Posts Tagged ‘NBC Sports’

Oh No, Lolo: U.S. Track Star Lolo Jones Caught Between Marketing and Medaling

If Lolo Jones had been just one-tenth of a second faster Tuesday, she would have been able to outrun her critics.

The 30-year-old Jones, a striking track & field beauty who once posed nude for ESPN The Magazine (don’t worry, link is safe for work), has been the most recognizable U.S. Olympic track athlete of these games. At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Jones was favored to win the 100-meter hurdles and looked primed to capture gold until she clipped the ninth hurdle with her foot, dropping her to seventh place. The devastating defeat had been brewing for four years until Tuesday, when Jones had a shot at redemption in the 100-meter hurdles in London.

Lolo Jones never hid from the spotlight, but Olympic defeat has only intensified the bright lights on her.

Alas, heartbreak again for Jones, who finished in fourth place with a time of 12.58 seconds, only one-tenth behind the bronze medalist Kellie Wells and two-tenths of a second behind silver medalist Dawn Harper, both American teammates.

Falling short once again seemed to agonize Jones, who told the L.A. Times, “I guess all the people who were talking about me, they can have their night and laugh about me.” Later on Twitter, Jones didn’t hide her pain or her problems.

On Wednesday morning, Jones appeared on NBC’s Today Show to discuss her narrow defeat, as well as to address criticism she received from the media. The frustration of being ridiculed led Jones to tears in the interview.

“I laid it out there,” Jones said while choking up. “I fought hard for my country, and I think it’s just a shame that I have to deal with so much backlash when I’m already so brokenhearted as it is.”

The backlash came courtesy of the New York Times, in which writer Jere Longman dished a scathing commentary on Jones, seeming to implicate she was more interested in marketing herself than winning a medal. The article, published three days before the Olympic finals, compared Jones to Anna Kournikova, a former tennis player who got more attention for her looks than her play on the court.

To be fair, Jones has not exactly shied away from the media attention. In addition to the ESPN The Magazine shoot, Jones appeared on the cover of Outside Magazine wearing only a ribbon bikini and has not been afraid of flashing some skin on the red carpet.

Though her attractive looks brought her attention, Jones shocked all in May when she said she was a virgin, and called maintaining her celibacy harder than training for the Olympics.

Jones even name dropped Tim Tebow as a potential future partner, a move that doesn’t exactly promise a quiet reaction.

Her looks, her virginity and her quest for Olympic redemption made her the big name in women’s track this Olympics, which apparently didn’t sit well with teammates Harper and Wells. The medalists appeared on NBC Sports Wednesday morning and did not hesitate to call out Jones.

“I think that, on the podium tonight, the three girls that earned their spot and they got their medals and they worked hard and did what they needed to do, prevailed,” Wells said. “And that’s all that really needs to be said.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the fourth place finisher, their teammate Jones.

The sad Jones saga demonstrates the unfortunate problem with Olympic athletes on the cusp of greatness: They must balance their quest for glory with their quest for fame. The Olympics comes around only every four years, so athletes would be wise to cash in on their popularity while they can. Jones received media attention for her looks and her back story, and didn’t hide from the spotlight. For this, she earned added publicity and nabbed sponsorship deals with McDonald’s, Oakley and Red Bull. In short, she marketed herself to make money.

But as a result of her marketing, Jones was seen as being less dedicated than the other athletes competing. She maintains she trained six days a week for four years in the hopes of standing on the winner’s podium. Whether this is true or not, her failure will undoubtedly make onlookers wonder what she could have accomplished had she stayed out of the limelight.

The only way Jones could have come out ahead in all of this would have been to win the hurdles, which is easier said than done. The fact is only one person in the world every four years can say they’ve done that, and only two others get medals for second and third place. With this in mind, it’s hard to fault an athlete looking to cash in on his or her fame, knowing that winning is a long shot anyways. If the window of opportunity was there to make money, most people would seize it like Jones did.

Today, Jones is again the center of focus for the media and the public. Right now, though, she isn’t inviting the attention.

Photo (cc) by Ragnar Singsaas and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Delayed Reaction: Tape Delays, Social Media Create Challenges for Olympic Followers

Every four years the Olympic games capture the attention of sports fans, both casual and hardcore, across the globe. The excitement of seeing big name athletes such as Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Usain Bolt, Hope Solo and LeBron James compete for gold is must-see television.

No need for the update, Bob, we already saw the results on Twitter yesterday.

