Olympic Ratings Show That Games Still Relevant

by John Furgele

The mainstream media, particularly sports talk radio will continue to tell its listerners that nobody cares about the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China.  Of course, most of these people were kids when Beijing was referred to as Peking and Jim McKay and ABC covered the games.

This is where the problem lies.  In 1976, many of today’s media members were between the ages of 10 and 20.  As a kid, the Olympics meant a lot more, because we had less worries and more time on our hands.  I can remember going to McDonald’s and peeling off a sticker that revealed a particular event, like rowing.  If an American won a gold in rowing, you would get a free Big Mac; a silver netted you french fries; a bronze, a soda.  That and other reasons led many Americans to watch those and other Olympics.  Add to the fact that in 1976, cable television was in its infancy, and more people seemed to care about the Olympic Games.  With just the three networks, PBS and perhaps two UHF channels, your choice was simple:  watch summer reruns, the Olympics, Benny Hill on UHF, or listen to a baseball game on the radio.  By default, the Olympics seemed to matter more.

When I hear a sports talk host say that “they’re not into the Olympics anymore,” it brings me back to being in a McDonald’s circa 1976 and seeing if I got Men’s Basketball as my event.  Of course, the Olympics are not as important to the 40 plus generation.  When you’re a kid, you have more idealism, you like to watch the different sports and you like to root for the United States.  Add to the fact that the Soviet Union was truly the “Evil Empire,” led to more intense watching.  Not only was there the USSR, but there were her allies:  East Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and all the other communist governments.  Today, we have China, but we don’t really get on them for their communist government because we let them make nearly all of our products.  It’s hard to hate a nation that helps  increase your profit margins. 

Saying the Olympics don’t matter anymore just because you are “not into them” like you were as a middle schooler and high schooler is just not being objective.  Sports talk radio, for the most part has been a “good addition to society,” but we have to realistic, the shows are going to focus on football, football and depending where you live, baseball.  When a host says that nobody cares about the Olympics, these are the same people who say, “who cares about the soccer world cup?”  Well, if you’re going to be a credible host, you should pay attention to the biggest event in the world.

The Olympic ratings have been very good so far with national ratings hovering around 20.0.  NBC has benefited from a couple of things.  One, they have been able to show many events live, like swimming, which has been a dominant American sport.  Michael Phelps has certainly lived up to the hype with five gold medals and five world records to boot.  Two is the economy.  With Americans spending less money and staying home more, they have more time to watch TV and there really isn’t much on besides the Olympics.  The Olympics are cheap entertainment and today, that matters.

The sports world has become saturated since 1976 (I reference this year because it is the first Olympics I remember).  Back then, there was no ESPN, baseball had the Saturday Game of the Week on NBC and Monday Night Baseball on ABC, the NFL was covered only during the season, and there were no regional sports channels that showed every game of every baseball team.  Now, you have four ESPNs, national sports talk radio, local sports talk radio, year round coverage of the NFL, College Football, regional baseball and so on and so forth.  Because of that, the Olympics have to lose some of their luster.  Simply, there is too much other stuff going on to focus on the Olympics. 

There is also the internet.  Because we have so much technology, we have become an ADHD society.  If we get sick of all the commercials, we just click on the Internet, find the results we need, and channel surf to our heart’s content.  There is a 12 hour time difference and that will affect the second week, particularly when track and field takes over as the signature sport.  It may be alright to have swimming events at 10 AM China time, but there will not be 10,000 meter running at 10 AM.  That event will be a 10 PM China time, meaning that the results will be available via the internet at lunchtime.

The experts complain that they can’t watch an event knowing who has already won and of course, there is some certain truth to that, but if you really wanted to, you could avoid the results.  Just stay away from the Olympics section on the internet, turn off sports updates on the radio and wait until 8 PM EST to watch the events on NBC.  It’s not as hard as people think it is, but it does take some focus by Americans in that increasingly ADHD Society that we live in. 

The Olympics still matter, even though the pundits say they don’t.  And, when they say they don’t care, close your eyes and think back to 1976, 1980, or 1984, and ask yourself what your opinion of the Olympics was when you were under the age of say, 24.  They may not matter as much, but they still matter and to ignore them is not medal worthy.

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