Will the Winter Olympics get more attention than people say and if not, is it a public relations issue?
It’s interesting that I hear and see people asking others if they are going to watch the Winter Olympics. A recent poll revealed that just 20 percent of Americans plan to make the Games a viewing priority. I found that number surprising since when it comes to the Summer Games, watching seems to be a foregone conclusion, especially with sports fans.
So, why the difference, or indifference, when it comes to the likes of competitive skiing, ice-skating and luge?
While I can’t answer this definitively, I can say that based on reports from Vancouver, site of this year’s Winter Olympics, challenges abound. There are cuts in NBC Sports’ staff (the network that owns the United States broadcast rights) from previous years, reports that the same company expects to lose money, the event’s covergirl, ski racer, Lindey Vonn is injured with a bruised shin and as of this writing, will try to compete, and from Michael Wilbon on “PTI”, maybe the Games have lost their luster.
One of the biggest public relations challenges this year will be push-and-pull of news that comes out of Vancouver. As we well know, social media has taken a front-row seat at sports events, which could pose a problem for NBC as it plans to again air some events on a tape-delay basis, even though it will share events and results across the NBC Universal family of stations (USA, CNBC, MSNBC, NBC and NBCOlympics.com). The same programming issue plagued the network during the past few Games broadcasts, especially when they were held outside of North America, which obviously isn’t a concern this year. Tape-delay or live-to-tape could become a subject of contention, however, because even since 2008’s Beijing Summer Games, society has come to expect events in real time via Twitter, Facebook and other Internet portals.
The best-case scenario for NBC and the Winter Olympics would be if Vonn recovers from her injury enough to ski competitively, that the ice hockey team is medal-competitive and athletes who have heart-tugging stories remain healthy.
As with all of the Olympics staged in the Television Era, stories will likely be the keys that pull in greater consumer numbers than in past years.
According to Dan Patrick, who is in Vancouver with NBC and spoke on his radio show this week, story packages typically target women. The thinking by the network is that guys will tune in and “get” the sports aspect, so the backstories that come out of the Games have to be thoughtful and gripping enough to rein women into the viewing mix.
As a sports fan and someone who admires the sacrifices so many Olympic athletes make, I’ll watch. However, I’m not a cold-weather sports fan, and the idea of looking at more snow than what lies outside my door is not as enticing to me as watching people twist and maneuver their bodies as they fall flawlessly into the water from diving boards. Like many of you I will watch in wonder at the speed of skaters, skiers and lugers, wonder how a figure-skater can spin so many times without throwing up, and ask how curling is really a sport.
It’ll be fun. Really. Please pass my Snuggie and the hot chocolate…