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SBD/February 17, 2014/OlympicsPrint All
NBC reporter Christin Cooper's interview with U.S. skier Bode Miller after he tied for a Bronze Medal in the men's super-G yesterday was "a shameful spectacle," according to David Bauder of the AP. Cooper "repeated essentially the same question -- a variation of 'how does it feel?' -- again and again and again until she not only drew tears, but a complete breakdown by Miller over the death of his younger brother within the past year." It was "tone-deaf and cruel, and short-circuited the thoughtful, intelligent perspectives Miller had started to offer until he couldn't talk anymore." It is "even more inexplicable that NBC felt the need to show it all; it wasn't live" (AP, 2/17). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir writes under the header, "NBC Pushes Too Far In Bringing Bode Miller To Tears." If an interviewer has "made a medal winner cry, it is time to simply say 'thank you' and move on." It was "on tape, so NBC could have cut it off and gone to Matt Lauer in the studio." Instead, Cooper "forged on, wondering whom he seemed to be talking to when he looked up in the sky before he started his run down the mountain." It was "not a bad question, but by this point, it was overkill." Emotion is a "real and honest element of athletic triumph and defeat," and viewers "don’t want a network to tell its journalists to stick to soft questions when interviewing the winners." Sandomir: "But in this instance, Cooper and NBC lacked the sensitivity to know when enough was enough" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/17). FOXSPORTS.com's notes Cooper is "not a lifelong journalist, but rather an Olympian skier herself, having won silver in the giant slalom" in the '84 Sarajevo Games (FOXSPORTS.com, 2/17).
MILLER DEFENDS COOPER: Miller today addressed the controversy surrounding Cooper and said, "I've known Christin for a long time and she's a sweetheart of a person. I know she didn't mean to push. I don't think she really anticipated what my reaction was going to be. I think by the time she sort of realized, then I think it was too late. I don't blame her at all. I feel terrible that she's taking the heat for that because it was just a heat of the moment circumstance. I don't think there was any harm intended and it was just a lot of emotion for me" ("Today," NBC, 2/17). Miller earlier today tweeted, "I appreciate everyone sticking up for me. Please be gentle w christin cooper, it was crazy emotional and not all her fault. ... My emotions were very raw, she asked the questions that every interviewer would have, pushing is part of it, she wasnt trying to cause pain" (TWITTER.com, 2/17).
TAKING HEAT FROM TWITTER: Cooper's interview drew a lot of heat on Twitter. SI’s Mark Mravic: “NBC had about 16 hours to decide whether it was a good idea to air that disgraceful Cristin Cooper/Bode Miller interview. … Still thinking about NBC Bode Miller. Journalists must respect their interview subjects. They are people, not plotlines.” Writer Amanda Rykoff: “We know you love the personal side of the stories, but that interview with Bode Miller went too far.” The Boston Herald’s Charlie Abrahams: “Shame on you @NBC @NBCOlympics. That was seriously out of bounds!” The Lehigh Valley Express-Times’ Bill Ross: “NBC should remove Christin Cooper from Olympic coverage immediately. Her interview with Bode Miller was everything that is wrong w/the media.” The Orlando Sentinel’s George Diaz: “Bode Miller interview classic ambush 'make him cry' journalism. Weak.” BizOfBaseball’s Maury Brown: “Christin Cooper is the new Jim Gray... only worse.”
JUST DOING HER JOB: In Toronto, Cathal Kelly notes social media following the interview "immediately set upon Cooper, ripping her as an opportunist and an emotional ghoul." Kelly: "And, as usual, they’re wrong." Cooper's interview "does not come anywhere close to crossing an ethical line." At no point "does she hector" Miller, and at no point does Miller "definitively dissuade her from her line of questioning." Kelly: "Rather than blame Christin Cooper for provoking tears from Miller, we might ask ourselves why, for so many of us, our first reaction upon seeing that sort of raw emotion is anger" (TORONTO STAR, 2/17). Newsday's Neil Best wrot eon his Twitter account, "Finally saw NBC's chat with @MillerBode. Chillax! One question too many? Maybe. But nothing out of line in context of normal Olympic pathos" (TWITTER.com, 2/17). In Denver, John Meyer admits he has not watched the interview but writes, "I do know Cooper, and I know how much respect she has for athletes." Meyer: "I’d love to know what the producers were screaming in her earpiece when she was interviewing Miller" (DENVERPOST.com, 2/17). SI.com's Richard Deitsch writes there is "no question Miller's brother was part of the narrative NBC was trying to push in the post-race interview, but the question is how far should they have pushed." If "you want to place blame on someone for going too far here for a storyline -- if there is even blame to place -- choose the producers." They decided to air a "non-live interview for maximum impact" (SI.com, 2/17).
