“Call Mom right now and just tell her we are gonna be late – there’s no chance in hell I am leaving right now!” I yelled at my brother across the room.
“Can you even believe what we are watching?!” My childhood friend Nate asked all of us.
It was March 26, 1997. My two younger brothers and I were at our friend's house (we didn’t have cable and we had a feeling this game was gonna be something fun to watch) We were gathered together in Nate’s bedroom, watching what would go down in history as one of the most violent hockey games ever. Our Colorado Avalanche – going toe-to-toe with the hated Detroit Red Wings. It was the first regular season game between the two in Detroit – following Avalanche winger Claude Lemieux’s (One of the most hated players in the NHL unless you were an Av’s fan, then you LOVED him) violent hit on the Red Wings Kris Draper in the Western Conference Finals the year before. Draper had to get reconstructive facial surgery – and the Red Wings had guaranteed revenge.
The entire tv screen in front of us was an empty ice rink, save the littered gloves and sticks and spots of blood. Every player was being escorted off the ice – following a massive brawl, one of many during the game. When the Red Wings tallied an overtime goal to win it, we were disappointed – but at the same time, we knew we had just witnessed something great.
This is what rivalries, cheap shots, trash talk and villains bring to a sport. Fans would reschedule their lives for the next five years or so to make sure they didn’t miss a second of an Avalanche-Red Wings game. It was must-see-tv and it always delivered.
Sure, sports need their nice guys. Their Tom Brady’s – guys who never speak ill of their opponent, who always say the right thing, do the right thing, dress the right way. But guess what? That’s boring.
Michael Jordan’s run against the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons, Sean Avery cheap-shotting everyone on the ice, Brian Bosworth’s mouth writing checks his body couldn’t cash (Bo Jackson it turned out was the debt collector) Jack Tatum’s head hunting the NFL, PacMan Jones’ inability to steer clear of “skrip clubs” - these are the people who make sports fun to watch, whether you love them or hate them.
Before I get into why CrossFit desperately needs one of these villains - I am not the first person to make this argument. Cooper Dane over at "Garage Gym Reviews" did a hilarious write up on how the Games could benefit from an "enemy." He lays out all the things this person could do during competition to fill this role - and does a great job of it. I recommend when you finish here, you give this article a read.
The closest thing we have ever seen at the CrossFit Games to a “rivalry” – and I use that term very loosely, was Rich Froning taking Matt Fraser’s chalk. In a sport so devoid of any trash talking – the fan base lost its collective minds over this tiny gesture. Hell, I watched Broncos defensive back Aqib Talib rip a gold chain right off the neck of a Raiders receiver, during a game! If this happened in CrossFit – soccer moms would be fainting all over the globe.
Rivalries are built on instances like this. Can you imagine how much more fun a CrossFit Games event would be if suddenly one of these athletes actually spoke their minds to whatever eye-candy sideline commentator interviewed them before or after an event?
“What are you hoping happens during this event?”
Josh Bridges: “Well I hope Fraser tears his ACL and I can move up a spot on the leaderboard – that guy is totally overrated and I’m tired of having you guys fawning all over him every day.”
Sadly, the only times I have really encountered anything close to this is at a local level. I have been a part of it on a number of occasions because I say what I think and I don’t couch my feelings with disclaimers. I have watched a couple guys square off a bit and talk a little shit before events – nothing serious, but damned if I don’t pay way more attention to those heats than any others.
The CrossFit Games needs someone that the mainstream fans hate and the contrarian types love. You can market events around it because it becomes a rivalry that everyone has a vested interest in watching. There’s also money in it. A Games athlete, doesn’t matter if he’s 32nd, 4th or 10th – who starts trash-talking and creating these rivalries – makes himself twice as marketable as anyone else. Everyone in CrossFit would know your name, your face and where you placed. Sponsors would line up to be the “Brand behind the Bad Boy of CrossFit.”
There are people reading this right now who think I’m being obnoxious or that I am not right because they love their milk toast, white bread, never says anything wrong, Games athlete. EXACTLY – you like him or her – and you would HATE the person I’m describing…which only goes to highlight my point.
CrossFit needs a rivalry – and the best rivalries are built from nastiness and trash talk from those the media would describe as “villains.” Professional fighters know this better than anyone else. Floyd Mayweather and his marketing and promotion team just convinced the world of two things.
1. That he and Conor McGregor hated each other.
2. That Conor McGregor, an amateur boxer who had never fought a professional boxing match, had a shot at beating one of the greatest boxers who ever lived.
Because of those two things, everyone bought the fight, bet on the fight, went to the fight – and both men will likely make more than a combined 450 million dollars after it’s all said and done. They created a rivalry out of thin air. Conor McGregor trash-talked himself into a boxing match that should not even have been sanctioned, and made more money than he had ever seen before. This is how fans react to trash talking and what they see as a rivalry.
If a man who finished 25th at the Games this year, started trashing Matt Fraser every chance he got, started posting ridiculous training videos and calling out the champ – a couple things would happen.
1. It would get EVERYONE’s attention. It’s never happened before and trust me, the CrossFit world would cover it until they were blue in their collective faces. People would be picking sides. CrossFit HQ would see it and from a marketing standpoint and would wisely start capitalizing off of it.
2. Sides would be picked. The confidence with which this athlete, who didn’t touch Fraser last year, would be shit-talking the champ, would convince legions of fans worldwide that for some unknown reason, he could beat him. Look no further than my example from the Mayweather fight if you doubt me on this.
3. Leaderboard watching. We all look at the leaderboard during the Open – but this would take on a new level. Fraser would of course dominate him, but he would deftly reply that this was the open and he was ready for the Games. He was just doing what needed to be done to get there. Fraser and this yet-to-be-named marketing genius would probably both wait to post their scores until the last possible second. Then, one week, a workout lines up for him, or Fraser has the flu, whatever – and he wins one. CrossFit Nation goes wild with speculation.
4. Regionals: Who knows, will he be in the same region? Not if he’s smart. You don’t want a double preview, the Open is enough – sure you are doing the same workouts – but hey, this villain is a competitor and it just isn’t the same without your real opponent in the lane next to you.
Crossfit doesn’t just need one of these rivalries – it needs dozens. Critique baseball or basketball or any other mainstream sport all you want – but the amount of fans following and watching these sports on TV is light years ahead of the Games. The reason the Mayweather fight did so many PPV buys is because people who have never seen a boxing match in their lives were lining up to buy it – because rivalries make sports interesting – more interesting than they are on their own.
CrossFit should be, and with their marketing and PR team I’m certain they are, looking towards the future and trying to find ways to continue growing the sport. They have done an amazing job of this so far – and this is one way to elevate the fan base. The UFC was floundering when it was taken over by Zuffa Entertainment. A sport can only sustain so long when its only fans are those who also participate/train in that sport. That was one of the UFC’s problems early on. CrossFit is the same way. I would venture to guess than over 90% of the fans who show up to the Games or watch the livestreams and other coverage – also participate in CrossFit on some level. A villain – and the rivalries that come with that, can do wonders for bringing in fans who don’t already do CrossFit.
So if you’re a Games level athlete reading this – would you rather everyone love how bland you are, or everyone know your name in and out of the sport because they either love you or they hate you? Spoiler alert: the second option comes with a lot more money than the first.
It’s either that or I have to get John Rocker to start training for the Master’s category in 2018.