Since 1988, NBC has been the exclusive TV home of the summer Olympic games, and in 2002 became the home for the winter games as well. With its headquarters in New York and its audience predominantly American, NBC has strived to broadcast the games so that major events are seen in U.S. primetime slots. But with a five-hour time difference between London and the Eastern Time Zone, NBC is forced to resort to a dreaded television phrase: tape delay.

Tape delays are nothing new, but they certainly aren’t popular. People have an insatiable need to hear the latest news as it happens, not wait five hours to hear about it. So when NBC resorted to tape delay in order to put events in primetime slots, the reaction was understandably negative. NBC used tape delay for the 2008 summer games in Beijing, but the advent of social media has created a host of issues in 2012.

Take for example the highly anticipated 400-meter freestyle relay race in men’s swimming. In 2008, the U.S. edged France by .08 in the race, coming from behind and winning by literally the margin of a fingertip to claim the gold. Both the U.S. and France squads were in this summer’s 400-meter relay, and the rematch figured to be close once again. Due to tape delay, the race was not shown on NBC until the evening, even though the race was completed hours earlier. With real-time updates from journalists on site, followers on Twitter and other social media platforms learned the French turned the tables on the U.S., coming from behind to win gold by .45. That took all the drama out of seeing the event that evening on television.

Updates on social media have put Olympic followers in uncharted territory: To follow or not to follow? Many Twitter users have unfollowed users who have updated from the games so as to keep the results a surprise when they see them at night. One Twitter user even had his account suspended when he went too far in criticizing NBC for using tape delay. The best outcome of the tape delay so far has been the parody account @NBCDelayed, which has over 20,000 followers since launching in the past three days as it gives mock updates that happened previously (Bush beats Gore in 2000 Election, U.S. wins “Miracle on Ice”).

Despite the issues, NBC seems to be doing fine. The opening weekend drew the biggest TV ratings in Olympic history. Though it may be frustrating for athletes and hardcore fans, the fact remains that tape delay helps draw bigger ratings, and that in turn helps the games generate more interest and more money. It’s an unfortunate tradeoff, but a necessary one for NBC.

This proves once again that the Olympics are not about sports or even politics, they are about money.

Photo (cc) by Doc Searls and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Ice Cold Interest: NHL, Stanley Cup Playoff Ratings Fail to Score

In mid-April I posted about how the Stanley Cup playoffs were primed to draw big TV viewer ratings based on the lack of activity among other sports and the bevy of talented players in big markets. It appears my prediction missed the net, at least in terms of the Cup Final.

Apparently the NHL didn’t account for Spongebob Squarepants when it scheduled its Cup Final games between the Kings and Devils. Deadspin found that on June 9 — Game 5 of the Final in which the Kings had an opportunity to win the Cup — more people watched an episode of Spongebob than the Stanley Cup. Ouch.

In addition, this year’s Cup Final had significantly less interest than last season’s Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks Final, down 29 percent in ratings. Overall, the Kings-Devils matchup was the least-watched Cup Final since 2007 when the Anaheim Ducks beat the Ottawa Senators.

That’s not to say the playoffs were a complete disaster, however. Games aired on NBC and NBC Sports were up 4 percent in ratings from last season, and the addition of CNBC to the lineup allowed every game to be seen in every market. But the Cup Final numbers undoubtedly cast a shadow on an otherwise entertaining postseason.

These numbers show why leagues internally hope for certain matchups. Last season the Bruins and Canucks was a good draw because it featured an Original Six team in a hockey market craving for its first Cup in 39 years (Bruins) against a Canadian team looking for its first Cup and featuring arguably the two best players in the sport (Canucks). Though this year’s Cup features two big markets in Los Angeles and New York/New Jersey, neither fan base is that big into hockey. L.A. is dominated by the NBA’s Lakers, and the Devils aren’t even the most popular team in their own market (that distinction goes to the Rangers).

Meanwhile, the NBA is thriving with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat in the Finals. Game One on Tuesday was the highest-rated Game One on ABC ever. With star players such as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, it’s an enticing series for sports fans to watch, especially for the anti-Heat crowd.

You can be sure NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is crossing his fingers that big market teams (Chicago, Philadelphia, New York) and star players (Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos) find themselves playing for the Cup.

Eye of the Tiger: Tiger Woods’ Victory at Memorial Shows Golf Needs Number One Player

Ever since his groundbreaking victory in the 1997 Masters, Tiger Woods has captured the attention of golf fans around the world. Woods’ quest to overtake Jack Nicklaus for most major professional wins — and the title of best golfer ever — has made his 18 holes of play an attention grabber for sports fans.

