On Sunday, the Winter Olympics came to a close. Most of America shrugged. Ratings were significantly down from 2018, reaching all time lows some nights. There was drama, top tier athleticism and majestic sights, but it did not click with audiences.
The Olympics are a fantastic international event showcasing the best of the best. Americans now just have many entertainment options. America is also a different audience in aggregate. NBC’s desire to push minority representation and contributions is not a woke push as much as a marketing push to pull in minority viewers in a diverse nation. Nordic euro nations dominate events, so the natural inclination to want to see aspirational figures is a challenge for NBC’s coverage of the winter games. Advertisements made this explicit with multiple ads featuring a story of minority girls excited to watch events.
Beijing hosting these games added a geopolitical wrinkle as the media huffed and puffed about human rights issues. This was a contrast to 2008 when human rights abuses was on a backburner as the story of those games was China’s rise and advancement since the opening of China in 1972. Those games showcased the amazing growth and modernization of China as it took a seat at the global table. These were colder games, figuratively and literally.
China hosting is also a story of the problem the Olympics has now with awarding games. When the application process began, there were six sites proposed. The Olympics are now a money sink. They do not bring in additional revenue. Greece’s 2004 Olympics were an indicator for this change. Bidding for the ‘22 games was done in the shadow of the Euro Debt crisis. Some classic locations could not bid. Others dropped out due to IOC corruption charges. When it came down to finalists, Beijing had the money and capacity compared to Poland and Kazakhstan. Can you imagine a Kazakh winter games two weeks after a failed color revolution? Beijing was a shoe in!
This created curious issues like the need for fake snow, ski jumps next to industrial plants and a lot of tap dancing around China’s geopolitical issues. Even to the amateur eye, something looked off with the skiing events. It’s not that the IOC wanted to award a summer host a winter games, but it is that they had to do so. The world is changing and the Olympics go where the money is. Asia hosting the ‘18, ‘20 and ‘22 games should not surprise anyone. These are wealthy nations who still believe in the gravitas and prestige hosting brings.
These games just did not resonate with the broad American audience. This is all despite the games incorporating snowboarding, tricks and more ADD events. Figure skating brought the drama, including one of the weirdest medal moments ever. Just no American ice princesses involved in it. The spotlight Winter Olympic events are suffering the same problem tennis has today; there is fantastic athletic competition, just no yanks.
NBC also took a different tack with promoting female athletes by pushing inspiration and not pushing sex appeal. Inspirational figures for youths who will be in bed during primetime telecasts. The 2014 media coverage was set on the many attractive female athletes and the brand new Tinder app, which made dating in the Olympic Village much more exciting. Wink wink. Sex sells. This was downplayed this year. Maybe #MeToo killed it. We got copious close ups, interviews and advertisements featuring Elena Meyers. Aspirational figures for minority children over sexy competitors in spandex. Click.
The Olympics will rebound. Stories of tragedy and triumph will always draw in viewers. The problem the IOC and NBC face is that the pull of The Olympics is not what it once was. They are going to have to work at it. Multiyear build ups might be necessary to build invested viewers. They might have to do what Disney does with rollouts and dole promotions and events out like drug dealers. After all, there is so much content out there and only twenty four hours in a day.