• IOC praises Sochi 2014 for successful first week

    SBJ Podcast:
    SBJ's Tripp Mickle and Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch assess the first week of the Sochi Olympics.

    Sochi 2014 organizers on Friday won high praise from the International Olympic Committee for completing a successful first week that was free of transportation and security issues and full of good weather and active venues.

    “From day one when they turned the key to start last Thursday, we have been only happy with what did happen with the organization and fluidity of the operations,” said Gilbert Felli, the IOC’s executive director of the Olympic Games. “We have been able also to see that where little issues didn’t work fully as expected at the beginning, it has been corrected very quickly. … We are pleased.”

    Felli said that transportation has been “on time, precise” and easy to navigate; the atmosphere in venues is “great;” and the weather, which has been sunny and in the 60s, is “beautiful,” which makes operations easier.
    Sochi: By The Numbers
    1 million tickets sold
    1.3 million spectators transported
    79 events completed
    37 of 98 medals awarded

    Sochi 2104 has sold 1 million tickets for competition so far and transported 1.3 million spectators (see chart). As of Thursday morning local time, it had completed 79 events and awarded 37 of the 98 medals that will be given out for the Olympics.

    Sochi has not been without its critics. Norwegian IOC member and marketing commission chair Gerhard Heiberg told the Associated Press that he was disappointed by the lack of atmosphere in the venues.

    “The TV pictures are wonderful, the competitions are wonderful, the venues are great, but I feel a bit the lack of enthusiasm and the joy of sports,” Heiberg said this week.

    Felli acknowledged concerns before the Games about the atmosphere but said the IOC had been pleased with the enthusiasm of the spectators.

    “The two or three first days of the Games people are looking at each other trying to understand what has happened and then they start to mix, to go together, and then the atmosphere starts to create, so that’s in every Games a bit the same,” Felli said.

    Tags: IOC, Olympics, Russia
  • NBC producer Jim Bell forges ahead through criticism, long hours

    NBC Executive Producer Jim Bell
    NBC Olympics Executive Producer Jim Bell is working the night shift in Sochi.

    He is keeping East Coast hours for the most part, working at NBC’s compound inside the International Broadcast Center until 7 a.m. local time most days. He leaves for his hotel after the prime-time show ends in the U.S. and returns to the office around 3 p.m.

    When he gets to the compound, he spends the early part of his afternoon in his office catching up on sport and watching a live feed of NBC’s station in New York City. He has two pillows on a couch and a white blanket for a daily nap he usually takes. Two jars of peanut butter — “I love peanut butter,” Bell says — sit on the coffee table.

    Six days into the Olympics, he stretched his legs out on the couch and kept his eyes on U.S. news coverage of the winter storm that hit the East Coast.

    NBC received criticism for how IOC President Thomas Bach's opening ceremony speech was edited.
    NBC’s coverage of the Sochi Games was running smoothly. There had only been two real issues: prime-time host Bob Costas’ infected eye, and the way IOC President Thomas Bach’s speech was edited during the prime-time broadcast of the opening ceremony. NBC cut out some of his comments about diversity, and gay and human rights advocates criticized the broadcast.

    Bell didn’t think the criticism was fair. The speech was long and so was the opening ceremony. Something had to be cut for the broadcast.
     “Overall, the message was there,” Bell said. “It was a very long speech. Inevitably, we made some edits to make the show fit, and inevitably, there will be somebody who’s nose will get out of joint about whatever it is. We expect it and we take it in stride. We faced that in London. We’ll face it again in Rio.”

    NBC’s ratings performance through the first week of the Games has been strong. It’s been doing that despite losing one of the most-anticipated and most-promoted stars of the Games, Lindsey Vonn, who would have competed in five events over two weeks.

    “It would have been nice to have her here, but that’s fine,” Bell said. “You’ve seen other stars emerging. I don’t think too many Americans had heard of Sage Kotsenburg. It was a name that was not really reverberating around American homes until he popped that big run and won a gold medal. That was one of our messages going in — people were wringing their hands over the injury to Lindsey, and we said, ‘Hey, it would be great if she were here, but we know there are going to be other stars, American and others, that will fill that storyline for us, and that’s been the case.”

    Shaun White' defeat in the halfpipe still drove viewership thanks partly to social media.
    The other big star of these Games, Shaun White, competed but finished a disappointing fourth in the halfpipe competition this week. News of his loss dominated social media, but NBC still had a huge night. It posted a 13.7 fast-national rating that night and averaged 23.7 million viewers in prime time, up 12 percent and 17 percent, respectively, from the same night in 2010.

