• TV Timeout: Weekend news shows examine Sochi security threats

    With the Sochi Games under way, news programs in the U.S. continued to examine the security issues surrounding the Olympics. THE DAILY offers a sampling from the weekend:

    U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday morning, saying, “The threat assessment has not changed since we've been here, and we coordinate very closely with the Russians to share information about anything that might happen.” Host David Gregory said, “A cloud does hang over these Olympics as there is still real concern over the prospects of terrorism. … And the politics of these Olympics is raising a key question as well. How much bigger will the divide between the United States and Russia get?” NBC’s Andrea Mitchell: “Officials here in Washington are very concerned. They are on pins and needles when you talk to them. They are just sort of crossing their fingers that Russia has got this under control. For all the talk about cooperation, this is a very tense situation." NBC’s Richard Engel, reporting live from Sochi, said, “Now that the games have actually begun, the mood here is improving. There’s more focus on the competition, more focus on the athletes." He added, "But for Russia, these Olympics are about a lot more than just sport. ... For Russia, Sochi is a symbol of its return, a world power once more. ... Russia is hosting a big welcome back party for itself" (“Meet the Press,” NBC, 2/9).

    ESPN's "Sports Reporters" discussed the issue at length on Sunday, with LZ Granderson saying the IOC was only thinking "Ka-ching!" when selecting Sochi as the host city. Granderson: "Unfortunately, this is the new normal for us. ... We know how impossible it is to make sure that every spectator is safe, it just is. I think the IOC really should be holding their heads down in shame, placing the Olympics in this place.” The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan said, “The IOC is not the Rotary Club. ... There's a lot of back-stage stuff that went on. ... We can’t say there was bribery, but there was influence exerted by powerful Russian interests. ... The No. 1 reason not to have given the Games to Sochi was the geographical proximity to the caucuses and to Chechnya and Dagestan. ... They don't know whether the elusive black widows are in the town. They don’t know a lot of things. This thing will not be over until everybody is back home safe." Granderson: "This is Putin playing terrorist games. Trying to prove he still has control of his country, when in fact, he should have been more cautious when people died" (“Sports Reporters,” ESPN2, 2/9).

    NBC’s Stephanie Gosk, reporting from Sochi’s Olympic Park on Friday: "It may not be the first thing people notice when they get off the plane here in Sochi, but by the time spectators get here, they will fully understand just how much security there is on the ground. Spectators who come to the Olympic Park have to go through multiple layers. ... A lot of people are saying, ‘This is really an unprecedented level of security.’ ... Security experts that have been here in this park in recent days have said, ‘An attack here would be incredibly difficult, even for the most organized terror groups'" (“XXII Winter Olympics,” NBC, 2/8).

  • Atos Origin renews deal with IOC through 2020

    Atos Origin, which has provided technology support for the Olympics for 25 years, extended its TOP sponsorship through 2020.

    It is the second extension the IOC has announced since the Sochi Games began. It previously announced a renewal with Panasonic through 2024.

    Atos has sponsored the IOC since 1989, and the renewal ensures the IOC won’t have to change its technology support and infrastructure ahead of the 2018 and 2020 Olympics. The deal with Atos is mostly a value-in-kind agreement, and the company uses it to showcase its IT systems to potential customers.

    In a statement, IOC President Thomas Bach said: “Technology is critical to the success of each edition of the Olympic Games. We are delighted that we will be able to continue relying on Atos and its vast experience to deliver flawless, innovative IT services.”

    Patrick Adiba, Atos’ vice president of Olympics and major events, said that the deal gives the company a chance to continue to improve its IT services for the Games and make the Olympics even better by using cloud-based technology to provide more “efficiency, agility and productivity.”

    “I am delighted we will continue our partnership long into the future,” Adiba said in a statement.

    Tags: IOC, Olympics, Panasonic
  • Liberty Mutual, North Face scrap Sochi hospitality plans

    Liberty Mutual and The North Face canceled their North American hospitality programs in Sochi.

    The companies made the decision just weeks before the Olympics at a time when security concerns were on the rise and reports of incomplete hotels began to surface in the press.

    The Sochi Games are the first Olympics in which Liberty Mutual is a sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Committee. The North Face is a sponsor of the U.S. Freeskiing Team.

    In a statement, Liberty Mutual said it “decided to not send guests to Sochi, a decision which was made based upon a number of factors.” The company added that it would continue to support Team USA with marketing and promotion in the U.S., where it is an advertiser on NBC.

    Liberty Mutual had shown tremendous enthusiasm for the Olympics as a first-time sponsor. It signed on as the presenting sponsor of the USOC’s “Road to Sochi” tour, which visited 12 cities between last October and this month. It also signed on to sponsor national governing bodies like U.S. Ski & Snowboard and expanded its support of USA Hockey by signing on to be presenting sponsor of women’s USA Hockey exhibition games.

