Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Reflections on Ignored Olympics

This began as a comment on In The Gutter, but when it started to get long I decided to put it in my own blog instead. I agree with a lot of what Chris says about the Olympic sparkle being gone.

I used to be an Olympics junkie. My first Olympic memories are the "Miracle on Ice" and Eric Heiden in 1980. I watched the 1984 Los Angeles games day and night. I thought the USA had the most awesome athletes in the world; it was only later that I realized just how stacked the competition was with the Soviet boycott. (Indeed many would argue that the end of the Olympics' golden era came with the American boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980, if not the Munich tragedy in 1972. I wonder today how many countries might boycott Olympics in the USA because of our invasion of Iraq, which really isn't much different from the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan.) I liked the Olympics so much that I preferred JCPenney's "USA Olympics" gym shoes and clothing over any name brand.

My interest has waned over the years, especially in the last decade or so. I saw one hour of Torino, and only because it was on TV at a restaurant. A few stories caught my eye online, but nothing compelled me to actually watch the Games. Apparently, Chris and I were not alone in shunning the Olympics this year:
NBC's prime-time Olympics coverage from Turin ended up averaging 20.2 million viewers per night, a 37 percent decline from the Salt Lake City Games four years ago, with an even steeper decline among young viewers.
Ouch! It doesn't bode well for the future that the 18-49 age group was down 45%. Think of how much NBC paid to carry the Olympics (and to cover them), and you can imagine some network executives must be pretty upset. Incidentally, the best market for the Games this time around was the host last time, Salt Lake City. Of course, that is one good excuse for the ratings slump -- the Olympics are always more popular on American soil. Another excuse is that with the Games in Europe, people could get results on the Internet before the TV coverage started at night.

But I think it's more than that. The Olympics used to be about competition and sportsmanship. Now it seems like many of today's Olympians are just as obnoxious and annoying as the spoiled crybabies in MLB, the NFL, the NBA, etc. And yet when Eric Zorn blogged about Shani Lewis' lack of sportsmanship (in reaction to a boneheaded guest editorial from an ivory tower academic), he took a beating from commenters who said he just doesn't understand how hard it is to be black, and that whites only accept blacks when they are smiling and nice. Bullsh*t. As Zorn said, "it's about class, not race." Anyone who doesn't win graciously in the Olympics insults and embarrasses his country as well as himself. I don't care if you're black, white, brown, or blue. Bite your tongue and smile. You won, dammit! Besides, let's face it, this is the only time 99% of the world will give a damn about you and your chosen sport. No one pays attention to speedskating, bobsledding, curling, etc. during the four years between Olympics.

And like everything else in this world, the Olympics are too commercial. I know it takes money to put on the events, but now it seems like everything has a sponsor's name on it. I don't remember that from the Olympics of my youth. And individual athletes are hyped so much that sometimes we're sick of them before they even compete. Heck, remember the series of Dan and Dave Reebok commercials in 1992? Dan didn't even make it to the Olympics. Oops. That should have been a warning to marketers that they were getting too far ahead of the Games. Instead, every four years a new crop of skiers, skaters, runners, and gymnasts is exploited leading up to the Big Event. As if these athletes aren't under enough pressure to succeed, now they have millions of $$$$$ on the line dancing in their heads and adding to the stress. After Sasha Cohen fell, articles talked about how much it would cost her in endorsements. Then reporters go on and on about the "tragedy" of someone like Bode Miller losing when they and their advertisers were responsible for raising expectations in the first place.

I also hate the every-two-years Olympics (alternating winter and summer). I understand why it was done for branding and organizational reasons, but they were more special when we had to wait four years. An Olympic year was a big deal, and it coincided with the Presidential elections in the US. The Winter Games led up to the Summer Games a few months later, followed in November by the election. Now it seems like the Olympics are happening all the time, which lessens the excitement and interest.

1 comment:

MidnightBayou said...

I like watching the Olympics but I really do hope another network gets the Games. I feel NBC has the WORST Olympic coverage ever! What makes it bad is the bios on athletes (half of them not American) and other filler bullshit that wasn't the games at all.