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Volume 24 No. 117


The Sochi Games officially got underway earlier today with figure skating and freestyle skiing competitions, but a recent poll stated that nearly 30% of the Russian population is "skeptical" about whether hosting the Olympics is worth the reported $51B price tag, according to poll data cited by Matthew Bodner of the MOSCOW TIMES. This comes despite Russia President Vladimir Putin yesterday saying he was pleased to "see that there was complete consensus ... on the idea of holding these Games and hosting this event." In the poll, conducted by the Levada Center, 26% of respondents said that they were "uncertain about the real purpose of hosting the games," while 53% said that they "thought that hosting the Winter Olympics was the right thing to do." The "closest thing to a national consensus in the poll" was that 85% of Russians "expected their team to place in the top five in terms of total medals won." Nearly half of the people surveyed believed that corruption and waste "were the cause of the Games' massive price tag," while 34% "placed the blame on greedy and careless construction companies." The poll was taken at the end of January, and 1,603 respondents from 45 regions across Russia participated. The margin of error was 3.4% (MOSCOW TIMES, 2/6).

THE PUPPET MASTER: TIME's Simon Shuster writes "all eyes" in the days leading up to the start of the Games were on Putin, who "insists on managing the last details himself." SOCOG President & CEO Dmitry Chernyshenko said of Putin, "He considers these Games his baby. So it's natural that he's taking care of them himself." Shuster notes any security breach, "let alone a terrorist attack during the Games, could blow a hole through Putin's carefully constructed and fiercely guarded image as Russia's great protector." However, if all "goes smoothly, Sochi could be the redeeming triumph of Putin's career." The attention Putin has "lavished on 'his baby' has also made it an enormously tempting target for his enemies" (TIME magazine, 2/10 issue). In Salt Lake City, Michael Lewis writes the Olympics are "seen as a vanity project for Putin, right down to speculation that his reputed girlfriend, former rhythmic gymnastics champion Alina Kabayeva, will light the torch at the Opening Ceremony" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 2/6). In Buffalo, Jerry Sullivan writes under the header, "Putin's Games, Win Or Lose." Sochi is seen as Putin's "chance to display Russia’s standing in the world, to flash its economic and sporting might a quarter century after the USSR’s fall." But to some, they "are also 'Putin’s Follies,' an ill-conceived and executed expression of his hubris and ambition." Putin and other officials insist that the Games "will go off smoothly and be a triumph for Russia." But critics say that he "got more trouble than he bargained for" (BUFFALO NEWS, 2/6). In Detroit, Gregg Krupa writes under the header, "Olympics Will Severely Test Vladimir Putin, Russia" (DETROIT NEWS, 2/6).

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: In London, Ben Hoyle writes Sochi is "surely the most scrutinised Winter Olympics since the first in 1924, and, as the opening has drawn closer, it has become increasingly obvious that facilities will not all be finished on time." Putin yesterday said, "Russia is ready to hold the Olympics." But Hoyle writes it "does not look that way, either on the coast or 31 miles away, in Rosa Khutor, in the mountains." The slope of the Extreme Park in Rosa Khutor was "still scattered yesterday with snow-covered piles of plastic tubing, wooden boards and an uprooted tree" (LONDON TIMES, 2/6). The AP's Angela Charlton reported the Olympic zone "still looks like a construction area." Some hotel rooms "aren't quite finished," and electricity outages "occasionally disrupt the intense security measures." Putin "obliquely referred to the unfinished nature of some sites, calling Sochi 'the world's biggest construction project'" (AP, 2/5). In London, Robin Scott-Elliot writes the venues are "stunning, but around them are fraying edges." In the areas near the venues and hotels, trees "have been hastily planted and secured with ropes to keep them upright" (London INDEPENDENT, 2/6). USA TODAY's Christine Brennan writes there "most definitely are serious infrastructure problems at these Olympics, with the Russians appearing to be completely overwhelmed by the monumental task of building an entire Olympic Games from scratch." Those issues are "taking all the oxygen out of the room," making it "all the more difficult for the real issues of these Games to bubble to the surface." Brennan: "It's almost as if ... Putin planned the whole thing, stealing the toilet paper and the light bulbs and the shower curtains himself, just to distract reporters from the stories that worry him far more" (USA TODAY, 2/6).