    The company had planned a significant hospitality program in Sochi. It’s unclear how many guests it was going to have, but several events such as a USA Hockey breakfast have been canceled because Liberty Mutual scrapped its trip.

    Sources familiar with The North Face’s decision said VF Corp., which owns the outdoors brand, made the decision to cancel the hospitality program. They said the brand still is sending executives from its European division.

    The North Face has a sizeable business in Russia and had planned to host many Russian retailers and salespeople at the Sochi Games.

    In a statement, a spokeswoman for The North Face said: “We’ve been a longtime supporter of the freeskiing movement and will continue to promote the success of our athletes and our ongoing commitment to the sport, as they take to the slopes in The North Face U.S. Freeskiing Competition Uniforms.”

    In addition to the security and hotel issues in Sochi, the Canadian Olympic Committee filed a trademark lawsuit against The North Face before the Games. The COC alleges that the company developed a retail display and apparel that mislead consumers into believing it’s an official Olympic sponsor.

    Tags: North America, Olympics, Russia
  • Sochi opening ceremony down from 2010, but high for non-live event

    NBC earned a 17.0 fast-national rating and 31.7 million viewers for the tape-delayed opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics Friday night from 8-11:08 p.m. ET.

    That figure is off slightly from the live opening to the 2010 Vancouver Games, which drew a 17.3 rating and 32.7 million viewers. Last night’s telecast marks the most-viewed, non-live opening ceremony since the 1994 Lillehammer Games, beating out the 12.8 rating and 22.8 million viewers for the 2006 Turin Games.

    Minneapolis-St. Paul led all U.S. markets with a 26.0 local rating.

    Tags: NBC, Olympics
  • Sochi Games prompt sponsors to break new ad creative

    Procter & Gamble is one of many Olympic sponsors breaking new creative during the Sochi Games.
    The U.S. Olympic Committee and NBC said more companies broke creative during the 2014 opening ceremony than ever before.

    Companies ranging from Procter & Gamble to Liberty Mutual all developed Olympic-themed advertising for the broadcast. The total number of Olympic sponsors advertising during the Sochi Games has risen from less than 10 to more than 15, and almost all of those sponsors developed Olympic-themed creative for the Games.

    “It’s second only to the Super Bowl (in new creative),” said Seth Winter NBC Sports executive vice president of ad sales.

    USOC Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Baird said that NBC’s promotion of the Winter Games and research showing that it would attract a large audience inspired many sponsors to advertise.

    “The combination of what (NBC Sports chief marketer) John Miller has done to market the Games, and Russia is an enigma, a place of mystery and romance, and that has people wanting to see the Olympics,” Baird said.

    NBC’s ad sales suffered during the Vancouver Games in 2010 because it took place at the end of the recession, but the economy rebounded and the Sochi Games will be profitable for the network. The number of sponsors the USOC has added since Vancouver helped NBC’s sales. Many of those sponsors will advertise during their first Winter Games, including Liberty Mutual, Chobani, Smuckers, Kellogg’s and USG.

    Budweiser and Hilton are the only USOC sponsors that opted not to advertise during the Sochi Olympics, while Panasonic was one of the only consumer-facing sponsors of the International Olympic Committee not to advertise.

    Liberty Mutual worked with its agency, Hill Holiday, to develop three spots that highlight comeback stories like Kerri Strug’s vault at the 1996 Olympics and the “Miracle on Ice” of the 1980 Olympics. It ties those stories of overcoming obstacles in sports back to people overcoming obstacles in life like the devastation of a tornado.

    United, which hasn’t advertised during recent Olympics, is breaking a spot with a voice-over provided by Matt Damon. The 60-second ad, titled “Athletes Abroad,” features figure skater Gracie Gold, speedskater Shani Davis and 10 other Olympians.

    “We’re pushing athletes and pushing sponsors to use them because we think they’re the best spokespeople in the world,” Baird said.

    There were also national governing body sponsors breaking commercials during the opening ceremony. Century 21, which is sponsoring USA Bobsled, is running a spot with the tagline “Smarter. Bolder. Faster.”

    “This Winter Olympics has come into its own,” Baird said. “We have a team America is really excited about.”

    Sochi Olympic Advertisers
    TD Ameritrade
    Liberty Mutual
    Procter & Gamble
    Century 21*

    * USA Bobsled sponsor

    Tags: NBC, Super Bowl, Olympics
  • Overbooked cruise ship forces Ludus Tours to move 100 guests

    Hospitality company Ludus Tours had to move 100 of its guests booked on the Grand Holiday cruise ship in Sochi because Sochi Olympic organizers overbooked the ship’s rooms.

    “It was severely overbooked,” Ludus Tours founder Adam Dailey said. “We’re talking hundreds of rooms.”