TUGGING AT THE HEARTSTRINGS: SPORTS ON EARTH's Emma Span writes under the header, "NBC's Olympic Coverage Is Too Drawn To Tears." Span writes many viewers "felt uncomfortable" watching Cooper's interview with Miller -- "as if we were witnessing a private moment that we had no place witnessing, and one that NBC had clearly provoked." However, Cooper "is not the real issue here." She is "the tree," and NBC's "overarching and now decades-long approach to covering the Olympics is the forest." For "many years now, but seemingly more with every Olympics it airs, NBC has prized emotional stories of athletes overcoming adversity above all else -- including the actual sporting events." The net's coverage is "drawn to tears like a shark to blood" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 2/17). In L.A., Chris Dufresne writes Cooper's interview "seemed typical of what television reporters do for ratings." Dufresne: "I do think the interview and subsequent reaction undermines the story of the day, which was Weibrecht's unbelievable result. But hey, that's television" (LATIMES.com, 2/17). In Ft. Worth, Gil LeBreton wrote the Olympics to NBC are "a TV show, not just a sporting competition." They are "a 17-day miniseries, to be edited, deleted, milked for drama and, as we were reminded last week, sometimes even scripted for your viewing enjoyment" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 2/17).
NBC earned a 9.6 fast-national rating and 17.1 million viewers for Olympic coverage on Saturday from 8:30-11:00pm ET, down sharply from comparable coverage during both the ’10 Vancouver and ’06 Turin Games. Saturday night’s telecast from Sochi included Gold Medal finals for women’s super-G, men’s short track speedskating, men’s speedskating, men’s ski jumping and men’s skeleton. The 9.6 rating is the lowest for any Olympic primetime telecast (Summer or Winter) since the Turin Closing Ceremony drew an 8.9 rating (14.8 million viewers). Despite the drop, NBC had an easy win on Saturday in primetime. The comparable Saturday night from Vancouver drew a 14.7 rating and 26.7 million viewers, while the same night from Turin drew an 11.3 rating and 19.7 million viewers. Through Saturday night, NBC is averaging a 13.2 rating (23.5 million viewers), up 14% from Turin, but down 10% from Vancouver (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Merissa Marr noted NBC's ratings for Sochi going into the weekend had "settled into a pattern" of beating Turin but falling shy of Vancouver. There "have been many challenges for the Sochi Olympics in its first week, not least the fact that several star American athletes have disappointed." Beating the Vancouver Games "was always seen as a high bar for Sochi" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/15).WINTER OLYMPICS AVERAGE PRIMETIME RATINGS TREND'14 (Sochi)'10 (Vancouver)'06 (Turin)'02 (Salt Lake)
9th Day (Saturday)9.614.711.314.0 8th Day (Friday)11.013.411.215.8 7th Day (Thursday)13.414.511.917.6 6th Day (Wednesday)12.116.711.317.5 5th Day (Tuesday)13.712.211.318.5 4th Day (Monday)12.814.212.819.6 3rd Day (Sunday)14.414.313.317.6 2nd Day (Saturday)13.914.013.517.1 Opening Ceremony17.017.312.825.5 NINE-NIGHT AVG.13.214.712.2n/a
COSTAS COMING BACK: DEADLINE.com's Lisa De Moraes reported Bob Costas will "resume his primetime and late night hosting duties" of NBC's coverage beginning tonight. Costas has missed six nights due to an eye infection, and an NBC Sports spokesperson said that Costas is "better, but his eye condition is still noticeable and he will wear glasses" again on air. Costas yesterday was at NBC's studio for about two hours, "seeing how the light affects his eyes and having meetings to discuss his return" (DEADLINE.com, 2/16). Costas this morning said, "I'm not a 100 percent, that's for sure. But if I waited until I was 100 percent, the Olympics would be over. If the audience can put up with still a little bit of red eye that's hiding behind the glasses, then I can put up with it for the next week, too" ("Today," NBC, 2/17). The AP's David Bauder wrote NBC's Meredith Vieira on Friday "was a solid pro in her first turn as prime-time Olympics host," though she "wasn't given much to do." Vieira hosted both Friday and Saturday night following three nights of Matt Lauer filling in for Costas. There has "been some online grumbling about NBC turning to two 'Today' show hosts to sub for Costas instead of a sportscaster." But what the role really requires in an "engaging MC." If NBC "attracts just a sports audience to the prime-time telecast, it fails," so it "was smart to have a woman do the job on a night where skating dominated the agenda" (AP, 2/14).
