Thoughts on audiences for Olympic sports
In the week that our colleagues in BBC Sport are providing extensive live coverage of the World Track Cycling Championships in Denmark, I've been thinking about one of the big tasks for London 2012: whether we can significantly improve the level of interest in the UK in Olympic sports.
This isn't so much about participation, important though that is and the topic that prompted interesting comments from some of you in response to a recent blog. It's more about whether the sports become bigger in media terms with audiences developing a continuing interest in them - or whether they have their moment in the sun in 2012 and then drift back into the shadows under that rather clichéd title of "minority sports".
What's beyond dispute is that the Olympic Games themselves bring unprecedented audiences to sports. We know that during Beijing a staggering total of 47m people watched some of the BBC coverage; but it's difficult to use the individual event data as a predictor for London because of the time zones. Swimming from China, for instance, meant finals in the early hours UK time. So I had a look at Athens as the most recent Summer Games in Europe, and the table of peak viewing makes interesting reading:
Audience data from the Athens Olympics in 2004
I should say that audience data is open to argument. It's not a level playing field because some sports took place entirely in the daytime; and some clashed with each other, splitting the ratings figures. Boxing was relatively high in 2004 because of the emergence of Amir Khan, whereas I'd expect tennis to zoom up the chart in London if Andy Murray's involved and because of the Wimbledon factor. (There's also, I detect, a keen interest in beach volleyball coming to town - even if not all the motivation is 100% sporting!)
But it's safe to draw some conclusions from this and other research. First, athletics is almost always the biggest draw and the most-anticipated event. Second, though, almost every Olympic sport can draw an audience into the millions - and I'm confident in 2012 they'll do that even more than usual. But third: levels of interest can disappear as quickly as they rise. Some really attractive national or international moments in Olympic sports have drawn disappointing figures either side of the Games themselves.
So the question is whether those audiences will be there before or after the 17 days of the London Olympics. The BBC recently appointed an Olympic Sports Editor to try to ensure that we give the best possible range of coverage between now and 2012 across tv, radio and online; and I know BBC Sport will apply themselves with their customary vim to World Championships and major events where we have the rights. But it's a question where I'd like to hear your views.
What sports do you think are ripe for development? What could you imagine still being strong on our range of services in 2013 and beyond? And which ones most need explanation and clarification to ensure that audiences get the best out of them in 2012?