    Families of U.S. and Canadian hockey team members also experienced overbooked rooms on the ship, according to sources.

    The Sochi Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (SOCOG), which managed the booking, didn’t reply to a request for comment.

    Dailey said that SOCOG informed Ludus Tours that their guests would have to move just before they arrived at the Sochi airport. SOCOG made arrangements for Ludus Tours’ guests to stay at another hotel, which was built for the Games. But Dailey said their guests were frustrated by the last-minute change in plans.

    “If they had told us two weeks ago, I could have negotiated to get our money back, but they waited until (our guests) were in the air and told us,” Dailey said. “We’re meeting them at the airport with bad news. For the most part people understand, but it’s a group and some are saying, ‘This is not what we wanted.’”

    Dailey said that was frustrating because an earlier notice would have enabled Ludus to find other accommodations that their guests may have liked.

    Ludus Tours has put together hospitality programs for six Olympics, the first being the Athens Games in 2004. The company typically arranges trips for individual clients and national governing bodies.

    “I’ve never heard of overbooking for an Olympics,” Dailey said. “Usually, rooms come available late but there’s not overbooking. The communication is the worst thing — just not telling us there was a problem two weeks ago.”

    Tags: Hockey, Olympics, Russia
  • From Tchaikovsky to Tolstoy, Sochi Games open with a spectacle

    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    The Sochi Games opened with a spectacle of ballet, fireworks and references to greats of Russian culture from Tchaikovsky to Tolstoy.

    But the ceremony, as visually striking and creative as it was, couldn’t escape the long shadow of politics and controversy cast over these Olympics.

    The Sochi Games have been a flashpoint for criticism in the West, largely because of the anti-gay-propaganda law Russia passed last year.

    IOC President Thomas Bach addressed the issue in his speech to open the Games, touting the diversity of Olympic athletes as an example for all nations to follow and condemning efforts by politicians to use the Olympics to score political points.

    “The Olympic Games wherever they take place set an example for a peaceful society,” Bach said. “Olympic Games are always about bringing people together. Olympic Games are never about erecting walls to keep people apart. Olympic Games are a sports festival embracing human diversity in great unity. Therefore, I say to the political leaders of the world: Thank you for supporting your athletes. Please respect their Olympic message of goodwill, of tolerance, of excellence and of peace. Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful, direct political dialogue and not on the backs of these athletes.”

    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    The production, as all opening ceremonies do, tried to capture and convey the evolution of the host country. Playing off the theme “Dreams of Russia,” it began with a series of floating islands designed to replicate pieces of the Russian landscape, which runs from Europe to Asia.

    It featured everything from a massive troika to an imperial ball from Tolstoy’s classic novel “War and Peace,” which was brought to life by 140 dancers and 40 ballet soloists.

    The Russian Revolution of 1917 was shown against a backdrop of jarring music as some 450 cast members rolled enormous red wheels around in a scene that was reminiscent of director Danny Boyle’s interpretation of the Industrial Revolution at the 2012 London Olympics ceremony.

    The Soviet era that followed featured an enormous sickle and hammer that rode into the stadium suspended from the ceiling. The ceremony closed with a rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” which played as ballerinas dressed in white twirled LED strands in the air to mimic the flight of doves.

    Russian hockey legend Vladislav Tretiak and figure skater Irina Rodnin jointly lit the Olympic flame, which towers above a pool of water at the center of the Olympic Park. The ceremony ended with a 10-minute fireworks display.

    The event had only one glitch. Five large, glowing snowflakes suspended from the ceiling were supposed to expand into the Olympic rings, but only four united. One remained a snowflake, creating what looked like an asterisk beside an incomplete Olympic emblem.

    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    Fisht Stadium, where the ceremony took place, appeared built with the opening ceremony in mind. A pulley system suspended from the rafters supported enormous sculptures of trains and athletes. Open end zones served as staging areas for actors and props.

    The stadium inside was completely finished, but outside there were areas that were still not done. Temporary bathrooms had been installed in the concourses and green wraps concealed columns that hadn’t been wrapped with the rainbow colors Sochi is using as its official pattern.

    But those minor issues didn’t dampen organizers’ enthusiasm to get the Games under way.

    “We are proud to have the honor to host the entire world,” said Sochi 2014 CEO Dmitry Chernyshenko. “Our Games will be yours. All of yours. Because when we come together in all our diversity, it is the Olympic Games that unite us all.”

    Tags: Russia, Olympics, IOC
  • After all the concern, crowds move smoothly through Olympic Park

    Crowds were able to get into Sochi's Olympic Park for today's opening ceremony with few hassles.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    Caren Mangiacapre knows sports security and operations. The New York resident worked for the U.S. Tennis Association for 34 years as director of events at the National Tennis Center.

