My Biennial Rant About The Olympics

Bitching about NBC's coverage of the Olympics is almost an Olympic event in and of itself, at least here in the United States anyway. Everything's on tape delay- even the events that are nominally 'live', the streaming has gotten better, but still is nowhere near as good as it should be and there are far far too many human interest puff pieces that take time away from you know, the actual sports themselves. With all that in mind, as is tradition, it's time for My Biennial Rant About The Olympics*, so sit down, pull up a chair and enjoy!

Maybe it's my increasing age, but I actually find myself with less to complain about than usual this time around. I think it's the presence of NBCSN that's helping the cause for these Olympics. They're showing a good mix of events during the day- many of them live and even the prime time events aren't nearly as sloppily packaged as they have been in years past. If I was in charge of broadcasting the Olympics though, my principle would be a simple one: every event should be broadcast live and streaming should be awesome and, more importantly, it shouldn't require a log-in. (Which it still does.)

In the age of cord-cutting, there is simple no excuse for having barriers to your streaming platform. You should have a website that goes live and people should be able to stream every damn thing they want and you know what? Throw some banner ads in there- hell, throw commercials in there. Don't tell me you can't make money by lowering the barriers to your streaming of the Olympics, because that's bullshit. You can. If ESPN can run three different streams of the Rose Bowl- at the same time, you can figure this out NBC. I have faith in you.

But oddly enough, I feel like NBC is inching toward sanity with their coverage which is a pleasant surprise. They seem to have a program focused on figure skating called 'Olympic Ice.' Local news seems to be partnering with them to do a 'what's it really like at the Olympic games' segment called 'The Olympic Zone.' You just need a 'Medal Zone' like a 'Red Zone' feature to show every medal being won and maybe like a half hour daily human interest block and concentrate on sports for the rest and you might getting somewhere. But for sure: lower barriers to streaming!

While the coverage is getting better, The Olympics themselves have sort of seen better days. Nobody wants to host them, because it's a huge pain in the ass and costs are insane. Hosting them has become a prestige project for authoritarian regimes who don't care about costs and an increasingly hard sell to dubious members of the public in democratic countries as well. Cities are usually left with crumbling venues that don't get used and few, if any, see solid legacies and gains from hosting the games.

Plainly, the model needs to change- and I think the IOC is aware of that. Hopefully some reforms start to take root and revitalize the games, but two ideas that I'd be about are simple ones: joint bids- even ones that cross borders, like the proposed Seattle-Vancouver bid that was being talked about a few years back and moving to a regional/national model for the games. Of these two, i think the former is far more likely than the latter, but I think the latter makes more sense over the long term.

A regional/national model would enable the IOC to put events where the infrastructure is best equipped to support them. For instance, take a hypothetical summer games here in America. You'd have cities bid for the opening/closing ceremonies and whoever wins could have their pick of events- the idea would be to maximize tickets solid/attendance, but you'd also farm some out to other cities to help with costs. For instance, if you put Olympic Wrestling in Los Angeles, you'd probably get a pretty good crowd. But, if you put it on the campus of Penn State, Iowa or Oklahoma State- hell any Midwestern college campus, you'd be playing to packed houses of devoted wrestling fanatics. You can find an equivalency in just about every other sport I can think of. Put some distance running up in Oregon, for instance... or swimming where the swimmers be at.

To be fair, I don't know how well this model would translate to other countries, but sharing the wealth would take the pressure off of individual cities and spread costs out some, which I think might increase the appeal of hosting the games a bit more.

In the end though, as much as I might complain about the Olympics, I'm always going to watch them. There's sports you don't see on your television every day. Stories that inspire you, even if they are packaged with soft lighting and inspirational piano music. It's something I look forward to, every two years- and listening to the kids be all 'Whoa!' and 'That's so cool!' at the snowboarding this past week makes me think they'll be looking forward to them as well.

*I seem to recall in 9th Grade English we had to give a speech on any given topic and I think my topic was how much the coverage of the Olympics sucked that year. I'm pretty sure we had a five minute time limit, but no one ever gave me any indication of how long I had gone over, so I ranted for a full thirteen minutes about it. No, I can't recall what grade I got either. 


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