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Volume 21 No. 22
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NBC to add flexibility into Games schedule

I was taken aback by a comment a U.S. track and field coach emailed to The Wall Street Journal earlier this month saying that he was told that the International Olympic Committee will delay events if athletes get stuck in Rio traffic jams and can’t get to their event on time.

While such flexibility will help athletes, it could create chaos on television, which wants to keep to a more rigid schedule. But executives with NBC Sports Group, which paid $1.23 billion for the rights to the Games, said they are not concerned that the start times of some events could be mere suggestions rather than absolute fact.

“Fortunately, there are a lot of sports going on, so if, perhaps, one isn’t quite ready to start on time, we’re hopeful that there will be another,” said executive producer Jim Bell. “It’s not something we’re particularly worried about. It could happen, I guess, but that’s not front and center.”

The last Summer Olympics in London ran on schedule. But Bell said that NBC has had to deal with flexible schedules in previous Olympics. He told a story of an Athens Olympic organizer who in 2004 warned NBC executives not to expect the Games to adhere to a rigid schedule, like the previous two in Australia and Salt Lake City. “We are not organized. Prepare accordingly,” Bell recalls the organizer saying.

“And it was true. We had some people who had to adjust and calibrate.”

Despite the Rio problems that have been dominating press coverage in the run-up to the games (from the Zika virus to political strife to traffic problems), Bell is confident that once the Games start, most attention will be focused on the athletes.

“You have to take it as it comes; you can’t get too worked up or too stressed,” Bell said. “I’ve been to Rio 13 or 14 times. I feel pretty good about the place and the people. You have to adjust your thinking.”

— John Ourand