FRESH SECURITY CONCERNS: U.S. Rep Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who serves as House Homeland Security Committee Chair, yesterday said that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has “alerted airlines flying to Russia that they should be on the lookout for toothpaste and cosmetics tubes that might be used to hide explosive substances” (L.A. TIMES, 2/6). In London, Tony Bonnici notes the warning is “the latest in a flood of concerns and negative publicity over the Winter Olympics, amid fears that the Games could be targeted by Islamic extremists in Russia’s restive Caucasus region” (LONDON TIMES, 2/6). In Newark, Steve Politi writes under the header, “Fear Is The Biggest Storyline In Sochi, And The IOC Is To Blame.” The threat of terrorism is “always going to be part of the Olympics,” but the threat in Sochi is “at a different level, with each news report seeming worse than the next, and the IOC is to blame.” It gave the Games to a region "known for violence, at the edge of a war zone known to be a training ground for terrorists, in a country with a president who has used this moment to flex his biceps (literally and figuratively) on the international stage.” Putin has “promised safety for everyone, but it is hard not to wonder: If the organizers can’t remember to put doorknobs in the hotel rooms, can anyone really expect security will be flawless, no matter how many armed guards or security cameras are in the region?” (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 2/6).

NBC believes that its TV viewership for the Sochi Games "throughout the day and, in particular, during prime time, will be enhanced by fans who are watching live on their computers or iPads," according to Richard Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES. NBC again this year is "live-streaming virtually every event" after doing the same during the '12 London Games. NBC Sports Group Chair Mark Lazarus said of the experience in London, "I think four or five days in, we felt a degree of confidence that we had a formula that was working well." Sandomir notes research from the '12 Games "found that the more devices on which people watched the Olympics, the more they watched television." The research showed that someone watching the Olympics "only on television breathed in 4 hours 19 minutes of coverage daily." Consumption "rose to 4:28" when using a personal computer or a laptop. With a mobile phone added, TV viewing "rose to five hours, and with a tablet tossed in, the average time watching TV shot up to 6:07." Eighteen months later, tablets and smartphones are "far more prevalent, raising the likelihood that viewing on all screens will increase." Streaming technology also has "improved since the London Olympics, as has the ability of devices to show the programming." NBC is "relying on those upgrades to increase the multiple-screen viewing and the time spent watching." NBC "despite the digital revolution ... is still focused on its Olympic prime-time show." The Opening Ceremony tomorrow will not stream live, as the event to NBC is "pure entertainment, part of an expensive purchase of rights, which it can use to garner high ratings through a delayed showing" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/6). In Akron, George Thomas writes the level of streaming from Sochi "will be mammoth." "NBC Sports Live Extra" will stream "more than 1,000 hours of coverage with the promise of including 'every sport, every competition, every medal -- to verified cable, satellite and telco (telephone company) customers'" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 2/6).

GET IN THE ZONE: USA TODAY's Ed Baig wrote NBC is "producing fresh digital-only programming" in Sochi. A program that "sounds promising is called Gold Zone, in which NBC plans to whip you around from event to event showing the most popular live action" between 7:00am-3:00pm ET. The show might move "from a freestyle skiing final to the final moments of a crucial hockey match." NBC also "plans a digital-only Olympic Ice studio show with news and highlights from figure skating events" (USA TODAY, 2/5).

