UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: This is THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY on NPR.
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CARDIFF GARCIA, HOST:
Ken Swift is a break dancer. And in case you don't know, he's kind of a big deal in hip-hop, too.
KEN SWIFT: I would like to be introduced as Ken Swift from VII Gems, New York City.
SALLY HERSHIPS, HOST:
And what is VII Gems?
SWIFT: It's a hip-hop movement.
HERSHIPS: Ken was a member of the Rock Steady Crew. And the reason we are talking to him, a dancer, on an economics podcast is because break dancing looks like it is headed to the Olympics. It's been provisionally approved for Paris 2024 - just needs one more vote to seal the deal. And Ken has thoughts about that.
SWIFT: I mean, I think it's pretty cool. I mean, me personally - I mean, I grew up with sports. I love sports. I was an athlete before I even started playing records. And one thing I have to say is that I don't think that breaking is a sport because of that - 'cause I have that experience.
GARCIA: Break dancing, economics and sports - we really do it all here, Sally.
GARCIA: But there are other similar, less traditional sports also heading to the Olympics. In Tokyo 2020, you are going to see skateboarding, sports climbing - which is rock climbing - and surfing.
HERSHIPS: And Ken says he's cool with the decision to add breaking to the Olympics. He has a lot of friends who are going to be involved, and he wants to support them all. But still, there is a lot to think about, like how the International Olympic Committee - the IOC - and break dancing are going to get along.
SWIFT: You have to understand something. They have a way of doing things. The IOC works in specific ways. You know, there's all type of different things happening, you know, that you would see and hear about with Olympics. So how is that going to affect the art form? I don't know. You know, we - we're going to just have to wait and let time do what it does and see how this all works out in four years.
HERSHIPS: So you may be wondering why something like break dancing might be headed to one of the largest international sporting events in the world. Well, one reason - people aren't watching the Olympics like they used to, and organizers hope that adding some jazzy new sports may draw in more eyeballs. But what does that mean for the athletes and for those new sports that will be under a global spotlight for the first time?
I'm Sally Herships.
GARCIA: And I'm Cardiff Garcia. On today's show, we're going to look at Olympic results - not the scores that the athletes get, but the impact on a sport of going to the Olympics for the first time.
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GARCIA: Break dancing may be headed to the Olympics, and it's actually easy to understand why. Viewership of the Olympics has been disappointing of late. The Winter Olympic viewership has been falling for years, and for the Summer Olympics, it's been kind of flat for the last decade or so. So organizers want sports that are going to draw in more viewers, and those sports include things like skateboarding and break dancing.
HERSHIPS: The process for adding a new sport to the Olympics is long, and it is complicated. But when a sport makes it through or over all of these hurdles and reaches the Olympics, there is a name for what happens next.
TOM COVE: We sort of came up with this Olympic bounce.
GARCIA: The Olympic bounce, says Tom Cove. He's the CEO of the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, which researches participation in sports. Tom looks at why people play a sport and why, later, they might quit a sport.
COVE: So the Olympic bounce is for certain sports that get a participation increase immediately after the Olympics.
HERSHIPS: There are the sports that we love year-round - football, basketball...
HERSHIPS: ...(Laughter) baseball. Then there are sports that we love to love just every four years. That is the Olympic bounce. It is the name for this weird pattern that happens around the Olympics when we watch swimming and gymnastics or track and field because, Cardiff, are you ever going to buy tickets to, like, a track and field event - like, some kind of dash that is not happening around the Olympics?
GARCIA: No, but when the Olympics do come around, you can rest assured that I will pretend to be an expert in all of those sports so I can talk about them by the watercooler. It's going to be awesome.
HERSHIPS: Aren't you an expert? I totally thought you were.
GARCIA: No. No. But look. After the Olympics, there's a kind of lingering effect. So participation rates, for example, for some kids - they go up in Olympic sports like swimming and gymnastics. That's what's referred to as the bounce - that for the year after the Olympics are over, participation rates in these sports still goes up. But in that second year after the Olympics end, well...
COVE: We see a reduction in participation, and then you see it sort of stabilize.
