Why Jacobs and Kerley's 'thrash talking' rivalry is what track and field needs

Fred Kerley vs Marcell Jacobs

OPINION Why Jacobs and Kerley's 'thrash talking' rivalry is what track and field needs

Funmilayo Fameso 11:14 - 21.04.2023

Marcell Jacobs and Fred Kerley are changing the narrative of rivalry match-ups in track and field.

The fastest men in the world, Fred Kerley and Marcel Jacobs, are giving athletics enthusiasts what the sport needs with their newly developed rivalry off-track.

Kerley, the World champion and Olympic silver medallist, and Jacobs, the Olympic champion, threw jabs of words at each other on their social media platforms, allowing track veterans and enthusiasts to join the conversation, asking for a possible match-up between both men.

Kerley and Jacobs ready for 1V1 race if the money is right
Fred Kerley and Marcell Jacobs

Whether this race will take place or not, this article gives detailed reasons why the World Athletics needs to consider more rivalry clashes as it's exactly what 'boring' track and field needs.

The unexpected saga between Kerley and Jacobs

It all started in March when Kerley was asked on the “Sprint Culture” video podcast about Jacobs’ performance at the 2023 European Indoor Championships. 

The Italian was runner-up in the 60m in 6.50s, ranking him seventh in the world this year, though he went to the championship as the reigning World Indoor 60m champion.

Kerley is the fastest man in the world
Fred Kerley

“Indoor is indoor,” said Kerley, who last raced indoors in 2021. “The real dogs come and play outdoors.” Kerley was then asked if Jacobs was “a real dog.”

“I don’t think so,” he replied. “I’m just going to be truthful.”

Jacobs, who defeated Kerley for the Olympic title at the delayed 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games, will later respond on his Insta story.

“The lion doesn’t turn around when a small dog barks” and “Easy run today so as not to scare small dogs,” he wrote.

This back-and-forth continued after Jacobs posted another Instagram story, this time an image of him edging Kerley at the Tokyo Olympic 100m finish line.

“Whenever you want and wherever you want, but remember that when it mattered more, it ended like this,” the caption read.

Jacobs response to Kerley referring to him as a 'small dog'

“Make it happen; I want 1v1, no one else, just him. Him alone,” Kerley then replied to this with a tweet at the account of the Diamond League, the sport’s premier international circuit. 

He also reposted one of Jacobs’ Instagram training clips but wrote over it with a Daffy Duck and the caption “Ya the best at ducking,” implying that Jacobs avoids racing the world’s best sprinters.

This thrash-talking at each other is now a trending topic that has got fans, veterans of the sport, and even top athletes requesting the World Athletics and Diamond League authorities to make it happen. 

Johnson and Bolt give their takes on Kerley and Jacobs rivalry

Veteran and former double World Record (WR) holder in the 200m and 400m Micheal Johnson, quoted Kerley's tweet with the caption: 

"The issue will probably be both absolutely deserve to be paid big fees! Consider PPV, promote it personally, and take a share of back end?"

Then multiple Olympic medallist and fastest man in history, Usain Bolt, tweeted - "Track is getting spicy."

And trust reigning World 200m champion Noah Lyles to join the conversation - "I got $20k on Fred for the 1V1".

Noah Lyles response to Kerley and Jacobs 1V1 match

Everyone is eagerly anticipating this race and willing to bet on their favourite athlete to win. But the question is will the World Athletics or Diamond League make it happen?

Why rivalry match-ups are needed in track and field

Rivalry match-ups before major championship finals in track and field are mostly avoided due to best-known reasons. However, from a fan's perspective, for media visibility and engagements, Pay-per-view and business-wise, it is what the sport needs to stop being called 'boring'.

Interestingly, the most popular and expensive sports have significant rivalries between their key competitors, which makes their identifiable sports popular. 

Football fans till eternity will never get tired of the Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo comparison. Basketball fans will always tend towards the LeBron James and Steph Curry discussion, and tennis enthusiasts will forever have the 'Big 3' conversation of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic on who is the greatest of all time.