NBCSN stands to be a "big winner" from the Sochi Games, as the channel is set to telecast "more than 230 hours of live events from Russia ... in a bid to help boost the channel's ratings," according to Ronald Grover of REUTERS. The net will air several "big draws," including live figure skating coverage and the U.S.-Russia men's hockey game on Feb. 15. NBC said that NBCSN "added 5 million more households in the month before the Olympics, bringing to 85 million the homes whose cable or satellite operators carry the channel." SNL Kagan Research Dir Derek Baine said, "This could be a turning point for the network." NBCSN in all will "carry 11 sports, including live gold medal coverage of bobsled, speed skating and ski jumping" (REUTERS, 2/4). In Boston, Chad Finn notes NBC's "most daring alteration" from past Olympic broadcasts is its decision to broadcast all figure skating competition live on NBCSN, with a "later prime-time show airing on NBC." NBC Olympics Exec Producer Jim Bell said, "This is a unique opportunity to build an asset (NBCSN) with a sports audience, so we want to take that chance here, and we think figure skating makes the most sense because it’s one of the marquee sports." Finn notes because of the expanded coverage, NBC has "brought two sets of announcers for figure skating to Sochi." Tom Hammond, Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezik "will call the events in prime time" on NBC, while Terry Gannon, Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski will "handle the NBCSN broadcasts" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/6).

SAVED BY THE BELL: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Christopher Stewart noted Sochi will be "the first time NBC will broadcast the games without the expertise" of former NBC Sports Group Chair Dick Ebersol. To draw viewers, Bell "must in part create new stars from sports like curling and ice hockey by creating stories that viewers care about." Bell previously has had "the benefit of Mr. Ebersol's guidance." Bell's team "already has shot about 40 features focusing on the back stories of individual athletes, as well as a handful of longer pieces, including one about the 1994 figure-skating scandal between Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding." Meanwhile, the net is "banking on the promotional platform of the broadcast to cement a ratings surge this TV season, potentially getting NBC out of a yearslong struggle." NBC also hopes the broadcast "will elevate 'The Tonight Show' handoff from Jay Leno to Jimmy Fallon, who debuts in the middle of the games" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/5).

: NBC Senior VP/Olympic Operations John Fritsche said that the Sochi Games has been "the most complicated undertaking" of his career at NBC. Fritsche: "One of the things logistically challenging about Russia and Sochi is that from a marketplace point of view there is no Home Depot here, no Costco here, no city industrial base or any kind of base to draw from. We have to bring everything we need, as much as we can, and then bring it back to the States." On Long Island, Neil Best notes production costs for NBC "reportedly will exceed" $100M. Fritsche said that it is "not difficult to understand why, given that Sochi is 'a little off the beaten path'" (NEWSDAY, 2/6). 

BUZZWORTHY: Throughout the Sochi Games, Twitter will incorporate NBC Olympics' content into the center of its Olympic dialogue. @NBCOlympics and Twitter will notify fans with relevant content for those who want more information about their favorite athletes and teams. In addition, data compiled by Twitter about the Olympic social media buzz will be used by NBC throughout the Games within its NBC Olympics multi-platform editorial coverage, including in primetime (NBC).

NORTHERN LIGHTS: The NATIONAL POST's Sean Fitz-Gerald noted the CBC is "returning as Canadian Olympic television rights holder for the first time in six years, and it only had 18 months to restart its machinery before the Opening Ceremony in Sochi." The CBC will "carry 1,519 hours of live programming from the Olympics, the most in the public broadcaster’s history." Every event will "be live on Canadian television or streamed online -- some of the content will be off-loaded to TSN and Rogers Sportsnet -- over 17 days, even though the CBC is not planning to send any more staff than it did" for the '06 Turin Games, the last Winter Olympics it broadcast. CBC Sports Head of Programming Trevor Pilling said that the net "would have about 200 workers on the ground in Sochi." Advances in technology "will allow most of the strings to be pulled from control booths at home, inside the labyrinthine corridors" of the CBC’s downtown Toronto HQs (NATIONAL POST, 2/5).

