Olympic Mailbag: Five questions for our reporters in London

John Ourand
Tripp Mickle
The following five questions were asked by SportsBusiness Journal/Daily staff and sent to Olympics reporter Tripp Mickle and media reporter John Ourand, both of whom have been covering the Games in London since last week.
Tripp, this is your third Olympic Games. What stands out differently about the London Games so far to you?

MICKLE: How practical the venues are and how smartly different parts of the city were incorporated. Vancouver took a cost-conscious approach to its venue development, but London has taken that a step farther. The venues are very practical. Nothing lavish. Basic amenities. Perfect for hosting the events today, but very much designed with an eye to the
The site for beach volleyball is one of the many venues with an amazing backdrop.
future. There are also some great locations. You’ve read about the scene at Horse Guards, but it really is unreal to see IOC and Union Jack flags flying on the Mall outside the venue, and then to go inside and see the London Eye and Ten Downing in the distance. Lord’s Cricket Ground for archery is another one. It’s not a sport that gets much recognition but it’s one that people are trying to get to because of the history of where it’s being played. And the in-venue entertainment. They’ve just done a great job of playing music to keep the audience engaged. For example, they played Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” at beach volleyball last night while the guys raked the course between sets.

John, what’s the tenor and tone from NBC executives on the ground in London considering their strong prime-time ratings, but also more questions about live vs. taped coverage?

OURAND: NBC hears the complaints. How can they not? But the NBC executives seem totally unconcerned about the clamor. They believe the strong prime-time ratings validate their decision to tape-delay some coverage. They point to the number of streams Internet users are accessing as evidence that the system is working as well as they expected. They do have some frustrations. NBC has come a long way in two years — it’s almost unrecognizable to the NBC that had produced Games up to 2010. It is streaming every event live. It is making a huge amount of content live on its cable channels. Its executives believe they are not getting enough credit for taking such big steps in London.

MICKLE: The question I have that I want to see answered after the Olympics is: How much has this damaged NBC’s brand? They use the Olympics to launch so many new shows and boost ratings for all the programming during the year. The ratings have been great, so you would think the strategy will work, but I’m wondering if the tape-delay approach will backfire.

How did LOCOG not anticipate the empty seats becoming a story?

Empty seats have been an issue early on in the Games, a fact Mickle said is expected.
I can’t imagine they didn’t see it coming, and there’s not much they can do about it. The VIP section is an issue every Games, and that’s something the IOC needs to figure out going forward. In London, I can’t imagine that the late opening ceremony (I got to bed that night at 2:30 or 3 a.m.) helped people get to venues the next day. What LOCOG wasn’t prepared for was responding to the public backlash. Their communication was slow the first day. Government officials were quick to blame sponsors and that really upset some sponsor executives. They seemed to get a better handle on it today.

A prevalent theme in the U.S. is just how much social media is driving the conversation and information around the Games. Are you getting that sense?

OURAND: It’s impossible to prove, of course, but some NBC executives believe that the Twitter chatter — even when it’s bashing tape-delayed telecasts — has helped market NBC’s telecasts, alerting viewers to when and where they can watch Ryan Lochte’s gold-medal race, for example.
MICKLE: I put together a list of journalists, sports execs and athletes to follow before I left, and I’ve been using it to keep track of news every day. I know that Twitter made watching the opening ceremony much more interesting than it was in 2008, and I have to believe that was a major factor in NBC’s big ratings that night.
Has any specific sponsor stood out in your mind so far in London?

MICKLE: LOCOG sponsor BP. Just in terms of smart and simple activation, I think they’ve done a great job. They didn’t build a huge sponsor showcase on the Olympic Park but did build a shiny metal box with a concave mirror that allows people to take photos of themselves in front of the Olympic Stadium without passersby in the photo. It was smart and simple and there were 50 to 75 people in line for it. They also have a good deal of advertising in tube stations around town.
OURAND: For me, it’s Coke. That’s less about signage or its futuristic Olympic Park structure. Coke brands the only drinks sold in Olympic Park, which means they are everywhere.
MICKLE: John’s right about Coke. But I’m less impressed by how ubiquitous it is and more impressed by the singing dance troupes they have roaming Olympic Park singing Coca-Cola songs and attracting crowds of 50 to 100 people. It is smart and memorable. Almost like a mini-Coke flash dance.
If you have a question that you’d like to have sent to our reporters on the ground, email SportsBusiness Journal Assistant Managing Editor Tom Stinson at tstinson@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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