    Bell said that White’s results and NBC’s results that night underscored how social media helps NBC. If White had won, social media would have helped “a lot,” Bell said, but he added the fact that White had a chance to win the event on his last run kept viewers watching.

    “For a lot of people, they know and they still want to see it,” Bell said. “For a significant amount of people, they really don’t know, and I know that might seem odd to a lot of us who are strapped like an EKG machine to our Twitter feeds and whatever other devices or sites we’re getting constant information, but that’s not everybody.”

    Bell is working his first Olympics without longtime Olympics executive producer Dick Ebersol. The former head of NBC Sports, who attended and offered advice during the London Games, is in Hawaii rather than Sochi.

    “There’s a healthy sense of the mark he left and it’s reflected in the sense of how serious we take this but how much fun we have along the way,” Bell said. “It’s probably an odd experience for him not being here, but he’d be proud knowing we were forging ahead and doing justice to the stories of the athletes.”

    Bell said that the biggest challenge is the time zone difference. The East Coast is nine hours behind Sochi, and that means that the prime-time broadcast ends when the day begins in Sochi.

    “From a work-flow standpoint, a stamina standpoint, it’s pretty tough,” Bell said. “You’re juggling today’s (prime-time) show and you’re also looking at tomorrow’s show. It’s been OK, but nine hours is … weird.”

    Tags: NBC, Olympics
  • NHL Shift: Sochi By The Numbers


    The number of chartered flights run by the NHL — three from Newark, one from Atlanta — to Sochi last Sunday afternoon. Among the travelers were U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma and his staff, Latvia head coach Ted Nolan, NBC and CBC executives, producers and broadcasters and NHL personnel.

    There are no television/radio timeouts during Olympic hockey play, as compared to the three breaks during each period in NHL games. As a result …

    28 minutes
    That was the duration of the swift first period of Team USA’s 7-1 opening-game win over Slovakia on Thursday. The second period, which featured six goals by the U.S. and one by Slovakia, took 37 minutes. (A typical NHL period runs 35-40 minutes).

    An estimate of the amount of empty seats at the U.S.- Slovakia game in the 7,000-seat Shayba (“Puck”) Arena — the smaller of the two hockey venues in Sochi. (At the completion of the Olympics, the arena will be dismantled and re-built in another Russian city).

    The capacity crowd for Russia-Slovenia on Thursday at the Bolshoy Ice Dome.

    200 feet by 100 feet
    The dimension of an “international-sized” hockey rink, like the ones utilized in Sochi. These rinks are 15 feet wider than NHL rinks.

    The Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks each have 10 Olympians in this tournament, the most among the 30 NHL clubs.

    The number of U.S. Olympic hockey team players from Minnesota — the most of any state. There are five players from New York, three each from Wisconsin, Michigan and Connecticut, two from New Jersey and one from Missouri.

    A pair of organists with NHL teams — Dieter Ruehle of the Los Angeles Kings and Ray Castoldi of the Rangers — were hired to play at the Olympic hockey tournament.

    The uniform number — with both Sweden and the New York Rangers — of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who is featured in a television spot promoting NBC and NBC Sports Network as “The Home of Hockey.”


    Feb. 19: NHL players not playing at the Olympics are permitted to begin practicing with their teams on Wednesday.

    Feb. 20: Women’s gold-medal game

    Feb. 21: Men’s semifinals

    Tags: NHL, NBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Hockey, Olympics
  • SBJ Podcast: SI's Richard Deitsch assesses Sochi, NBC

    SBJ Olympics writer Tripp Mickle and Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch assess the first week of the Sochi Games and how they're performing on NBC. Among the highlights:
    Tripp Mickle (left) and Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch, shown during the 2012 London Olympics

    "You bid on the Games, and one of the promises you make is that everything is going to be ready when the world arrives. … Seems like to me they needed one more week to get ready."

    "Big event television is still one of the last things that guarantees ratings. … So the ratings don't surprise me at all. They're not going to beat London or Vancouver because of the time difference."

    Tags: NBC, Olympics, Sports Illustrated, SBJSBD Podcast
  • Catching Up With: John Lewicki of McDonald's

    McDonald's executive John Lewicki
    John Lewicki has been working on the Olympics for McDonald’s since 1996. As head of global alliance for the company, he first visited Sochi a year ago. The sight of palm trees at a Winter Olympic host city surprised him. He has visited several times since then, and he spoke to Tripp Mickle at a playground McDonald’s built near the Black Sea in Adler about how Sochi has evolved and how the Olympics are going.

