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Olympic Recap: Ten Takeaways from PyeongChang

Reprinted from the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, February 27,2018:

Another Olympic Games is in the books, the 2018 Winter Games having wrapped up o

n Sunday night in PyeongChang, South Korea. By virtually all accounts, these Winter Games were a success.

A few hiccups did occur. High winds disrupted some ski events, and the absence of National Hockey League players was noted in the men’s hockey competition. But, all in all, these Games avoided the poor execution of the Rio Games in 2016, the huge expense of the Beijing Games in 2008, and (so far) the scandals of the Sochi Games in 2014.

Here are ten takeaways from this year’s Winter Games:

1. The Good and the Bad of the NBC Coverage

The NBC coverage generally received positive reviews. Fewer of the slickly-produced human interest stories and more focus on the actual competition generally allowed the competitions to be the story. This allowed the drama of the U.S. women’s hockey gold and Jessie Diggins’ cross-country gold, among others, to be front and center.

Sometimes the television coverage got in the way of itself. Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir seemed to be using the skating competition as an opportunity to sell themselves, and then talked all over the skating.

Bode Miller was a decent commentator for the skiing, for those who know skiing. But for the average viewer who does not know the technical aspects of ski racing, it was hard to relate to his observations.

NBC has bigger concerns than just Bode and the Tara and Johnny show, though. The television network shelled out $4.38 billion in 2011 for the rights to air every Olympic Games from 2012-2018. In 2014, NBC spent an additional $7.7 billion for the rights to the following six Olympic Games from 2020-2028.

Live sports broadcasts always have been assumed to be popular, but the television viewership is not the certainty it once was. Like declining NFL television audiences, Olympics viewership is down. Compared to the Sochi Games in 2014, NBC viewership is down by 24% in the 18-49 age group demographic, and viewership is down 15% when the NBC Sports Network is included. The PyeongChang opening ceremony audience alone was down 8.6% from 2014.

NBC is almost guaranteed to make money on the 2018 Games, but the issue of viewership will affect the future Games for which NBC has contracted. NBC has the rights to broadcast the Games on all platforms, including television and digital. The network will have to focus on live streaming and other digital content to capture audiences straying from the television broadcasts.

The absence of National Hockey League players in the men’s hockey competition did not help NBC efforts to increase viewership. The men’s hockey competition usually is one of the more popular parts of the Winter Games.

It also did not help NBC that the United States did not win as many medals as expected.

2. USOC Program

The bottom line is that the United States overhyped its goals for the PyeongChang but underdelivered in its performance. The United States Olympic Committee set a goal of winning 37 medals. The USOC said that the U.S. should win a minimum of 25 medals.

The U.S. came away from the Games with 23 medals.

It was the worst medal for the U.S. count since 1998. Eleven of the U.S. medals were won in snowboarding and freestyle skiing. Both of these events are relatively new, having been added to the Games since 1992.

It should be noted that the USOC receives no government funding, unlike most other countries.

If NBC wants its American television viewership up, maybe it should consider sponsoring the U.S. athletes, to boost the medal count.

3. Olympic Athletes from Russia

The Russians cheated during the Sochi Games in 2014 by embarking on a state-sponsor doping scheme. The Russians were punished for that cheating. They paid a $15 million fine after Sochi. Although approximately 170 Russian athletes were permitted to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia”, Russia was banned from participating in the Games.

Russians had hoped that this ban would be lifted by the Closing Ceremonies on February 25th. Two Russians tested positive for banned substances during PyeongChang in curling and bobsled. As a result, the International Olympic Committee voted shortly before the Closing Ceremonies to continue to uphold the Russia ban during the Closing Ceremonies. The athletes from Russia were not allowed to march under the Russian flag during the Closing Ceremonies.

Never to be underestimated, the Russians also are alleged to have hacked into the Winter Games computers, blaming North Korea for their actions.

4. Snowboarding and X Games

The Winter Games continue to look more and more like two separate games. First, the traditional winter competitions of cross-country skiing, biathlon, bobsled, and others. The second part is more X Games, with snowboarding and freestyle skiing appealing to the younger demographic.

Shorter, television-friendly competitions are perfect for live streaming and short attention spans. One big recipient of the residual growing interest is the X Games.

5. South Korean Hosts

Unless reporters just avoided covering the topic, these Games appeared to be delivered by South Korea in almost perfect execution. Good venues, with construction completed on time, has not been a part of the Olympic Games for almost a decade.

It is nice to see that that drama of presenting the Games has taken a backseat to the competitions, themselves.

6. One Neutral Site for All Games

The success of the PyeongChang Games should continue the discussion of having all Summer and Winter Games in the same location each time.

Picking just two neutral locations for the Games, one winter and one summer, would reduce the expense of the Games.

Just remember, the Olympics are called the “Olympics” for a reason – because they were held in Olympus every time.

7. Pence and Ivanka

From the view from my couch, it appeared that the competitions, themselves, overshadowed whatever political messages Pence and Ivanka were trying to send. In hindsight, not standing for the unified Korean entrance seems petty.

It’s nice to see that something can transcend the constant drumbeat that U.S. politics have become.

8. North Korea

Will the Winter Games begin a de-thawing of relations between North Korea and South Korea? Maybe. The attendance of the Opening Ceremonies by Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, certainly was intriguing.

The unified Korean hockey team, despite their winless record, was an exercise in hope of what might be.

9. A Changing of the Guard

Whether or not intended, these PyeongChang Games felt like a changing of the guard for the U.S.

An older generation of athletes – Lindsey Vonn, Shawn White, Kikkan Randall, and Shani Davis included – all appeared to be saying goodbye during these Games.

They are leaving the U.S. in good hands to the younger generation, having done a great job building their individual sports.

10. Bright spots

Even with the North Korea-South Korea tension, Mike Pence’s sitting, and the Russian doping cloud, several bright spots shone through at these Games.

The gold medal win by Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins in the cross-country ski relay was one of the finest U.S. performances ever in the Winter Games. Diggins’ chasing down and passing the Norwegian and Swedish skiers to win has been replayed constantly since the win and will be go-to footage for future Olympic video.

Despite only a sixth place in biathlon, the U.S. Biathlon team continues to be a bright spot in the anti-doping fight, having announced a boycott of the last World Cup competition in Russia in March.

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