Korean Olympics: Nobody's Watching, Nobody's Going
February 19, 2018

How about those Winter Olympics, huh? Did you enjoy it when Norway took gold and silver in the Men's Downhill? How about the unknown Czech snowboarder-turned-skiier who won the Women's Super G? France, Canada, and Kazakhstan collecting the medals in Women's Moguls? Certainly you saw Mikaela Shiffrin take gold in the Women's Giant Slalom and Shaun White and Chloe Kim shred up the halfpipe. If you didn't watch, there are millions of people out there who didn't watch with you, and thousands more who didn't go to the events in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

I've gotten the same comment from a lot of people. “I'm really not into the Olympics this time.” No one seems to offer an explanation, but viewership is down. says Saturday night was the lowest rated, and NBC showed the most medal events that night. The website says the numbers were eight percent lower than Sochi, Russia on the same night four years ago. Forbes is calling it the most boring Winter Olympics ever. So why isn't anyone psyched?

Viewers in the U.S. haven't had a lot to cheer about. Snowboarding and freestyle skiing have brought some American medals, but with the possible exception of the ice dancing brother-sister duo of Maia and Alex Shibutani (dubbed the 'Shib Sibs' on social media) who took bronze tonight, there's no new rising stars. For whatever reason, America hasn't seemed to fall in love with Chloe Kim just yet, and maybe are waiting to see what Lindsey Vonn does on the slopes.

As for Korea itself, thousands of people are not there. Koreans love short track, and that arena has filled to capacity. Figure skating, thanks to NBC, is being held at noon local time so it can be shown prime time in the states. There have been lots of empty seats. The USA-Canada women's hockey game drew under four thousand. A minor league hockey game in Bakersfield does better than that. Alpine skiiers are greeted with a smattering of applause when they hit the bottom of the hill. NBC, at least during its primetime coverage, has not mentioned the sparse crowds.

The Los Angeles Times, in an article today, poses this question. If the games are making money, does attendance really matter? There's a tired expression about the golden rule. Those who have the gold make the rules. NBC is paying over seven billion dollars for the Olympics through 2032. That means figure skating at 10am in a South Korean village 90 miles from Seoul, and 60 miles from the North Korean border, which also means empty seats. You have to figure the peacock network, owned by Comcast, has plenty of tickets it can give to its “friends”, many of whom are opting not to go.

As far as television goes, I have a theory. NBC has brainwashed us over the years, and indoctrinated us, in its tape-delayed coverage, to get a little of this and a little of that, piece-mealed together through a night of prime time, so that we don't get too bored. Now, because we finally get what we say we want (live broadcasts), we get a solid hour of a women's downhill training run and two hours of slopestyle qualifying runs. The 'little bit of this, little bit of that' is being shown live on NBCSN. Unless you are really into curling, biathlon, cross country, or even hockey (but shown in the middle of the night), you're not going to cable.

NBC has no control over the medal count and America's performance, but they do have to think about this. Counting these games, the next three are in Asia (Tokyo in 2020 and Beijing in the winter of 2022). Do we really want our Olympics live after all? Bring back more of those features on the athletes and culture, too.

Skating sensations: Maybe you like them, or maybe you don't, but I think NBC has a hit on its hands with figure skating commentators Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir. They are both way over the top of course, but know their stuff, and are never boring. The two had been doing late-night features on culture and fashion at the summer games in Rio, but belong in the booth. Expect to see them there for a long time. Terry Gannon is a pretty good story as play-by-play guy, too, and does a nice job.

Counter programming: Have you noticed that all (or at least many) shows on the other networks are reruns over these two weeks? They probably bought the notion that they couldn't compete with the Olympics. It looks like they goofed.

Busy sports weekend: Maybe it explains the Olympic ratings dip, but the NBA All-Star game, Daytona 500, and the final round of golf at Pebble Beach were all yesterday. The basketball game was in Los Angeles, but I didn't think to watch any of them—so much Olympic stuff to catch up on.

Bring on baseball: Pitchers and catchers have reported for Spring Training, today was the first day of full squad workouts for most clubs, and the first exhibition games are Friday. The free agent market is picking up, too, with Yu Darvish to the Cubs, Eric Hosmer to the Padres, and hours ago, J.D. Martinez to the Red Sox. There's still some good pitching out there, with Jake Arietta, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, etc. I've also repeatedly said that Dave Roberts over-manages the Dodgers, and he's already done so this year, but in a good way. Clayton Kershaw has been named Opening Day starter. Glad that bit of suspense is over with.

Happy Birthday today to my cousin Diane. I won't say the number (not that it's a bad thing), but Diane is the one in my entire extended family who is closest to my age. Love you!

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