I find the Winter Olympics to be a strangely entertaining two and a half weeks, 17 days of getting to know athletes and sports you rarely watch before or after the Games. I always watch the Olympics, though the same cannot be said of all American sports fans these days. The times of the Games captivating our country are mostly over. The problem is not that the Winter Olympics have become a bad viewing product, but like all sports, the Games have to battles with hundreds of other channels of sports and entertainment content.
When I was young, we had four channels. I felt like it was my duty as an American and a sports fan, to watch the Olympics. I still do. I spent the weekend in the cold-weather state of Vermont, a state that has produced a number of the Winter Olympians. It was fascinating to see the crowds gazing at the television screens in cafes and restaurants. There was loud cheering as Apolo Ohno won a silver medal in speed skating.
Was I wrong? Is the Winter Olympic spirit as strong as it was in the 1970s and 1980s or was I just in a room full of winter sports fans? Probably the latter. The problem with the Winter Olympics is not the event itself; it is the lack of coverage leading up to the Olympics. We rarely see speed skating or downhill skiing on television except for two weeks, every four years. I work in the sports media and two weeks ago I would have had a tough time naming five American Winter Olympic athletes.
We start watching the Winter Olympics during the opening ceremonies and then it is a crash course in learning the sports and the athletes. In the 1970s and 1980s we had ABC's Wide World of Sports each weekend. This programme spotlighted the non-traditional sports like diving, bull riding, skiing, track and field and so on. While the show was great to watch and kept Olympic sports in the spotlight, it could not compete ratings-wise with the NFL, MLB and NBA.
So now we get little winter sports on television besides ESPN's X-Games, leaving us a bit clueless when the Winter Olympics begin. That being said, NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver lifted the network to No 1 in the ratings on Sunday. According to Nielsen's estimates, NBC's four hours of prime-time coverage drew an average of 26.3 million viewers, easily leading the night, but down from an impressive 32.6 million who tuned in to the opening ceremony on Friday, the most for a non-United States Winter Olympics since the 1994 opening ceremony; the year of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.
To get the casual sports fan to tune into the Winter Olympics, you need an incident - positive or negative. We got that this year. On Friday, a 21-year-old luge competitor from Georgia crashed and died during a training run. Every Olympics has a drama that develops during the course of the event. In the opening days of the Games, the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili was the main storyline. The death was awful and the impact was felt everywhere. I tuned in to see how NBC would cover his passing and the story of the dangerous luge course. Hopefully more positive stories will develop over the week. They always do.
At the end of every Winter Olympics, I make a silent vow to myself to try to watch more sports like curling, skiing and others during the four years leading up to the next winter games, but I rarely do. Like you, I will tune in to the 2014 Games in Russia with a blank slate. But I will be ready to learn. It is my Winter Olympics tradition. @Email:email@example.com