HERSHIPS: Take swimming. Before the last Olympics, there were about 2.8 million swimmers. But during the year after the Olympics, everyone's excited. They saw Michael Phelps. And that number of swimmers - it spikes to 3.3 million.
GARCIA: Yeah. I kind of get that, by the way.
GARCIA: Like, Michael Phelps winning all those medals - everybody's like, yeah, now I'm going to, you know, consume ten, twelve thousand calories a day and spend four hours in the pool...
GARCIA: ...And be beast. Like - yeah, I remember that.
HERSHIPS: Yeah, but then another year passes, and reality sinks in and car pool time and chlorine in your hair. And people realize...
GARCIA: I know. Your eyes start to burn up, right?
HERSHIPS: Right. And you realize maybe you're not heading for the Olympics.
GARCIA: Maybe you're shy about putting on Speedos, you know?
GARCIA: Speaking for other people, not me.
HERSHIPS: So fewer swimmers - the number goes back down to just over 3 million. So that is the Olympic bounce. There's this big spike, then a drop-off. But ultimately, if you imagine a little line chart in your head, overall, the line is going up. In other words, even with the drop-off, after the Olympics, there are more people swimming than before.
GARCIA: And then once the Olympics come back around in that fourth year, well, they're going to get hyped up because, obviously, the television network that's broadcasting the Olympic Games wants viewers to tune in.
COVE: NBC wants to promote the Olympics 'cause they have the Olympics, and they are also promoting the sport. And more and more comes out. And all of a sudden, you get all these college players, and then you got high school players. And they see it on TV. And now you have a pro league that's evolving. And all of - that is the way it really grows, both from a participation and an economic impact point of view.
GARCIA: So what ends up happening is that schools - middle schools, high schools, all schools - they invest, and parents sign up their kids for private one-on-one lessons. And we haven't even talked about all the equipment yet - nose plugs, bathing caps, uniforms, helmets.
And there's another kind of bump that being added to the Olympics can bring you - legitimacy. Tom says, take a sport like snowboarding - already kind of a big deal. But the Olympic halo can make it more acceptable. So if you're a parent and you're kind of worried that your kids are, like, out there doing crazy tricks off the side of a mountain, you might not let them. But if it sounds more legitimate, now you're thinking, hey, maybe I'll get the kids snowboarding lessons. Maybe I'll let them do backflips or whatever.
HERSHIPS: ...They will go to the Olympics and win a gold medal.
GARCIA: That's right. So parents are on board, and new businesses are also springing up to build training facilities with trampolines and ramps and rails and all those other things.
HERSHIPS: But all this popularity can also bring some problems, which some of you wrote to us about. One listener was worried about rock climbing or sport climbing, which is also likely to have its Olympic debut soon. So the sport is getting more recognition, but sport climbing can be dangerous. If amateurs get all excited and start heading outdoors and climbing real rocks without being properly trained, that could lead to some real trouble.
GARCIA: You don't see me climbing up the walls, do you?
HERSHIPS: No, because I am here, down on the ground.
GARCIA: (Laughter) Right. Those of us who do not have vertigo seem to be increasingly interested in this. People also have thoughts about how being added to the Olympics could change the culture of a sport.
Here's Ken Swift, the break dancer, one more time.
HERSHIPS: And so just to make sure I understand correctly, you're saying when you feel a song or something, it's personal; it's creative and maybe something that's just not going to fit exactly with, like...
SWIFT: It's just different. It's just different, you know? And that's it. And it's, you know - yeah, when you - like, with me, it's drums, you know? It's drums and instruments, you know. And you know, hearing that on a needle in the groove and hearing that and just being a part of that whole experience personally changed my life, you know what I'm saying? And you know, and I value that, so that's why I speak the way I speak.
GARCIA: Viewership of the Olympics is still huge, obviously. But the way that we watch television is changing, and so numbers have been dropping. The Winter Olympics in 2018 set a record for the lowest viewership ever, so planners are looking for sports that will increase ratings. We'll see if adding all these new sports - or art forms, if you insist - will work.
This episode was produced by Rachel Cohn, fact-checked by Emily Lang and edited by Paddy Hirsch. THE INDICATOR is a production of NPR.
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