted - 03/08/2007 : 07:34:15 AM
I believe that there are ways to make the sport more spectator appealing. The best way that I have seen would be to copy the olympic xc ski formats. For instance, they have a team event where four or five relay teams line up and do several laps each over a closed course head to head. Each lap the spectators could see how the race was progressing, and the head to head nature of it made it much more exciting. We have a venue just north of where I live that could accomodate such a race, but I doubt very much that many would take up the challenge of running multiple loops while fending off each other.

Another example would be reverse seeding. Send the slowest teams out first so that there is a mad dash between a dozen teams for the finish. I witnessed just such a thing at the old Ely race in the open class no less. The teams had to run down a quarter mile of city street to get to the timers, and you could see them the whole way. When the open teams came in, there were up to six teams on the street at a time sprinting for the finish. You could hear the spectators lined up all the way down the street cheering like a wave as the teams came up the hill. I haven't seen anything that exciting since.

Of course this would all require stepping up to a new level as far as training goes, but it might be worth it.

Al Stead
Northome Siberians
snowfoot Posted - 03/08/2007 : 07:14:16 AM
"This may, in some ways, be a difficult "spectator sport", but I have a feeling that really inspired and creative use of the internet could change all that!"

Absolutely- That's why my team and also individual dogs have their own page on "Dogster". All the "serious" mushers can poo-poo it all they want for being cutesy and a bit trite, but as of today, pictures and bios of my team are on the Dogster home pages of over 800 people all over the world, and there are 800 people who have a better understanding of mushing and how sled dogs (and mushers) live. They also have a forum that has had many posts regarding sled dogs and have mostly ended up as positive learning experiences for most folks .
Also thanks to the other mushers who are on Dogster!! You can check out my page here:
Koosa Posted - 03/07/2007 : 12:37:46 PM
I agree with Al's comments and would further add that if confusion of huskies with hounds is a problem for spectators, the sport should really stop using pictures of huskies in teams to promote the sport. I even see huskies used as logo's for teams comprised of hounds. Some truth in advertising might go a long way. Moving to dryland will force that anyway.

Mike S.
snowfoot Posted - 03/07/2007 : 12:24:01 PM
Jen said:
"I get people who are positively blown away when I tell them I own 5 dogs."

You can't imagine some of the things I hear when I tell people I have 10 dogs, no children and intend for it to stay that way as I much prefer dogs to children.
northome Posted - 03/06/2007 : 9:17:18 PM
When the Siberians were first introduced to Nome, they too were called rat dogs. Even though I would never willingly own one of the new type eurohounds, I really like them simply as dogs. Every time I am at a race with Neal Johnson, I always spend time hanging out with his dogs around the truck. Tons of fun.

I think in the zest for modernization of the sport, it may be that we are running away from our roots,which may be a serious marketing blunder. However, if it is a blunder that you are happy to make I would suggest that you sever the ties completely and establish a new culture, with its attendant myths and ceremony. Being the bastard child of the old ways will continue to confuse and disappoint the public. Try to figure out some heroic event and stage it with that focus. I have no idea what that might be, but it should showcase the raw speed, endurance and determination of the best of the new dogs. I have a funny feeling from what I have seen in the media lately that it might even be a dryland event. There is a grand future there.

Al Stead
Northome Siberians
SKIJOR#1 Posted - 03/06/2007 : 7:38:10 PM
Well put Subluner. You brought a smile to my face. I love my "Rat" dogs, and so does the spectateing public when they meet them. They can see that they love what theyu are doing. Johnn Molburg
mush in quebec Posted - 03/06/2007 : 08:20:26 AM
"you can also bet your bottom dollar I am NOT paying or promoting another major race that charges you to see their "PR"!)"
Why ? why shouldn't you pay for that services ? you buy magazines, watch tv with commercials wich pays what you're seing, why people wouldn't have to pay to support an event wich they see only by internet ???
EllieRose Posted - 03/05/2007 : 8:51:50 PM
I really think we need to make all of this available to the general public. What Sally is suggesting about the internet is right- people do use it as a research tool. But I doubt that many people do much research prior to attending a race that they have seen advertised in a local paper, by poster or word of mouth other than to verify times and places. We as a group need to present the differences to the public. There are those of who do our part by educating students, making presentations and giving rides. I myself do those things but I don't really help much. I do these things with Siberians it's hard to say you won't see many of these dogs at the races and explain what they will see when I don't have it in my kennel. I think that we create the educational opportunity at the race site- recruit club members, recreational mushers etc to man a booth or walk around the grounds with the type of dog they are seeing on the trail and explain why these dogs are used instead of the huskies. There could be samples of the more high tech gear.

The spectators are going to be confused and/or disappointed by what they have seen and they will have time if they are waiting for another opportunity to see the dogs in action.So why not make it possible for them to go to someone and ask questions.

I'd be willing to put my time in!
sallydawson Posted - 03/05/2007 : 7:50:25 PM
This may, in some ways, be a difficult "spectator sport", but I have a feeling that really inspired and creative use of the internet could change all that! I can only site my personal nightly devotion to looking at photos and videos (FREEEEEEEEEEE) of the Yukon Quest, and I made sure my students and their families knew about the web site as well. (you can also bet your bottom dollar I am NOT paying or promoting another major race that charges you to see their "PR"!)
Jen Posted - 03/05/2007 : 2:58:33 PM
Do you think--at least in the lower 48--that people have a bit of an anti-dog attitude? Particularly toward those with large numbers of dogs? This can come out in a few ways: dogs are out of vogue, people have gotten rather prissy and think of dogs as nothing but a nuisance and have made it harder for those around them to own them. Kennel permits can be rather expensive and you have to jump through lots of hoops in some places. Or, they think there's something wrong with people who own several dogs and are turned off by those who do. I get people who are positively blown away when I tell them I own 5 dogs. They freak out about the hair I must have around the house, etc., etc. One of my co-workers surprised me because she was really upset by the Today show segment a while ago where they showed a typical dog yard...she was stunned by the number of dogs and was sure they weren't cared for properly. I would imagine she wasn't the only one who saw that and thought the same--they don't understand and there doesn't seem to be any major PR being done to try to make them understand.

And yes, I think people are really thrown that race dogs aren't the cute fluffy movie dogs. I get people asking all the time on the trail if my team of 5 mals are training to run the Iditarod--that never ceases to crack me up.
sublunar Posted - 03/05/2007 : 1:27:01 PM
I was disappointed when I went to the local swimming pool and the life-guard didn't look like the girls on Baywatch. Too bad everything doesn't look like movies...

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