U.S. snowboarder Shaun White's decision to withdraw yesterday from the new slopestyle event at the Sochi Games was "the culmination of days of mounting evidence that event organizers had overreached and assembled a course that was risky even by the standards of this daring, alternative sport," according to Gold & Dillman of the L.A. TIMES. A Finnish competitor yesterday said that the course had "crossed the line from 'gnarly' to 'sketchy.'" Following injuries to Norway's Torstein Horgmo and Finland's Marika Enne earlier this week, Olympic officials "scrambled to respond, meeting with athletes and tweaking the 2,083-foot-long course in an effort to moderate it." However, some snowboarders "downplayed the risks of the course." Canada's Mark McMorris said, "Snowboarding is dangerous. Like crossing a street is dangerous." Gold & Dillman note slopestyle was "fast-tracked into the Olympics only three years ago, an unusual departure" for the IOC. Even snowboarders were "taken by surprise by the decision," as "most had assumed that the event would not make its Olympic debut until at least" the '18 Pyeongchang Games. But many observers "saw the decision as a reflection of the Olympics' desire to reinvent itself and attract a younger audience" (L.A. TIMES, 2/6). In DC, Liz Clarke writes White's decision to withdraw "not only robbed Sochi of yet another big name in a much ballyhooed event," it also "added to the mounting evidence that Olympic organizers, in their zeal to jazz up the Winter Games in order to connect with a younger audience, may be carrying the 'no-limits' ethos of extreme sports one step too far" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/6).

DIAL IT BACK: In N.Y., John Branch reports several athletes "echoed White’s concern about the slopestyle course." Canadian freestyle skier Kaya Turski called it "unnecessarily risky." Turski "worried that images of injured athletes would overshadow the artistry and athleticism of the competition." Branch notes that is "not the type of first impression, or lasting impression, the sport wants for its Olympic debut." Turski: "To put on a good show, we don’t need a course as risky as this. The vibe on the course is definitely more intense, and people are more on edge." Branch notes as is "typical with slopestyle, organizers built the course with the expectation of making adjustments after snowboarders and skiers had begun training and providing feedback." The alterations in Sochi "has largely involved the size of the jumps, which have all been scaled back" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/6). However, U.S. snowboarder Chas Guldemond said, "I think the media kind of blew the dangerousness of the course up quite a bit. Everything that we’ve done here is completely normal." Canadian snowboarder Sebastien Toutant added that "concerns about the slopestyle course’s safety have been overblown." Toutant: "I don’t think this course is more dangerous than any (other) course. Slopestyle is an extreme sport. So if you come here and you think there’s no risk, just go do something else" (, 2/6). In Denver, Jason Blevins notes several news reports cited requests for adjustments to the slopestyle layout "as athletes 'demanding changes' on the dangerous course." But input from riders is "essential at every slopestyle contest, where designers build what they believe is the best course with expectations of making changes after the world's top riders test their creation" (DENVER POST, 2/6).

COURTING YOUNG VIEWERS: Olympic historian and author David Wallechinsky said that the addition of slopestyle snowboarding is part of an IOC effort "to inject a more edgy, contemporary vibe to the Winter Games in the wake of market research in the 1990s that showed the Games were losing the youth market." The WASHINGTON POST's Clarke noted the push to reclaim the youth market started at the '98 Nagano Games, where "two disciplines of snowboarding, halfpipe and giant slalom (since replaced by parallel giant slalom), made their debut." Sochi "carries that initiative further." In all, 12 new events "have been added -- eight of which boast X Games roots and the younger fan base that the IOC, Olympic broadcasters and advertisers covet." USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said of the effort to attract a younger demographic, "It’s important. We’ve done a better job on the winter side than on the summer side. I think in deciding to bring snowboarding in at the beginning, it has had a great impact. I’ve got kids. They love to snowboard; they don't like to ski. It's exactly the right direction" (, 2/5).

The U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association is using "high-profile athletes" including injured skier Lindsey Vonn in "a late fundraising push to meet surging Winter Olympics expenses," according to Ben Priechenfried of BLOOMBERG NEWS. The USSA, which "receives no government funding, is seeking to raise $200,000 via the website to meet the higher-than-expected costs of taking part" in the Sochi Games. USSA CMO Mike Jaquet said, "It costs millions of dollars for our team to participate. It’s the last 5 to 8 percent of what we’re actually going to be spending that we’re hoping to raise." Olympic historian and author David Wallechinsky said that sponsorship "has been hard to come by partly because Comcast Corp.’s NBC won’t be broadcasting races live from Sochi." Priechenfried noted the USSA "launched the crowdfunding campaign Feb. 2 and is using Vonn and other athletes to drum up support." It is "seeking donations of either $20.14 or $50." Vonn, who is missing the Olympics following knee surgery, is "featured on the USSA’s fundraising website, along with participating athletes" such as skiers Julia Mancuso and Ted Ligety. Jaquet said that the campaign also is "leveraging athletes’ ties with their hometowns" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 2/5).

