Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Fans of strongman are as passionate as those of any other sport, and the potential for the sport to acquire new fans should be high. Yet, long relegated to off-prime broadcasts outside of basic cable, strongman has not been able to go mainstream.
The producers of The World’s Strongest Man have their work cut out for them. They are tasked with developing a television product as well as a sporting event. For this reason, the team is forced not only to manage a legitimate contest with rules and officials to enforce them, they must also seek out exotic locations and brainstorm unique events to wow their fans with entertainment value.
But what does the strongman-fan demographic look like? Are any theatrics still necessary? The fitness niche has vastly expanded since WSM began in 1977. One cruise through Instagram should reveal enough “hardcore” fans of strength sports to justify leaning much closer to the sporting aspect than the entertainment one.
The changes listed below would enhance the legitimacy of strongman at its most elite level, and redeem The World’s Strongest Man organization in the eyes of many fans currently unhappy, without sacrificing any fans already content with things as they are.
1. Broadcast Live
When Eddie Hall won the 2017 World’s Strongest Man, everyone heard about it. In fact, after several other sources leaked the news, the World’s Strongest Man Facebook page accidentally leaked it themselves, to the chagrin of many commenting users.
Despite hosting the contest in spring most years, the WSM typically does not broadcast their edited television product until late winter. Many hardcore fans, arguably the most valuable type of fan, have the results spoiled, as well as how it all transpired. They are simply missing out on the video footage.
This is not merely frustrating for said fans, it also drives them toward other strongman event organizers besides WSM. Knowing the results in advance of the broadcast, they can head to subsequent events to see the winners perform live.
2. Reconsider Dates & Locations
If a live broadcast seems an insurmountable challenge for the WSM producers, there are several other fixes for the same problem. For starters, the contest does not have to take place outdoors in warm weather climates. In fact, it would be best if it did not.
For some reason, warm weather climates and spring contest dates are the norm for the World’s Strongest Man, but this is counterintuitive for several reasons.
If fans are truly apt to see the world’s strongest men perform at their peaks, warm weather is not the way to go. Cooler weather would improve their recovery time, potentiate their max reps, and reduce any inflammation suffered in the heat of battle. When athletes are fighting for inches, it matters.
I am not saying we should eliminate all of the pageantry to host the event in some packed arena in Europe or America – but that would be just fine.
Additionally, the contest could be held closer to the prospective air date, or the prospective air date could be moved closer to the contest.
2. Increase Transparency
Individual athletes have unique strengths and weaknesses, and strongman is [mostly] an individual sport. When all the events of the 2017 WSM seemed to favor Eddie Hall’s skill set, it left some fans with a sour taste in their mouth. The same happened when some online comments suggested that Eddie Hall had a “weaker starting bracket,” though I am not sure the other men in his heat would agree.
There are easy ways to mitigate such claims moving forward. The WSM organization could be more transparent about their methods for choosing events, or release the list much further in advance (though I am less in favor of the latter because it reduces the demand for versatility).
Moreover, the WSM should implement a strict ranking system and build it to correspond with their bracket building, so no one can charge them with any rigging. Such charges hurt the organization and the strongman who wins the competition, in this case, Eddie Hall – who won due to his outlandish strength.
In its quest to be different and to pay respects to its origins, the World’s Strongest Man has avoided emulating some of the hallmarks of other legitimate sport presentations: live broadcasts, arena locations, strict ranking systems and brackets based on those ranks.
Strongman is a legitimate sport. Its athletes are for real. The improvements listed above would enhance the reputation of the sport to its most valuable fans, and even increase recruiting potential.
A live broadcast will ensure most fans tune in at the same time, and will mitigate the loss of viewers to spoilers. New dates and locations could potentiate the abilities of the competitor-strongmen. More transparency will protect champions from any charges of illegitimacy.
It’s time for a change.
Featured image: @theworldsstrongestman on Instagram