Nitro Athletics: Was the concept a success?

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Nitro Athletics: The initiative launched to, as organisers boldly claimed, "revolutionise track and field."

The concept, developed by Australian Olympian John Steffensen, aimed to breathe life into athletics - a sport that has experienced its fair share of drama in recent times, as well as a significant decline in interest.

Over three nights, six teams from around the globe competed in traditional and non-traditional events, with a point-scoring system crowning Usain Bolt's All Stars victorious. Live music, photo opportunities and autograph sessions added to the spectacle for fans.

Nitro Athletics was built on cricket's successful T20 model which provides a shorter, sharper, more engaging product for fans both at the stadium and those tuning in on television.

So, was it a success?

Well, the fact that Melbourne's Lakeside Stadium packed out three times over would suggest so. As would the impressive television ratings, which surely surpassed prior expectations - the opening broadcast alone was watched by 1.4 million Australians, making it the night's most popular program on commercial television.

IAAF president Sebastian Coe, who has been watching on in Melbourne, believes Nitro Athletics is exactly what the sport needs.

"It was a terrific start," he said. "I saw engagement, I saw fun and laughter and that's what the sport has been missing for a long time.

"Unless we innovate, we're going to become less and less relevant and we can't afford to do that."

While the numbers are impressive and reviews have been unequivocally positive, one wonders if interest would be as high if Jamaican superstar Bolt didn't hop on a plane and make the trip Down Under.

To see the world's fastest man sprinting in your own backyard is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that very few sporting fans would pass up. And if any city would turn out in its droves to support such a hyped new event featuring that man, make no mistake, it is the self-proclaimed sporting capital of the world, Melbourne.

Bolt, with his mixture of off-track charisma and on-track prowess, was the selling point of Nitro Athletics in year one. He is also signed up for 2018-19.

But, without the eight-time Olympic gold medallist, we'd likely be assessing the inaugural event a little differently.

Look at what happened to golf when Tiger Woods went on his infamous hiatus. Crowds nosedived, television ratings plummeted and, as a result, so did sponsorship dollars. It's not to say interest isn't there for other athletes, but there are certain megastars who transcend sport and generate a buzz and level of excitement that others simply cannot.

For Nitro Athletics to sustain a level of success, organisers must lock in a megastar drawcard every year to avoid the series slipping back into the increasing pack of sports all vying for attention.

Nevertheless, Bolt believes Nitro Athletics has been a raging success and has urged the world to buy into the phenomenon.

"I've never been in a situation where I've had so much fun at a track meet - ever," Bolt said. "There was a wonderful energy and I think people really enjoyed it.

"I know all of the athletes have been talking about it saying that it was really good and really something different. I want people to experience what I've experienced, I want people to see what I've seen, to feel the energy."

Nitro Athletics has proved itself as a worthy concept that the IAAF must continue to back, even if for many the majority of interest was in catching a glimpse of Bolt charging down the track.

So long as there's similar star power in the future, Nitro Athletics may just be a saviour for athletics on a global scale.

Well done, Melbourne. Next up, the world.