    How much has changed in the year since you visited?
    LEWICKI: We had done a couple of site checks. I have a memory of where they were, but I would not know how to get there now because of all the different construction. We went to the Radisson Blu and ended up on a dirt road. I’ve passed it twice now and didn’t recognize it as the same road because that infrastructure is completely different. So what was a construction site to what it is now, it’s just vastly different.

    How would you describe the sponsor experience so far?
    LEWICKI: I’m not necessarily a proponent of a Winter (Olympic) Park, but because they didn’t have anything here, they put everything. The Park’s amazing. What can you say? It’s a construction masterpiece. Having the ability to walk between venues when you have tickets is just incredible.

    Why wouldn’t you be a proponent of that at future Olympics?
    LEWICKI: I’m not sure what they’ll do with it afterward. There’s always a concern, and it’s a rap on the Olympics, that these venues become an albatross. I don’t think that’s a good legacy, so you want to make sure that you build something sustainable. People are always complaining, “They built this thing and the country’s in debt because of it.” That’s not a good thing.

    Everyone in the industry is consuming press reports on hotel problems and other issues. Are journalists painting a fair portrait of the experience here?
    LEWICKI: There are problems. There’s stuff that’s not finished. I guess the silver lining is that everyone’s inconvenienced, everyone who’s accommodated has some form of an issue. It’s universal challenges. It’s not perfect, but it’s overshadowed by the spectacular nature of the (Olympic) Park. If you’re going to have deficiencies, it’s best to get the venues done. It would have been nice to have everything done, but the venues are spectacular, and it’s about the Olympians having a great place to perform.

    What competition are you looking forward to?
    LEWICKI: I love international hockey, especially with these guys. The great players play in the NHL but play on different teams, and to see them play for their country is really exciting. It’s a wide-open game, a larger rink. To see the skill these guys have and the women have is incredible to watch.

    Tags: Olympics, McDonalds
  • Early Sochi medalists make big jumps on Twitter

    Slopestyle gold-medalist Sage Kotsenburg
    After the first week of the Sochi Games, some of the biggest jumps in terms of number of Twitter followers were seen by gold-medalist snowboarders Sage Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson. The combination of winning early events and great media coverage saw them both in the top five of most-added followers for American athletes.

    Among other popular athletes on Twitter, snowboarder Shaun White added more than 89,000 followers to see his dominance in social media continue even as he failed to medal. Figure skaters Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner also saw large jumps in popularity to round out the top five (see chart, below) and could see more followers with individual event success this coming week.

    On the international front, outspoken Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris is enjoying a massive popularity bump on Twitter, adding more than 100,000 followers after winning the bronze in slopestyle. Popular British snowboarder Jenny Jones saw the second-most additions with more than 46,000 after also bringing home a medal.

        Feb. 5 Feb. 13  
    Top 5 Most Additions Twitter Handle Twitter Followers Twitter Followers ADDITIONS
    Shaun White @shaun_white 1,258,623 1,348,363 89,740
    Sage Kotsenburg @sagekotsenburg 7,425 61,846 54,421
    Gracie Gold @GraceEGold 25,286 57,185 31,899
    Jamie Anderson @Jme_Anderson 11,490 43,036 31,546
    Ashley Wagner @AshWagner2010 29,714 56,141 26,427
    Figure Skating
    Gracie Gold @GraceEGold 25,286 57,185 31,899
    Ashley Wagner @AshWagner2010 29,714 56,141 26,427
    Meryl Davis @Meryl_Davis 20,873 34,497 13,624
    Charlie White @CharlieaWhite 18,435 30,196 11,761
    Charlie White @CharlieaWhite 18,435 30,196 11,761
    Jason Brown @jasonbskates 10,013 16,157 6,144
    Jeremy Abbott @jeremyabbottpcf 26,240 29,784 3,544
    Maia Shibutani @MaiaShibutani 12,681 15,869 3,188
    Alex Shibutani @AlexShibutani 13,651 16,513 2,862
    Julia Mancuso @JuliaMancuso 54,016 66,557 12,541
    Gus Kensworthy @guskenworthy 13,606 25,816 12,210
    Nick Goepper @NickGoepper 11,164 21,624 10,460
    Bode Miller @MillerBode 37,407 47,834 10,427
    Bobby Brown @Bobby_Brown1 33,189 38,327 5,138
    Ted Ligety @tedligety 42,807 46,607 3,800
    Mikaela Shiffrin @MikaelaShiffrin 21,587 24,126 2,539
    Torin Yater-Wallace @TorinWallace 13,654 15,949 2,295
    Kikkan Randall @kikkanimal 11,165 12,329 1,164
    Shani Davis @ShaniDavis 14,681 20,894 6,213
    JR Celski @jrcelski 20,828 26,936 6,108
    Lauren Cholewinski @LMCHOLEWINSKI 17,896 18,167 271
    Shaun White @shaun_white 1,258,623 1,348,363 89,740
    Sage Kotsenburg @sagekotsenburg 7,425 61,846 54,421
    Jamie Anderson @Jme_Anderson 11,490 43,036 31,546
    Kaitlyn Farrington @KaitlynFarr 2,370 10,831 8,461
    Hannah Teter @hannahteter 26,980 34,289 7,309
    Danny Davis @theDDeadshow 18,064 23,738 5,674
    Kelly Clark @Kellyclarkfdn 14,469 19,310 4,841
    Greg Bretz @gregbretzz 10,100 12,382 2,282
    Scotty Lago @scottylago 42,002 44,100 2,098
    Johnny Quinn @JohnnyQuinnUSA 14,073 25,673 11,600
    Lolo Jones @lolojones 378,543 385,149 6,606
    Dallas Robinson @DRobUSA 9,445 11,874 2,429
    Steven Holcomb @StevenHolcomb 13,112 13,880 768
    Women's Hockey
    Hillary Knight @Hilary_Knight 14,785 23,657 8,872