These singled-out rivalries are the faces of their sport-enriching media visibility and high returns on Pay-per-view investments. Once fans are invested and talking, it means more money and the growth of their sport.

Their ruling federations or governing bodies see this and ensure match-ups are constantly being activated directly or indirectly, in what can be termed - 'get the fans talking and give them what they want".

Combat sports such as UFC, WWE, and MMA top the list in this, and team sports such as club football and basketball have their owners buy the best players on their teams that can create these rivalries and mouth-watering clashes when the best teams face each other, while individual sports like tennis have their associations organise elite meets weekly, that will berth rivalries between their best players.

New Zealand professional mixed martial artist of Nigerian descent Israel Mobolaji Adesanya is hyped up ahead of his return to the octagon.
New Zealand professional mixed martial artist of Nigerian descent Israel Mobolaji Adesanya is hyped up ahead of his return to the octagon. New Zealand professional mixed martial artist of Nigerian descent Israel Mobolaji Adesanya is hyped up ahead of his return to the octagon.

More rivalry match-ups equal more media and fan engagements, better viewership and Tv ratings, and inevitably more money for the sport.

However, in athletics, it is the direct opposite. There is just one major championship in a year, fewer meets are organised that pay close to peanuts, as Pulse Sports reported before, and major match-ups are avoided because organisers mostly can't pay the appearance fees of most of the highly-rated athletes.

A key example is the World Athletics tweeting a versus clash between women's World champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and US sensation Sha'Carri Richardson for the Botswana Grand Prix on April 29th.

The backlash the tweet received resulted in a fan war between Jamaicans and Americans, with the former claiming it was an insult to their legend being compared to an athlete with no significant track medal or earned a place amongst the greats of the sport. 

The tweet will later be deleted with the explanation that both athletes will compete in different events, not the 100m. 

A huge mistake deleting Fraser-Pryce and Richardson's tweet

Richardson has the highest social media reach and engagements amongst all current active athletes, followed by Fraser-Pryce. A tweet or anything related to them tends to bang, meaning their clash should occur now and often to increase bragging rights between both countries and encourage fan wars. 

Richardson and Fraser-Pryce have the highest social media reach among track athletes
Sha'Carri Richardson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

In return, it will increase online and TV viewing numbers, ticket sales, more sponsors to their match-up meets, and improve the women's 100m event from being boring. This is what mostly happens in other sports.

How Jacobs and Kerley may be changing the narrative

The last time athletics had a rivalry and thrash-talking between top athletes was Bolt and Justin Gatlin. Since Bolt retired, the sport has returned to its boring state.

Lyles and Trayvon Bromell tried to stir up things in the indoor season this year after Lyles defeated his counterpart and former World Indoor champion in a 60m race and tweeted afterwards, "It's My House Now".

Bromell will respond with an Insta post with the caption, "He said "this his house"?.....Bet!.” In his next race, Bromell ran a world-leading time of 6.42s, making a statement that he was the fastest in the event.

Bromell with an Insta post in response to Lyles calling the 60m his house

They were supposed to have a final battle at the US Indoor Championships for a total claim to the bragging rights, but a few days before the commencement of the championship, Bromell withdrew, and Lyles did the same.

For Kerley and Jacobs, they have both agreed to a 1V1 race as long as their asking price and requests are met, as both are demanding an appearance fee in the range of six figures. 

All it takes now is for a sponsor to take the risk and drop the money, choose a conducive meet for the match-up, both athletes to show up and drop fast times, and then watch the media and TV viewership skyrocket more than any Diamond League meet in history.

The last World Championships in Oregon drew 18.7 million viewers across NBC Sports platforms, making it the most-watched world track and field championships on record (since 1988). 

The final day of the championship averaged 2.362 million viewers, who watched it only on linear TV. It confirms athletics is loved and has the prominence needed if the tiny details of marketing and business are worked on, then it will compete with the most expensive sports in the world.

One of those tiny details is match-up rivalries at constant world-class competitions yearly. It's high time the World Athletics and Diamond League takes this initiative for the sport's growth, and that time is now.