WHY NOT A SPORTSCASTER? SI.com's Richard Deitsch wondered why NBC opted to go with Lauer and Vieira as "opposed to a sports department staffer such as Rebecca Lowe, Al Michaels or Dan Patrick." NBC Olympics Exec Producer Jim Bell said, "We’ve got no shortage of candidates. Many of them are already working for us on the air, and I think that was really one of the considerations ... Meredith's schedule was a little bit looser so that’s why, and obviously, we have a relationship and have worked together" (SI.com, 2/16). In Orlando, Jerry Greene asked of the decision to have Lauer and Vieira sub for Costas, "What in the world does this say to Dan Patrick and Al Michaels, two of America's best known sportscasters that are left on the bench?" It says NBC "does not think of the Olympics as a prime time sport." The net instead wants someone "who will be ready to hold up a stray puppy adopted by an American athlete" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 2/16).
CLEAR-EYED COMMENTARY: The New Yorker Editor and NBC Olympic special correspondent David Remnick's stint at the Sochi Games ended last Tuesday, but the N.Y. TIMES' John Koblin wrote, "You almost wish it lasted a little longer." Remnick's commentary "was a welcome respite from the usual fare," and his presence "provided quite a contrast from NBC’s usual crew: He offered informative, context-rich color commentary versus the sort of stuff usually used to describe balloons and marching bands at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/16).
VITAL TO GO VIRAL: The AP's Bauder profiled NBC Sports Senior Dir Brian Gilmore, who is "assigned to create viral videos for the Olympics." His job is to "find moments -- wacky, heartbreaking or heartwarming -- to break out and post in the hope of generating the most online traffic possible." Gilmore: "Our job is to find things that can resonate." Bauder noted a clip of Indian luger Shiva Keshavan falling off his sled before catching himself and getting back on was the NBCOlympics.com's "most popular clip for several days until Olga Graf blew by him." The Russian speedskater was "captured by cameras after a race zipping down her Lycra uniform front to cool off, only to quickly zip it back up when she realized she had nothing on underneath." The clip was "G-rated but still, more than 2.5 million people had to see for themselves." Other popular clips "include an interview with tearful American skier Hannah Kearney, overcome at the realization her career was ending with a bronze instead of gold medal; skier Todd Lodwick 'photo-bombing' NBC's Randy Moss as Moss reported on him; luger Kate Hansen psyching herself for competition with a dance routine; and a cross-country skier who pressed on despite a broken ski." Gilmore: "You know it when you see it. You're looking for emotion. You're looking for things you've never seen before" (AP, 2/15).
UPS & DOWNS: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Ben Cohen reported, "Olympic action accounted for 24.4% of NBC's primetime and late-night broadcasts on Tuesday night." This is the "truly bizarre part of a Winter Olympics broadcast: There isn't that much Winter Olympics." The 24.4% figure is "less than breaks in the Olympic action (26.8%) and almost 22 minutes less than commercials (33.1%)" (WSJ.com, 2/15).
NBC Sports Group Chair Mark Lazarus yesterday sat for a 30-minute interview with SI.com's Richard Deitsch and addressed "multiple topics about the network's coverage and staffing including a succession plan for host Bob Costas, the positive reviews for analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir, why the speech of IOC President Thomas Bach was edited during the Opening Ceremony and why NBC tape-delays some high-profile events to air them in primetime." NBC has faced its "share of criticism for taped coverage, though it has not been near the hysteria heard during the London Games." Lazarus said of the live/taped mix, "We said this in London and we will say this now: Every Games we learn more and the technology changes faster and we continue to evolve. We have the right mix for these Games. Is this the right mix for the next Games? I don't know. Most of what we do for Rio will be live. Thank goodness I don't have to answer this question at least until we get to Pyeongchang (in 2018)." The following are more excerpts from Lazarus' interview.
Q: You had six days without Bob Costas as the primetime host. How -- and did -- his absence make you think about the long-term succession for a staffer who has been one of the best Olympic hosts in history?
Lazarus: We said after Sochi we would start to think about what life after Bob might be, whether post-Rio, post-Pyeongchang, post-Tokyo, whenever he does not want to do it anymore. ... Certainly, we would be foolish not to be thinking about what a succession might look like. That is part of my job. I think about that for all sports. This obviously is a little bit of a wake-up call and it says make sure you are prepared because that day will come eventually.
Q: Why not use a traditional sports host such as Rebecca Lowe, Al Michaels or Dan Patrick to fill in for Bob on primetime?
Lazarus: Al is a game-caller and host and Dan is a host. Dan was also out sick for two days last week. So to change his whole structure was just impractical and didn't make sense. With that, we had Rebecca and Al doing longer days in their window. It just became too disruptive to everything we are trying to accomplish to take one of those guys and put them there.
Q: You have used hockey to promote the NBC Sports Network and the numbers for US-Russia will be great. Did you consider putting US-Russia on NBC, and would you consider putting a rematch on NBC?
Lazarus: Our plan all along was to do the large percentage of the tournament -- and certainly the U.S. men's and women's games -- on NBC Sports Network and utilize CNBC for other games. Then, have the finals for each tournament on NBC. That plan will remain intact.
Q: Why did you edit out a part of IOC president Thomas Bach's Opening Ceremony speech?
