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Ready, Set, Luge!

Solfami79Will 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.

Never Was An Arrow IIAs 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…

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5 Responses to Ready, Set, Luge!

  1. Gail Sideman February 12, 2010 at 9:48 am #

    Oh — another challenge, which I failed to mention, is that Vancouver needs SNOW! That is big 😉

  2. Danny Brown February 12, 2010 at 10:28 am #

    Hi Gail,

    Nice overview, and I think one that is affecting more large-scale events as social becomes more mainstream. Do we watch it on TV? Online? On our smartphones? These are questions that games and event organizers need to come up with way before the event.

    VANOC (the Vancouver Olympic Committee) is coming under heavy fire about their lack of social engagement, and the missed opportunity. Now it seems that London 2012 will be the first true socialympics (at least from the official view – sponsors are doing a great job in Vancouver).

    NBS does have a great social presence for Vancouver, with their Olympic Pulse set-up:

    http://www.nbcolympics.com/olympicpulse/index.html

    Tweets from athletes, NBC, the health teams and event attendees, as well as blog updates, is giving a great interactive option.

    And yes, having to fly in snow for a winter event isn’t ideal… 😉

  3. Gail Sideman February 12, 2010 at 12:34 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Danny. I do like NBC’s Olympic Pulse page… My hope is that athletes that contribute provide value in their social media interaction. That will help elevate their own brands as well as that of the Olympics in general.

    I look forward to what London 2012 has to offer. Again, this could provide a needed boost for a tradition that may have, as Michael Wilbon suggested, lost its luster.

  4. Bob February 12, 2010 at 3:35 pm #

    Gail. Interesting. I too have talked to many friend and family and they will breifly watch the Winter Games this year. I on the other hand love winter sports, even though I currently live in Atlanta, and will be keeping up with the events in Vancouver, Whistler and other places in B.C. via the TV and internet.

    For people living in the U.S., right now, patriotism and pride in the USA is very low for a variety of reasons and that is why interest is low: poltical, and economic. Let’s face it, the Olympics were a great story when the U.S. was opposing communist countries and the Big Bad U.S.S.R. Too badf the Taliban or Al Queda doesn’t have a team to enter.

    I think if we struck up some competitive dust against Canada (even though I am a dual US-Canadian citizen myself), I think it would create some great competition and most import the PR and marketing need to carry the games into the 21 century.

    Wouldn’t be amazing to see Obama announce tonight that the U.S. is at War with Canada (kidding of course)? The ratings would go through the roof!

  5. Gail Sideman February 13, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    You’re right, Bob. Give any team a rival and the interest is amped tenfold. We see that in our major team sports each season.

    I think because of the luge tragedy, yesterday, you’ll see Georgian Olympians compete with more emotion. I think we all might cheer on luge teams even greater than before, as well.

    That being said, in the general scope of the Olympics, Americans will focus their primary interest on sports they understand and leave the rest to casual viewers.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

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