    Tags: Twitter, Media, Olympics
  • Instagram, snowboarder McMorris lead in social media engagement

    Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris has led the way in terms of new followers and fan interactions.
    For the Sochi Olympics, Instagram is the leading social network when counting fan interactions, with 46.6 percent of all Olympic activity happening on the site, according to a report by Hookit. Comparatively, Facebook is at 36.8 percent of interactions and Twitter at 16.6 percent of the more than 6 million fan interactions counted.

    Hookit tracked 592 athletes on social media in the first week, and they combined to have more than 21 million fans over the three main social networks. In contrast to the engagement numbers, almost 45 percent of fans are on Twitter, 40.9 percent on Facebook and 14.3 percent are on Instagram.

    A deeper look into social media data compiled by Hookit during the first week of the Sochi Games shows that Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris has been the most popular with new followers and fan interactions. McMorris, a bronze-medal winner in slopestyle, had the most-liked photo on Instagram and four of the top five.


    1. Mark McMorris (Canada) — 707,691 interactions
    2. Shaun White (U.S.) — 535,587
    3. Sven Kramer (Netherlands) — 353,169
    4. Julia Mancuso (U.S.) — 293,209
    5. Sage Kotsenburg (U.S.) — 288,230
    6. Jamie Anderson (U.S.) — 274,009
    7. Silje Norendal (Norway) — 238,311
    8. Marcel Hirscher (Austria) — 237,725
    9. Justine Dufour-Lapointe (Canada) — 207,408
    10. Stale Sandbech (Norway) — 195,619

    Tags: Media, Olympics, Facebook, Twitter
  • Japanese company Airweave signs USOC sponsorship

    USOC CEO Scott Blackmun (left) and Airweave CEO Motokuni Takaoka
    The U.S. Olympic Committee on Wednesday announced its first sponsorship in the mattress category with Airweave, a Japanese company that makes bedding toppers.

    Terms of the deal were not available, but Airweave is considered an official sponsor, and those deals are usually valued in the mid-six figures annually. Under the terms of the deal, Airweave is providing mattress toppers to Team USA athletes in Sochi and also will provide them in Rio in 2016.

    “Their business is not established in the U.S., but they want to aggressively grow the business and the brand,” said Lisa Baird, USOC chief marketer. “In addition to financial benefits, this is a sponsorship that offers great benefits to our athletes. They’re going to really help us with some (value in kind).”

    Airweave CEO Motokuni Takaoka appeared at USA House in Sochi to announce the sponsorship Wednesday. The company also has sponsorships with several other national Olympic committees, including Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and Japan.

    To assist in marketing its sponsorship of Team USA, Airweave signed endorsement deals with figure skater Gracie Gold and ice dancer Charlie White. The company estimates that it is providing 1,000 athletes in Sochi with mattress toppers during the Sochi Games.

    Airweave launched in the U.S. last month. Its mattress tops use resin fibers that are woven together. It claims that the product’s breathability helps moisture generated by the body during sleep escape.

    Michael O’Conor, USOC senior director of business development, negotiated the deal.