CHANNELING FRANCIS SCOTT KEY: In Baltimore, Julie Scharper notes Boulder-based ski wear company Spyder Sports Production Art Manager Matt Strackbein "thought back to his Maryland roots" when he was "seeking inspiration" for the U.S. Olympic Alpine Ski Team's uniforms. Strackbein drew on images of the U.S. flag "as he created the designs, which were unveiled late last month." The suits have "an ombre effect, as the dark blue fades into white along the sleeves, waistband and legs." Strackbein said it is a representation of "the dawn's early light." Scharper notes some of the suits "worn for the downhill skiing competition feature more white to create a sense of unity between the skier and the snow-covered mountain" (Baltimore SUN, 2/6).

Panasonic extended its global Olympic sponsorship through '24, making it the first of the IOC's TOP sponsors to sign a deal beyond '20. Financial terms of the deal were not available. TOP deals are typically valued at more than $100M over four years, which would make Panasonic’s deal worth more than $200M. Panasonic today held an official signing ceremony for the extension in Sochi. The agreement comes six months after Tokyo was awarded the '20 Games. Panasonic, which is headquartered in Osaka, Japan, was interested in supporting the Olympics in its home country, and the IOC was able to leverage that interest to secure a long-term deal. “As a Japanese company with a long, global Olympic experience, I’m sure (the sponsorship) will be of great assistance, in particular for the organization of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games,” IOC Marketing Committee Chair Gerhard Heiberg said in a statement. The deal is the first the IOC has signed beyond the '17-20 quadrennium. The organization’s other TOP sponsors are signed up through '20. The IOC remains in renewal conversations with Samsung, which has a deal through '16. Until signing with Panasonic, the IOC had capped its sponsorship extensions until '20. It did so in order to allow it to negotiate a new revenue sharing agreement with the USOC. The IOC and USOC signed a new revenue sharing agreement in '12, curtailing the amount of new sponsorship revenue the USOC receives. The IOC also had planned to reevaluate its TOP program after '20, as it was considering changing the way the program is structured and increasing the price of sponsorships. Heiberg, who will step down from the Marketing Commission after Sochi, said last week that his successor would make those decisions and suggested changes could be introduced as soon as '21. But the deal with Panasonic appears to push potential changes back until '25. Panasonic is providing the SOCOG with LED displays, TVs and the largest supply of security cameras in the history of the Olympics. Unlike the '10 Vancouver and '12 London Games, it does not have a showcase pavilion in Sochi’s Olympic Park.

USOC sponsor United Airlines yesterday unveiled a new Team USA-themed TV spot ahead of the Sochi Games. The 60-second ad, titled "Athletes Abroad," is narrated by actor Matt Damon and will air during NBC's Opening Ceremony broadcast tomorrow. Athletes appearing in the commercial will post links via social media to behind-the-scenes videos of the shoot. United developed the campaign with its global creative agency, mcgarrybowen. Horizon Media managed the media investment and Momentum Worldwide supported the overall campaign. Athletes appearing in the spot are listed below (United).

Nick Cunningham Bobsled
Shani Davis Speedskating
Gracie Gold Figure Skating
Ralph Green Para-Alpine Skiing
Erin Hamlin Luge
Sarah Hendrickson Ski Jumping
Travis Jayner Speedskating
Allison Jones Para-Alpine Skiing
Steve Langton Bobsled
Dallas Roberts Bobsled
Melanie Schwartz Para-Alpine Skiing
Curt Tomasevicz Bobsled

DECKED OUT: ADWEEK's Emma Bazilian wrote the spot "manages to fit an impressive amount of Team USA fervor into a single minute." Since Olympians "aren’t nearly as much fun when they're not actually competing, the various skaters, bobsledders, skiers and lugers featured in the ad arrive for their flight already suited up for the games in copious amounts of red, white and blue." For the soundtrack, United chose "the patriotic favorite 'Rhapsody in Blue' because what’s more American than Gershwin?" Two more spots are "planned to follow -- United has also invested in a heavy social media and native ad push." The company "will be asking viewers to use the hashtags #AthletesAboard and #TeamUSAfriendly in their Olympic tweets, and will also be sponsoring interactive content on The New York Times' website, videos on Yahoo Screen and BuzzFeed posts" (, 2/5).

