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Volume 24 No. 160
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NBC Grapples With Shortage Of Star Power At Sochi Games With Vonn Withdrawal

NBC yesterday unveiled its Olympic coverage plans and "put the best face on losing the face" of the Sochi Games with the withdrawal of U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn, but there is "no getting around it: Her ski boots will be hard to fill," according to Brady & Whiteside of USA TODAY. Vonn's "quest for gold looked like ratings gold." Her recovery from a torn ACL, with "video of boyfriend Tiger Woods cheering her on, was avidly followed on the 'Today' show for weeks." NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel said, "Lindsey gives us great promotional value, and she's an amazing athlete and an amazing story." However, he added there are other "amazing athletes that are going to be in Sochi." 21 Marketing Founder & CEO Rob Prazmark said of Vonn, "She was clearly a poster child for U.S. athletes going to Sochi." He added that Vonn's absence "will hurt NBC's ratings only slightly." Prazmark: "They'll lose something, but it's not catastrophic" (USA TODAY, 1/8). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Matthew Futterman writes Vonn's withdrawal "provided yet another challenge for NBCUniversal to overcome to maintain its string of record-breaking telecasts of the Games." Vonn has been "a star of NBC's promotional campaigns" ahead of Sochi, and NBC now is "trying to figure out how to build a U.S. audience for its 1,500 hours of coverage without a marquee U.S. star ... and no American among the medal favorites in the men's or ladies' figure-skating competition." NBC Sports Group Chair Mark Lazarus said, "We'll change a little bit of our promotion and we will look for the next story." Meanwhile, a Procter & Gamble spokesperson, whose company has featured Vonn in its promotions leading up the Games, said that there are "no changes planned for its ad push" because of Vonn's decision (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/8).

LACKING IN STAR POWER: BLOOMBERG NEWS' Kyle Stock wrote the Winter Olympics are "already a tricky game" for TV execs, as the average U.S. viewer "doesn’t follow the luge circuit ... or even World Cup skiing." The '10 Vancouver Games "drew 190 million viewers -- far short of the 219 million garnered by" the '12 London Games. Name recognition is "key to drawing viewers to snow and ice," and if that "star power coincides with a story -- say, a gritty comeback from a gruesome injury -- all the better." Without Vonn, "expect TV producers to crank up the story lines of the few remaining high-profile winter stars." Snowboarder Shaun White likely will be featured "all the time," and skier Bode Miller, who is "known for being prickly with media, will have even more cameras in his wake." Stock: "Be prepared to hear a lot more about Ashley Wagner, the best chance for a U.S. medal in women’s figure skating" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 1/7). In DC, Barry Svrluga notes White is "arguably the public face of the U.S. team, but precious few others could make a case for that mantle now that Vonn ... has joined a list of marketable American winter athletes either injured, retired or not in top form." Beyond White is "a litany of athletes either currently struggling or lacking in candle power." Eighteen-year-old skier Mikaela Shiffrin is "in a similar position to Vonn" in '06 as "a young athlete full of potential, one already with enormous appeal to sponsors, but not yet a fully formed star" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/8). ESPN's Pablo Torre asked, "Who do we really know outside of Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White? Not much." Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said not having Vonn is a "problem for all the casual fans out there." ESPN's Tony Reali asked, "Wouldn't you think the Olympics create stars? Did you know Apolo Anton Ohno before the Games?" Cowlishaw: "It's nice to have a few going in" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 1/7). CBS' Doug Gottlieb: "I can't tell you another Winter Olympian that we have" ("Lead Off," CBS Sports Network 1/7).

3 Wire Sports' Alan Abrahamson noted Vonn is "as big as it can possibly get in the world of Olympic sports," but her absence will "give an opportunity for somebody else to step up" ("Nightly News," NBC, 1/7). In N.Y., Bill Pennington writes Vonn's departure "will turn the focus of American television coverage to other American racers, two of whom are gold medal favorites in their events." Skier Ted Ligety is "foremost in that group," as he won three events at the '13 world championships. Shiffrin also is "the reigning world champion" in the women's slalom. Vonn’s absence also will be "an opportunity" for skier Julia Mancuso, who won two Silver Medals in Vancouver and was "a surprise gold medalist in the giant slalom" at the '06 Turin Games (N.Y. TIMES, 1/8). The AP's Howard Fendrich looks at "five women to know in Sochi" following Vonn's departure, including Shiffrin, speedskater Heather Richardson, snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis, hockey player Julie Chu and South Korean figure skater Kim Yu-Na (AP, 1/7). The N.Y. TIMES lists some of "the next-best attractions" in Sochi after Vonn, including White, Ligety, Kim, Russian hockey player Alex Ovechkin and Canadian curler Brad Jacobs. But the Times writes, "Admit it: You were dying to watch that 17-day made-for-TV 'Lindsey & Tiger' special otherwise known as the Sochi Winter Olympics. Just think of NBC’s full-sepia treatment as Lindsey Vonn zoomed past the finish line and into the arms of her ear-muffed boyfriend, Tiger Woods" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/8).

FIGHTING OFF THE INJURY BUG: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Futterman reports with Vonn joining Evan Lysacek, the Gold Medal-winning figure skater from Vancouver, as being "out officially" for Sochi, Team USA "awaits word on whether Sarah Hendrickson, the defending world ski jump champion, and Seth Wescott, the defending gold medalist in snowboard cross, will be able to compete." Both suffered ACL tears last year and "have pursued aggressive rehabilitation programs to try to prepare for the Games" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/8).