Lazarus: We edited for time. If you look at our minute-by-minute ratings, when speeches come on in any Olympic Games, ratings go down. It's just fact. We did edit for time but were very careful to make sure the message came through.
Q: People have loved the Tara Lipinski-Johnny Weir pairing on NBCSN's figure skating coverage to the point where many would like to see them as the your No. 1 team figure skating team on NBC. How have you viewed them?
Lazarus: They are terrific. They have done a great job. They have been on the air for the last several months for all kinds of Grand Prix events. The chemistry is there and real. They are pals. Terry Gannon does a nice job of doing his job and letting them blossom. We think very highly of them. We also think very highly of Tom Hammond, Sandra Bezic and Scott Hamilton. We feel that we have the two best figure skating teams in the world (SI.com, 2/17).
The breakout TV stars at the Sochi Games are NBCSN figure skating analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir, as they "represent a sense of showmanship combined with a willingness to be out there and honest that extends to their commentary," according to Robert Bianco of USA TODAY. Weir and Lipinski are "relaxed and amusing together" and are a "joy to hear, in part because they don't continually make us listen." They are "willing to let long stretches of performances go by without comment" (USA TODAY, 2/17). BLEACHER REPORT's Diane Pucin wrote NBCSN has "introduced us to the heirs apparent to Dick Button and Peggy Fleming" in Lipinski and Weir. They "have been the major Sochi announcing revelation" and are an "excellent pair of analysts, more fun than the prime-time team" of Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic. Along with play-by-play announcer Terry Gannon, who has the "ability to make subtle and self-deprecating cracks at just the right moment," Lipinski and Weir have "become much-watch TV" (BLEACHERREPORT.com, 2/16). Former SI TV editor Dick Friedman said Lipinski and Weir "eschew the snark and are chatty without being catty." Friedman: "I suspect that what they are saying is close to what they are really thinking. They have the cool chemistry of an old married couple" (SI.com, 2/17). Sporting News' Jesse Spector wrote on his Twitter account, "Haven’t had a chance to hear them until now, but Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir are great. Wish they were the primetime team for NBC." The S.F. Chronicle's Ann Killion tweeted, "If NBC execs were paying attention, they would make the switch on their prime time skating commentary."
A TERRIFIC TANDEM: SPORTS ON EARTH's Gwen Knapp wrote under the header, "Weir And Lipinski Are An Effective Broadcast Pair." Weir's commentary "is remarkably vivid, concise and informative." While his "wit was presumed to be his resume topper for this gig, and it has turned up often," it has been his "rapport with Lipinski that has defined the broadcast." Their "banter is unlike anything we've ever heard from Olympic commentators." Meanwhile, Lipinski is the "queen of the metaphor." She foreshadowed Russian skater Evgeni Plushenko's "stunning withdrawal by pointing out that he had not done any jumps in his last practice and appeared to be in substantial pain." The two are "at their best when they simply analyze." They "rarely impose themselves on the scene," as they "know when to back off" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 2/14). The AP's Jim Litke wrote, "Behind a microphone, Weir is fearless." That attitude, "coupled with a fierce intelligence and a love of fashion that began with childhood and still knows no bounds, is what made Weir a first-class commentator from the very beginning." The "only people Weir is out to please are NBC and the audience." Weir said, "In hiring me to have a voice and an opinion, they hired knowing full well, knowing what kind of statements -- fashion and otherwise -- I like to make" (AP, 2/14). THE MMQB's Peter King writes, "Johnny Weir is good on TV. I like his analysis, because he's emotional but also analytical -- in plain English -- about a sport I know so little about, figure skating" (MMQB.SI.com, 2/17).
The U.S. men’s hockey team continued to pay dividends for NBCSN, as Saturday's U.S.-Russia matchup drew a record audience for any hockey game on the net. The 4.1 million viewers for the game, which was played from 7:30-10:30am ET, outpaced the 4.0 million viewers for last year's Blackhawks-Bruins Stanley Cup Final Game 3. U.S.-Russia peaked at 6.4 million viewers during the 10:00-10:30am window, when the game went into an eight-round shootout. That figure marked the most-viewed 30-minute window in NBCSN history. The net also averaged 2.9 million viewers for its daytime window, marking a record for that 6:00am-3:00pm window. Meanwhile, NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports Live Extra app saw 589,552 unique streams for U.S.-Russia, marking a record for any hockey game stream in NBC history (NHL or Olympics). The figure passed previous hockey marks set during the '10 Vancouver Games and the ‘13 Stanley Cup Final. U.S.-Russia also marked the second-best NBC Olympics stream ever (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).
