Can a pro startup revolutionize the sport?

Can a pro swimming startup revolutionize the sport?

Here’s what you need to know about the new International Swimming League:

A new series of events for the world’s best professional swimmers launched earlier this month, and it’s threatening to upend the sport’s traditional power structure — if it can survive. Here’s what you need to know about the International Swimming League:

What is it?
The ISL is a set of seven events taking place in the United States and Europe over the next couple of months. The first two were held in Indianapolis and Naples, Italy. There are also stops in Dallas, Budapest, the Washington, D.C. area and London to close out the regular season before a grand playoff finale at a Las Vegas casino in late December.

The ultimate goal is to create a profitable circuit that gives pro swimmers a chance to be seen (and make money) outside of the relatively small number of legacy high-profile events. Those are the Olympics (held every four years), the world championships (every two) and major regional meets like the Pan Pacific Championships (every four).

The ISL’s compact schedule takes place during a down time in the traditional swimming calendar. When it’s done, athletes will have plenty of time to return to their national programs to get ready for their Olympic trials and, of course, the Tokyo Games next summer.

What makes it different?
For one, swimmers don’t compete for their countries. It’s more like, say, the NHL or NBA, where you’ll find players of multiple nationalities on every squad.

The ISL has eight teams — four based in the United States, four in Europe. A total of four compete in each regular-season meet. At the first four meets, it’s two U.S. and two European teams. Then comes a U.S.-only “derby” in Washington followed by a European derby in London. When that’s all done, the top two U.S. teams and top two European teams in the standings face off in the final in Vegas.

The American-based teams are called the New York Breakers, the Los Angeles Current, the D.C. Trident and the Cali (short for California) Condors. Some of the European teams are a little more oddly named. The London Roar is pretty normal by today’s North American team-name conventions, but there’s also the Aqua Centurions (based in Italy), Energy Standard (Turkey) and one called just Iron (Hungary).

One of the ISL’s big points of emphasis is gender equality. Teams have 12 men and 12 women in their starting lineups at each meet, and there are an equal number of men’s and women’s races. Each meet also has two mixed relays. Prize money is equal.

The ISL is also going for a more modern (flashier) presentation than we’re used to from swimming. There’s elaborate lighting, a live DJ, and the music keeps going during races. It’s only silent when the swimmers settle into the starting blocks, right before the gun.

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