    Baird said that the USOC currently is focused on servicing its existing partners and renewing them for the 2018 and 2020 Olympics.

    “A lot of that is going to rest on how well we fulfill their expectations,” Baird said. “That’s where I have our team focused.”

    Tags: Japan, USOC, Olympics
  • Sochi Games help McDonald’s expand business in Russia

    The Sochi Games jump-started McDonald’s business in southern Russia, leading to the construction of five restaurants in the Sochi region and allowing it to add smoothies, parfaits and wraps to its menu.

    “Because of the Olympics, we built them,” said Khamzat Khasbulatov, CEO of McDonald’s Russia. “They’ve been so popular and packed.”

    John Lewicki, McDonald’s head of global alliances, added: “We’ve been in Russia for 24 years, but it’s still a great growth market for us. (The Olympics) helped our business tremendously. The support of the organizing committee and the government, the way it’s set up, will help our business a lot more. It’s a great generator for us.”

    McDonald’s built two restaurants in the Olympic Park — one for athletes and one for journalists. It is serving 6,000 customers a day at those two locations.

    McDonald's Russia
    The first McDonald’s opens in Moscow in 1990
    415 McDonald’s restaurants operate in more than 100 Russian cities
    37 restaurants in Russia rank among McDonald’s global top 100 in sales
    1 million customers a day eat at a McDonald’s restaurant in Russia
    36,000 people work for McDonald’s in Russia
    Because it was building those restaurants as part of its sponsorship commitment, McDonald’s expanded its supply chain in Russia to offer menu items it serves in other parts of the world. It added smoothies, parfaits and grilled chicken wraps to the menu. The parfaits had to pass Russian regulations for yogurt and be made from local products. The company set up the supply chain for those items, secured government approval and began serving them last October.

    Khasbulatov said the new items will be available at McDonald’s locations around the country in the future, which will help boost national sales as well as choices for customers.

    “Providing variety is still one of our biggest business drivers,” Khasbulatov said.

    The United Kingdon and Russia are McDonald’s two biggest European markets. The company has 415 restaurants in Russia, and 37 of those rank among the top 100 in global sales for the company. It plans to open more than 45 restaurants in Russia annually in the coming years.

    “We have ambitious growth plans over the next four years,” Lewicki said. “The World Cup is coming here (in 2018) and that will help as well. (Sports) gives us a great opportunity to talk to consumers and explain our brand in a way that here, where Russian citizens are very supportive of the Olympics and the World Cup, offers a great opportunity to develop our business.”

    McDonald's built a playground near the Olympic Village as part of the legacy the company leaves in Olympic cities.
    Khasbulatov and Lewicki were speaking at a playground McDonald’s built in Adler near one of its new restaurants. The playground is one of the legacies the company has been leaving in Olympic cities ever since the Vancouver Games. It’s become the physical embodiment of the company’s effort to promote and encourage kids to be active.

    In addition to that, McDonald’s is running its “Champions of Play” program at the Sochi Games. It will bring 300 kids selected by schools across Russia to the Olympics. It also will host the winner of a youth hockey tournament it sponsored, and it is in the process of arranging a time for the kids to skate and play on one of the two hockey rinks built for the Olympics.

    The company first began providing behind-the-scenes access to children it brought to the London Games. Those kids were able to go to the archery venue at Lord’s Cricket Ground and meet Olympic archers.

    “We’re working with the IOC to continue doing that,” Lewicki said.

    Tags: Russia, Olympics, McDonalds
  • Shaun White boosts NBC on Tuesday, moves net close to 2010 average

    Despite Shaun White missing out on a medal in the snowboard halfpipe on Tuesday, his appearance during NBC’s prime-time coverage gave the network a big boost over the same nights during both the 2010 Vancouver and 2006 Turin Games.

    NBC earned a 13.7 fast-national rating and 23.7 million viewers from 8-11:03 p.m. ET on Tuesday, up 12 percent and 17 percent, respectively, from the same night in 2010. Along with coverage of White, NBC also aired gold-medal finals for women’s luge singles and women’s ski jumping, as well as the figure skating pairs’ short program.

    Coverage on Tuesday also was up 21 percent and 29 percent, respectively, from an 11.3 rating and 18.4 million viewers for the same night during Turin in 2006.

    Tuesday night also helped NBC’s five-night average draw close to the average seen during Vancouver. The network is averaging a 14.4 rating in prime time, just short of the 14.5 at the same point in 2010, and up 13 percent from the 12.7 average rating seen in 2006.

    Tags: NBC, Olympics
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