ONCE BITTEN, TWICE SHY: In Chicago, Lewis Lazare noted McDonald's has "chosen to spotlight" the Olympic tradition of medal biting in a new TV commercial called "Celebrate With A Bite" from DDB, Chicago. The spot features a "fast-paced montage of images of athletes being awarded Olympic medals," and "somewhat awkwardly tries to make the connection between athletes biting down on their medals and McDonald's fans biting into Chicken McNuggets and other menu items." The Sochi Games mark the "10th consecutive Olympic Games where McDonald's will be the official restaurant serving both the athletes and visitors" (, 2/5). Meanwhile, U.S. speedskater Shani Davis yesterday was asked about his success on a diet of McDonald's. He "laughed and said he only eats it once in a while and avoids burgers, instead sticking with nuggets and fries." Davis noted the McDonald's in the Athlete Village "opened up a few days ago, so, that was really awesome. They had some fun American food." He added, "I grew up eating McDonald's, so I'll probably be an old man eating McDonald's. It's fun eating it every once in a while. I don't eat it every day. Besides, Usain Bolt ate it every day and he did quite well for himself' (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/6).

USA TODAY's Bruce Horovitz noted with the threats of terrorism surrounding the Sochi Games, he reached out to all 10 IOC TOP sponsors "to discuss their crisis plans, but only two responded." Omega President Stephen Urquhart in an e-mail wrote, "We've adapted our program to fit the special needs of Sochi." McDonald's Dir of Global External Communications Becca Hary: "A full security plan is in place. ... We can't share the details of the plan for security reasons" (USA TODAY, 2/6).

GOLD OR GO HOME? In Miami, Linda Robertson notes U.S. snowboarder Shaun White by withdrawing from the slopestyle competition managed to "cut his losses and protect his brand." White "played it savvy -- not usually an admired attribute in the go-for-the-gusto snowboarding subculture" (MIAMI HERALD, 2/6). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said, "If you're Shaun White, you just go to win Golds to protect your $20 million empire" ("PTI," ESPN, 2/5). ESPN's Jackie MacMullan said if you're White "you just need one" Gold Medal around your neck at the Sochi Games "for all those endorsement opportunities to continue to flood in." The N.Y. Daily News' Frank Isola: "He's looking at it from a marketing standpoint. He wants that Gold Medal because the Gold Medal will lead to a pot of gold at the end of the Olympics for him" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 2/5).

: In Albany, Rick Karlin noted New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and former N.Y. Assemblyman Scott Stringer late last year "wrote to 10 global companies that are among the sponsors of the Sochi winter games, asking them to ensure that their gay rights policies remain in force in Russia." Five companies "responded with rather anodyne, bland comments about how they are committed to human rights." But Switzerland-based Swatch "fired back, urging DiNapoli and others to look instead at the U.S. policies, especially the recent spying/eavesdropping controversies that have enveloped the National Security Agency" (, 2/5).

THE PARTY'S OVER: TMZ SPORTS reported Budweiser has "decided to NOT throw its traditional Winter Olympics party this year ... because the company is not comfortable with the situation in Russia." A source confirmed "there will be no Club Bud in Sochi" (, 2/5).

Starting today, SportsBusiness Daily/Journal have converted its On The Ground blog into a comprehensive, daily website devoted to the Sochi Games and the business behind it. The site, at, 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 . 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:

* USOC moving forward with potential 2024 Games bid

* Shaun White, Bode Miller most recognizable U.S. athletes

* USA Hockey most popular governing body on social media

* Outside The Rings: Round-about trip to Sochi defines Games' challenges

* Medal Stand: NBC's sales team, Subway marketers produce good work ahead of Games