AMERICAN HUSTLE: In Tampa, Tom Jones writes as "great as the game was," the broadcast "was better." NBC's Mike Emrick, Ed Olczyk and Pierre McGuire "were outstanding, especially Emrick." Jones: "Go back and watch his work during the eight-round shootout. It was masterful, particularly when he got out of the way to let Olczyk and McGuire do their jobs." Meanwhile, NBC was "all over the controversy" when a potential go-ahead goal by Russia late in the third period was "waived off." NBC "went through the replays" and showed the puck neither hit the crossbar and failed to go in the net, nor was it deflected by a high stick. Jones: "Someone sharp in the NBC production truck noticed the goal had become dislodged from its moorings. That is why the goal was disallowed. That's top-notch hustle" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 2/17). The AP's David Bauder wrote there seems to be nothing Emrick "doesn’t know and can’t fit effortlessly into the call of a game." When the Russian crowd "began chanting during the home team’s game with the U.S., Emrick quickly said that what they were saying, roughly translated, meant 'Go get the puck.'" Meanwhile, when Olczyk suggested that U.S. C Ryan Kesler’s hand was "badly swollen barely five minutes after it was hit by the puck -- even though Kesler wore a glove -- Emrick cautioned, 'we won’t diagnose that.'" Kesler "quickly returned to the game" (AP, 2/15). In N.Y., Phil Mushnick writes Emrick "remains a national treasure, as special as special gets." He provided a "perfect topping to the Americans' extended shootout win." Emrick said during the broadcast, "So many paid their rubles to see the home team win. But not this game. Not tonight." Mushnick notes the words "Not this game. Not tonight" were coach Herb Brooks' "pregame words to Team USA before its unfathomable win against the U.S.S.R." at the '80 Lake Placid Games (N.Y. POST, 2/17).
HEIDI MOMENT: CBSSPORTS.com's Chris Peters reported S.F.-based KNBR-AM "cut off the game in overtime for the 'Hooked on Golf' Show." Listeners "missed the overtime and the incredible eight-round shootout in which T.J. Oshie scored on four of six attempts." They also missed Steve Goldstein's radio call of, "Oshie can you see" (CBSSPORTS.com, 2/15). In S.F., Ron Kroichick wrote it "seemed strange -- downright crazy? -- when KNBR cut away" from the game broadcast. This was "Olympic hockey, after all, and not exactly Sweden vs. Finland" (SFGATE.com, 2/15).
MAN OF THE HOUR: On Long Island, Nick Klopsis reported the game was "a popular event on Twitter, with nearly a million tweets being sent out about the game in a four-and-a-half hour span." There were "more than 900,000 tweets about the game" from 7:30am-12:00pm. Oshie had "more than 136,000 mentions during that same timespan from fans, fellow athletes and celebrities." Twitter indicated that by noon, Oshie had "gained 45,000 new followers" and the number "has only risen since then." Even President Obama "got in on the congratulations" by mentioning Oshie in a tweet (NEWSDAY, 2/16). In St. Louis, Jeremy Rutherford noted Oshie's name was "trending on Twitter and his personal followers increased by more than 100,000" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 2/16). NBC's Willie Geist: "It has been Oshie-mania online for the last 48 hours" ("Today," NBC, 2/17).
The U.S.' 3-2 shootout win over Russia Saturday was a "gripping affair that was a powerful advertisement for keeping NHL stars in the Games," according to Jerry Sullivan of the BUFFALO NEWS. The "real winner" of the game was "hockey itself." If you "take away the politics and nationalism and the controversy," the game was a "wonderful, transporting moment for international hockey fans, who can celebrate a day that illuminated the best in their sport" (BUFFALO NEWS, 2/16). In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz wrote the game was "nothing close to a miracle -- just a jewel of a hockey game between two evenly matched opponents who both have an eye on winning medals." If the NHL is "seriously considering yanking their players from further Olympic competitions, it should take a second look at the tape of this game and seriously reconsider" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 2/16). In DC, Mike Wise wrote, "The fervent pride and purpose both teams showed and played with ... should convince NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and his owners: It won’t financially ruin your product if you give your players two weeks off every four years" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/16). In Boston, Fluto Shinzawa wrote Olympic participation is "a halo product" for the NHL, as playing in the Games "remains a dream for its best players." The players "want to be there," and the fans "consider these games must-see television." Shinzawa: "At odd hours, in our slippers and sweatpants, we watch and cheer and marvel. It’s a nice ritual to have every four years" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/16).
LIVING UP TO THE HYPE: In Minneapolis, Chip Scoggins asked, "How often does a game that’s smothered in hype actually exceed our expectations? This one did" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 2/16). The Boston Globe's Bob Ryan said, "That was the best Saturday morning hockey game I’ve ever seen. ... What this was, was why we’re supposedly here today, we love sports" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 2/16). In N.Y., Filip Bondy wrote the game "really was something, and it was just the appetizer, a first-round tease." The result "almost didn’t matter" because both teams "may well meet again" in the Gold Medal game (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/16). NBC’s David Gregory said, “This moment of patriotism comes at a time when this sensitivity between Russian and the United States is real." Gregory: “At a time of reset with our relationship with Russia, what played out there was a genuine moment of, we triumphed over the Russians” ("Meet The Press," NBC, 2/16). In Chicago, Rick Morrissey wrote, "This was the United States, this was Russian soil and this sure felt like a lot more than an Olympic hockey game." But he added, "Let’s just say it was a hellacious hockey game and leave the sociopolitical undertones to somebody else, OK?" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/16).
