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Sounds Good Introduces New Sport Psychology Series, "Creating A New Sport"

In the first installment of Creating A New Sport, Tracy Ross and Murray State professor of sport psychology Dr. Dan Wann discuss creating a new sport from scratch.

"Anybody who is involved in sport marketing or management, they're trying to figure out how to increase the interest in and consumption of their product," Wann begins. "People aren't out there saying, alright, let's start from scratch. New leagues that start from scratch don't start from scratch with a sport. The XFL started from scratch, but they still had football."

Ross notes that many new sports, such as MMA and disc golf, combine different elements of preexisting sports. Wann explains that to find a truly unique sport unlike any other, one would have to go back hundreds of years. Ross and Wann then begin defining what a new sport might look like today.

"For me, as a sports fan scholar, I would start with, 'what would it take to drive interest of a lot of different people?' I wouldn't want to make up a new sport that would resonate with a small portion of the population. For me, I would go to the largest sport organizations. What is it about those sports that attracts fans? Then, I'd want to know what about those sports turns fans off."

These negative aspects, Wann elaborates, could include how long a baseball game lasts. Or, he continues, it could include how violent and physically taxing football is on its players.

"Sport fills basic psychological needs. Sport fandom meets the need to belong, the need for distinctness, structure, meaning in life. If you're going to start with a new sport and you want that sport to be popular, I would figure out a way to make that sport meet those basic psychological needs."

Individual or team sport? Team.

"A team sport seems to have the ability to be that much more social," Wann explains. "I'm not saying you're not going to have a social aspect of golf, tennis...but those sports have some rules that decrease the sociableness of them. You're not supposed to talk when golfers hit the golf ball. They quiet things down in tennis."

"In the team sports," he continues, "these are situations where there's almost always a freedom of communication, interaction among the fans and from the fans to the players. I think the team sport might allow a greater level of sociableness and the need of belonging. You're also going to have more athletes and a greater likelihood that an individual fan could link up with and find some connection to the athlete."

A team sport that's not too slow or violent. What else?

"We want to have it somewhat stylistic. There's certainly a good portion of people out there that follow sport because they like the beauty and the grace, the artistic nature of the athletic movements."

"We want to have it be something that you could follow and lose yourself while you're following it. The notion of escape. You want to have it as much as you can not politicized. Such a large proportion of fans use sport as an escape. If you want to forget about life, you don't want to go into sport and think, 'oh no, they've politicized this issue again.' That limits the sports' ability to take you away from life for a couple hours."

"You probably, in today's society, need to figure out a way where it really looks good on TV. Football looks great. Hockey, which is so amazing at the event, just doesn't seem to translate as well on TV because of the way the game is played."

Is there an optimal number of players on the team?

"I really can't say that anyone has looked at the number of players active in a given period of time having an impact on the level of fandom," Wann says.

"What we do know is that fans follow the ball. They're going to follow the person that currently has possession of the object of choice. More advanced fans of the sport, they see off the side in the peripheral. But the casual fans are following the ball because it's easier to keep track of what's going on."

"So, as long as you've got the typical fan following the ball, it really probably doesn't matter how many people are spread out around that. Their eyes are on wherever that specific action is of carrying the football, dribbling the basketball, throwing the baseball."

What takes precedence, live sports or TV?

"I think you've gotta go with TV. They reach more people, and have you seen what the television rights go for these days? You're talking billions of dollars," Wann laughs.

"Technology advances are going to make the consumption via technology better," he continues. "They're not going to improve what it's like watching it in person. Maybe they'll have better drink options or more comfortable seats. But of all the advances when you think of the sport fan consumption, they'll be via technology."

So far, the new sport Ross and Wann have created is a team sport. It's not too violent, not too slow, and not politicized. The sport looks good on television, perhaps even better than in-person, and it needs to allow spectators to escape while watching it.

In the next installment of Creating A New Sport, Ross and Wann continue building a new sport from scratch.

Tracy started working for WKMS in 1994 while attending Murray State University. After receiving his Bachelors and Masters degrees from MSU he was hired as Operations/Web/Sports Director in 2000. Tracy hosted All Things Considered from 2004-2012 and has served as host/producer of several music shows including Cafe Jazz, and Jazz Horizons. In 2001, Tracy revived Beyond The Edge, a legacy alternative music program that had been on hiatus for several years. Tracy was named Program Director in 2011 and created the midday music and conversation program Sounds Good in 2012 which he hosts Monday-Thursday. Tracy lives in Murray with his wife, son and daughter.
Melanie Davis-McAfee graduated from Murray State University in 2018 with a BA in Music Business. She has been working for WKMS as a Music and Operations Assistant since 2017. Melanie hosts the late-night alternative show Alien Lanes, Fridays at 11 pm with co-host Tim Peyton. She also produces Rick Nance's Kitchen Sink and Datebook and writes Sounds Good stories for the web.
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