    So when Mangiacapre left her cruise ship in the Black Sea for the first Olympic ceremony of her life, she left extra early.

    “I expected there to be long lines,” she said. “It took two seconds.”

    There was a lot of concern going into the Sochi Games about long lines to enter the Olympic Park, but on the day of the park’s first big event, the opening ceremony, security lines were moving swiftly and smoothly.

    Sochi organizers are the first Olympic hosts to use a spectator-pass system. It requires every spectator to register their passport and contact information with the organizing committee in exchange for a credential they scan at the entrances to the park. There was some concern among security experts that the addition of passes would create a logjam for the opening ceremony, but lines were moving fast — much faster, in fact, than the hour-long lines for the opening ceremony of the Beijing Games.

    “It was nothing,” Mangiacapre said.

    According to a source familiar with security at the event, Sochi security personnel were able to cut the processing time per spectator from two and a half minutes to just 30 seconds.

    In a park dominated by Russian spectators, Mangiacapre and her friend Sarah Wallace, a former New York resident who now lives in Genoa, Italy, stuck out. Mangiacapre had two American flags tucked into the belt wrapped around her puffy, maroon jacket. Wallace had a U.S. flag scarf wrapped around her neck.

    They had spent the week reading about unfinished hotels and escalated security and were concerned about how long it might take to get to Fisht Stadium for the opening ceremony. They took the public train from the coast, where they’re staying on the Louis Olympia cruise ship, and went through security twice. First to get on the train and then again after it arrived at the Olympic Park.

    “There were 10 people for every (security) station,” Wallace said. “For security, they’re the most efficient I’ve ever seen.”

    Mangiacapre added, “My job was operations. I was shocked.”

    The trip took an hour and a half, but not because of security. Mangiacapre and Wallace said the trouble they ran into actually occurred because they kept getting bad direction from volunteers, most of whom didn’t speak English.

    “They sent us to an entrance, but it was only for accredited people,” Mangiacapre said.

    “The committee could have a few more people that speak English,” Wallace said.

    The lesson they learned was that they need to leave early to get to events, just in case they get lost. But Mangiacapre and Wallace said they won’t worry about security again.

    “We read so many negative things this week,” Wallace said. “They redeemed themselves.”

    Tags: Russia, Olympics
  • TV Timeout: Security remains a hot topic on U.S. news shows

    Leading up to Friday's opening ceremony, the news cycle in the U.S. was still focused on the myriad issues surrounding the Sochi Games, most notably the security presence. THE DAILY offers a sampling from news and sports telecasts on Thursday and Friday:

    The Economist's Arkady Ostrovsky said, "Concerns are very real and the security on the ground is incredibly stringent. It almost feels like the whole place has been occupied by security forces" ("Worldwide Exchange," CNBC, 2/7).

    The AP's Steve Wilson: "Security measures seem to the most stringent we've ever had at any Olympic Games. … There was a sense of foreboding coming to these Games, but now that it's about to start, people on the ground are at work, they're ready for the Games to start" ("PBS NewsHour," PBS, 2/6).

    ESPN's Stan Verrett said, "Usually covering the Olympics is a dream for a sports reporter, a career bucket list item. But it sounds like a nightmare right now at the Winter Games in Sochi. Journalists are reporting problems with poorly constructed housing with broken fixtures and bad tap water." Verrett noted the Twitter account "@sochiproblems" had "more followers than the official account for the Games" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 2/7).

    ABC's Matt Gutman said of Shaun White withdrawing from the slopestyle event as several athletes have already been injured, "It's why some are calling these the 'Concussion Games'" ("World News," ABC, 2/6). NBC's Brian Williams: "Despite all those other issues, there actually is great anticipation here in Sochi" ("Nightly News," NBC, 2/6).

    FS1's Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole are broadcasting from Sochi during the Olympics, with O'Toole saying, "To clear a few misconceptions, first off there are toilets in our rooms, the water works and there are no dogs in our rooms." Onrait: "I'm kind of sad about that part. I wanted a puppy in my room" ("Fox Sports Live," FS1, 2/7).

  • NBC wins prime-time battle Thursday behind ‘bonus’ night of coverage

    NBC got its broadcast of the Sochi Games off on the right foot Thursday, winning the prime-time TV battle with what the network has deemed a "bonus" night of coverage.

    NBC earned an 11.8 overnight Nielsen rating, the best overnight rating for a Thursday on any network since the NFL season-opening Ravens-Broncos game on NBC Sept. 5. The Olympic coverage was the top broadcast for each half-hour window.

    Minneapolis topped all local markets with a 17.7 overnight rating, followed by Indianapolis, Kansas City and Denver. Thursday's coverage will not be factored into NBC's overall cumulative ratings for Sochi.

    Tags: NBC, Olympics
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