END OF AN ERA? CBS' Mark Phillips notes having NHL players at every Winter Games since '98 has "sprinkled star dust on Olympic hockey," but the future of "top-flight hockey at the Games is in serious doubt." The players "want to be here" and fans "want them to be here." However, for NHL team owners, "giving away their top stars and risking them for no immediate payback is a tough ask." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly last week said the league hopes to decide within six months about its participation in the '18 Pyeongchang Games, nothing there is "nothing in it from a business perspective" for the league. Phillips added, "In fact, there's a business disincentive. In the thick of the NHL season, the league has to shutdown. ... In some markets, it's tough getting the people back" ("CBS This Morning," CBS, 2/17). In Chicago, Mark Lazerus wrote under the header, "Should NHL Continue To Send Players To Olympics?" and noted it seems "increasingly likely that this is the last hurrah for the NHL and the Olympics." Canada C John Tavares said, "I would love another chance, I'll tell you that. ... Certainly there are some tough challenges with it -- being involved with the (NHLPA) as much as I have, I know this wasn’t an easy process. But we feel as players, it’s important and we love to play, we love to represent our countries." However, Lazerus noted Red Wings and Sweden LW Henrik Zetterberg is "lost for the tournament and possibly much longer after reinjuring a chronic disk problem either in or after the opening game of the Olympics." The Red Wings currently hold the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference and Lazerus asked, "Is it worth the risk to them? Is it worth the risk to any team?" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/15).
The U.S. Olympic team at Sochi "won't come close to matching" the record-setting 37 medals earned during the '10 Vancouver Games, but USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said that this is "just fine," according to a front-page piece by Kelly Whiteside of USA TODAY. Blackmun has "high expectations for the team, but he's also pragmatic." He said, "Vancouver was a once-in-a-lifetime performance by our team. While that's a good benchmark from an aspirational standpoint, it's not a realistic expectation every time we compete because it was just so special." Whiteside reports heading into Day 10 of the Sochi Games, The Netherlands "leads the overall medal count with 17," while the U.S. and Russia are "tied for second place, each with 16 total medals and four golds." This week, U.S. skiers Mikaela Shiffrin and Ted Ligety "should add to the medal haul," along with bobsledder Steven Holcomb. In figure skating, Meryl Davis and Charlie White also are "in position to win gold after leading Sunday's short dance." But their podium finishes "are far from guaranteed" after several favorites already "have come up empty-handed here." Even though some stars "failed to live up to expectations, others emerged, including three surprise gold medalists: slopestyle snowboarders Sage Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson and slopestyle freeskier Joss Christensen" (USA TODAY, 2/17). U.S. Ski Team Alpine Dir Patrick Riml prior to Sunday's men's super-G, which saw both Andrew Weibrecht and Bode Miller place on the podium, said, "We probably expected a little more, to be honest. The Games aren't over yet. We're halfway through, and we have some strong performers and good events coming up for us" (DENVER POST, 2/16).
ALLOW ME TO INTRODUCE MYSELF: In Boston, John Powers notes while the U.S. tally "won’t be nearly as hefty as it was projected to be due to their also-ran bunch of speedskaters, the US still figures to win the overall medal count again." The final seven days of competition "should yield four in bobsled, three more in freestyle skiing, two each in ice hockey and Alpine skiing, and one apiece in ice dancing and snowboarding." What is "notable in the Americans’ case is that all of their golds have come from athletes, three of them slopestylers, who definitely needed an introduction to the folks in living rooms back home." This has been a Games "where the stars’ sponsors could have saved a bundle by having them compete on commission" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/17). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Matthew Futterman notes Olympic fans, even "people who never watch sports," will likely know Shiffrin "a lot better by this time next week." Shiffin should "walk away with the slalom gold medal and compete for the podium in giant slalom." Her every step already is "being chronicled by NBC." She did a "walkaround the mountain village here with the 'Today' show Saturday afternoon, about 20 hours after she landed" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/17).
THE 'X' FACTOR: In Buffalo, Jerry Sullivan wrote the Winter Games have become "largely an extension of the X Games" and Team USA should thank the "norse gods for the extreme sports -- and a nod of gratitude to the IOC for continuing to add new sports to the program." Of the 13 medals the U.S. had won through Friday, 10 were "in events that didn’t exist" in the ’92 Albertville Games. Seven were "in sports that were added this year," with six coming in either slopestyle skiing or snowboarding. Sullivan: "If it doesn’t involve sliding on a rail or flipping over three or four times in the air, America is second-rate in these Games" (BUFFALO NEWS, 2/16). Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom said, “For the first week, at least for anyone who is over 30, the Olympics were a lot about X Games revisited. There were a lot of sports that Americans couldn’t even understand, let alone root for” ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 2/16).
The U.S. Speedskating team faces the "very real possibility of going home empty-handed for the first time" since the '84 Sarajevo Games after Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe yesterday "failed to medal in the women’s 1,500 race," according to Michelle Kaufman of the MIAMI HERALD. The "most convenient culprit was the controversial new space-age suits engineered by Under Armour and Lockheed Martin Aeronautics." Skaters "never raced in them before arriving at the Olympics, so when favorites underperformed, they began questioning whether the suits were slowing them down." The skaters "voted Friday night to abandon the new suits and revert to earlier more familiar suits," but "it made no difference." Kaufman: "New suits, old suits, same results." U.S. coach Ryan Shumabukura when asked whether the team should have tested the suits before the Games said, "Hindsight’s 20-20. That’s something we’ll look at" (MIAMI HERALD, 2/17). In L.A., Jared Hopkins wrote when U.S. skaters took the ice Saturday, they "wore racing suits by Under Armour made for their successful World Cup season." Gone were the "Mach 39 suits Under Armour debuted for these Games." The "constant talk surrounding the Mach 39 did not help anyone connected to the team." U.S. speedskater Brian Hansen "despite not medaling" in the 1,500 was "glad the swap of suits had been made." Hansen: "The other skin suit may still be the fastest skin suit in the world. But part of the problem is that we haven't had the chance to race in it and have the results to know it's the fastest skin suit in the world." Dutch speedskater Mark Tuitert said, "It's just plain stupid not to test the suits in a race before the Olympics" (L.A. TIMES, 2/16).
STANDING BEHIND THE PRODUCT: UA indicated that it is "'confident' in its skating suits after reports they're slowing down athletes at the Sochi Games." BLOOMBERG NEWS' Rupp & Townsend reported some have "blamed a design flaw in the suits' rear ventilation panels." UA Senior VP/Innovation Kevin Haley said, "The bottom line here is we're confident in all three of the suits we've provided to the U.S. speedskating team, and we're rooting for our athletes" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 2/14). UA Founder, Chair & CEO Kevin Plank on Friday said, "When you are not performing, you look at everything and it begins with the training, to the gear, to the skates, to the pillows that you slept on the night before. So it is all very fair and this is our business, and I think that we believe that we've got an incredible product that will help our athletes succeed and win." Plank added, "I don't want this to be perceived as anything other than I think everybody is just sort of trying to find out what we can do to help our athletes win. And we've tested it, and on this project in particular, we worked directly with Lockheed Martin and had everything from computational fluid dynamic modeling and wind tunnel testing to get these things built. And we've built, not just one suit, we've built multiple suits for the athletes out there" (Bloomberg TV, 2/14). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Robinson & Germano wrote the uniform swap "puts Under Armour in a tough spot." SportsOneSource analyst Matt Powell said that if the team "wins medals in the old suits, 'it will be embarrassing for Under Armour.'" But Haley "contested the notion that changing to the previous suits would harm the company's reputation." Haley said, "They're all Under Armour suits" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/17).
ALL PRESS IS GOOD PRESS? Morningstar analyst Paul Swinand said of the impact of the suit controversy on UA's stock, "I actually think it's a positive because they are the small player. If they weren't being talked about, that would be a big negative." Schaeffer's Investment Research Senior Technical Strategist Ryan Detrick said, "We could argue the suits maybe cost the US some gold medals potentially. But, at the same time, it doesn't mean you don't want to buy [the stock] here" (FINANCE.YAHOO.com, 2/14).
For every official sponsor at the Sochi Games, "dozens more are trying to cash in without paying the premium required to be affiliated with the Olympic brand," according to Michael Sanserino of the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE. These "piggyback" sponsors are "finding a lot of success, thanks to social media and creative campaigns that use coded language to evoke the games without running afoul of trademark issues." A Global Language Monitor study showed that of the 10 brands that consumers "most associate with the Sochi Olympics, six are not official sponsors." Dick's Sporting Goods is not an official Olympic sponsor but "has used various platforms to capitalize" on the Games. The retailer has "promoted a 'Your Country, Your Colors' campaign, featuring Team USA apparel from Nike." Pittsburgh-based ad agency Brunner President Scott Morgan said that Dick's is "tying its brand to the games in Sochi without using the word 'Olympics,' and is doing it effectively." Sanserino reported Subway is "working with famous Olympians" including Michael Phelps, Apolo Anton Ohno and Nastia Liukin. Those athletes "aren't competing in Sochi, but they generate an affiliation between Subway and the Olympics without the company forking over hundreds of millions" to the IOC or USOC. The Global Language Monitors study showed that Subway is "the brand that consumers most associate with the Sochi Olympics, ahead of every official sponsor" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 2/16).
BREW FOR THE CREW: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Sonne & Troianovski noted Starbucks "isn't an Olympic sponsor and is therefore forbidden to have an official presence" in Sochi, but NBC "has its own secret Starbucks" there. IOC TOP sponsor McDonald's is supposed to be the only branded coffee player, but NBC has "erected the Sochi Starbucks in its cordoned-off area of the Olympic media center." It serves "free java 24-hours-a-day to the roughly 2,500 people NBC says it sent here." NBC "flies in a rotating crew of some 15 baristas from Starbucks coffee shops in Russia, sets them up with accommodations in Sochi, and pays their regular wages." NBC's "special Starbucks has inadvertently created a coffee buzz." A stream of branded Starbucks cups has "seeped around the Olympic grounds in what some initially surmised was a cunning ambush marketing campaign -- a suggestion that Starbucks and NBC deny." NBC said that its Starbucks "doesn't run afoul of Olympic rules," because it is "secluded within an NBC facility and isn't open to the public." IOC Media Relations Coordinator Rachel Rominger said that the NBC Starbucks "isn't violating any rules" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/15).
GHOST TWEETERS: The AP's John Leicester reported some Olympians are "turning over their social media accounts to sponsors, agreeing to quotas of postings on Twitter and Facebook and letting other people send commercial messages in their name." The agents for U.S. figure skaters Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold said that sponsors "draft some of their tweets, plugging their brands." IMG's Yuki Saegusa, who reps Gold, said, "We get a list of tweets or social media things that need to be posted and then we approve them for her." Leicester noted although her agents "'encourage' Gold to post the pre-packaged commercial tweets to her 65,000 followers herself, sometimes others do it for her." Saegusa: "We're in a very new age now where a lot of advertising, or PR, or promotions, is social media. That's becoming a very important aspect of marketing." IMG's David Baden, who reps Wagner, said of the commercial tweets, "It's not like Ashley doesn't know about these. I mean we send her all these. She had to approve all of them, and so it's not that she does not know what is being said. She's seen it. She's part of this whole process. It's just that with her schedule, and if we can make things easier, what's the difference?" (AP, 2/16).
Each day during the Winter Games, THE DAILY offers our take on the business performances of some of the people, sponsors, broadcasters and other entities around Sochi.
GOLD: GERHARD HEIBERG -- The Norwegian businessman has headed the IOC's marketing commission since '01, doubling sponsorship revenue in the process and most recently raising the TOP price to close to $200M over four years. But Heiberg's style has emphasized more than just dollar figures, and he has done a stellar job leading that part of the IOC's business.
SILVER: STREAMING LIVE VIDEO -- We realize NBC started doing this during the London Games, but we still applaud the network for recognizing that people want access to events while they are happening live. It was a good idea and long overdue. From Sochi, NBC also is offering original programming to digital audiences during those live broadcasts, while still maintaining the traditional primetime viewing experience for Olympic fans.
BRONZE: BODE MILLER -- The U.S. Ski Team veteran is competing in his fifth Olympics, and yesterday he increased his overall medal count to six with a Bronze in the super-G. Say what you will about the controversial Miller, his longevity has to be appreciated, he has been great fodder for the media throughout his career, he seems to have matured in recent years and, for the most part, he has been a solid teammate to his U.S. counterparts.
TIN: CHRISTIN COOPER -- After Miller's Bronze Medal run, NBC's Alpine Skiing reporter questioned him over and over about his brother Chilly, who died from a seizure less than a year ago. By the end of the interview, Miller was in tears and unable to continue. In all, Cooper posed more questions about Miller's late bother than she did about the actual skiing event combined between Miller and fellow American medalist Andrew Weibrecht, who won Silver. Covering emotion is one thing; trying to coax it out of your subjects for viewer entertainment is quite another. One question would have been fine, but delving further was irresponsible and unneeded.
SportsBusiness Daily/Journal have converted their On The Ground blog into a comprehensive, daily website devoted to the Sochi Games and the business behind it. The site is free and runs through Monday, Feb. 24, the day after the Closing Ceremony. The site also can be accessed through the On The Ground link on SportsBusinessDaily.com. SBJ Olympics writer Tripp Mickle is in Sochi providing news updates, people profiles and personal insights from the Games. Entries currently on the blog include:
* IOC reprices TOP deals at $200M
* IOC to explore channel launch
* ‘New guard’ creates new feel with NBC
* SBJ Podcast: Peter Carlisle of Octagon
* Hard work helps figure skating NGB rebound
* USSA putting time buys behind it with new NBC agreement