Of course that all changed in 2009 with his infidelity scandal and rash of knee injuries, both of which kept him from chasing history. Without a signature win as he entered his mid 30s, many wondered if the era of elite Woods dominance was over.

On Sunday Woods roared back to the top of the sport, winning the Memorial Tournament to tie Nicklaus with 73 career PGA Tour wins. The victory alone was gratifying for Woods, but it was his shot on the 16th hole that had spectators reminiscing of the vintage Woods.

Having Woods in contention during the final round paid major dividends for the sport as the Memorial drew a 138 percent viewer increase compared to last year’s tournament. The 3.8 overnight rating was the highest rating for the event’s final round since 2004.

To give you an idea of how intriguing Woods can be: Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers admitted to being late to the TD Garden for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat because he got caught up watching Woods in the final round. Think about that, an NBA head coach showed up late to the arena for a playoff game because he was watching Woods. That’s Woods’ appeal.

Woods’ victory has a financial trickle-down effect for a number of business entities. Nike, NBC, CBS and ESPN are just some who benefit from the re-emergence of Woods. Television networks are undoubtedly hoping Woods can stay hot to keep viewers tuned in.

Even if Woods does not overtake Nicklaus in wins, his presence alone might already solidify him as the biggest name in golf history. Though it hinders their winnings, golfers on tour know that when Woods is competing it benefits the sport, creating an odd scenario in which they are internally hoping for their greatest competitor to succeed.

Everyone can agree, golf is better when Tiger is on the prowl.

America’s Game, Eh: NHL Has Chance to Capture U.S. Attention

It’s no secret that Canada loves its hockey. Need proof? In 1994, the country officially recognized ice hockey as its official sport. Need more proof? Check out these reactions of Canadians after Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal in the 2010 Winter Olympics that gave Canada the gold medal.

Stars like Sidney Crosby have helped the NHL gain popularity in the U.S.

Of course much of America loves hockey too, but with the prevalence of football, baseball and basketball, hockey has seemed to take a back seat in the eyes of U.S. sports fans. That may change this spring, however.

This article by the Wall Street Journal points out how the NHL is primed to grow in America this year. Of the 16 teams that made the Stanley Cup Playoffs, only two hail from Canada, the Vancouver Canucks and the Ottawa Senators. With each of these teams falling behind in their opening round series, it seems like a good bet that this year’s Cup-winning team will hail from America for the 18th season in a row.

Next, consider the fact that hockey-crazed markets such as New York, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia all have playoff teams and all seem to have legitimate opportunities to win it all. This year’s playoff field also includes squads from non-traditional hockey markets such as Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix and Nashville, which allows the game to grow.

Of course star power means a lot in keeping fans interested, and some of the biggest names in the game are being featured this postseason. Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Tyler Seguin, Claude Giroux, Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar are just some of the stars vying for hockey’s ultimate prize, and all are age 26 or younger. Exciting players like this can fill up the highlight reel.

The NHL also has the added benefit of a shortened NBA season. The NBA didn’t get going until Christmas Day, which pushed the start of its postseason to late April. College basketball just ended, baseball is only getting going, Tiger Woods isn’t dominating golf. Right now, there isn’t much in the sports landscape competing with the NHL.

Finally, NBC Sports has gone all in for this year’s playoffs. For the first time since the league went to a 16-team playoff format, every playoff game will be nationally televised either on NBC, NBC Sports Network, CNBC or the NHL Network. This far results have been positive, with TV ratings up nearly across the board. An added bonus: 46 percent of games (through early Saturday night) have gone to overtime. Pretty cool, eh?

Photo (cc) by Dan4th Nicholas and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Bracketbusted: CAA and ESPN Part Ways, Future Relations Unknown

Having covered Northeastern athletics for the last five years — mostly basketball — I have seen my share of Colonial Athletic Association action. Last month I was in Richmond, Va. for the 2012 Virginia 529 College Savings Plan CAA Men’s Basketball Championship. VCU defeated Drexel in the title game to earn the league’s berth in the NCAA Tournament.

VCU won the 2012 CAA Tournament on ESPN. Next year the CAA is moving to NBC Sports. (Photo: Patrick McHugh)

With schools like VCU and George Mason making surprise runs to the Final Four recently, the CAA has proved to be one of the top mid-major conferences in college basketball. Just as impressive is the league’s performance on the gridiron. In the last decade, four CAA schools have won the Division 1 Football Championship with three schools finishing as runner-up.

Hoping to capitalize on its popularity and get more national attention, the CAA signed a five-year deal with NBC Sports to have its basketball and football games on the NBC Sports Network.

Since NBC Sports is seen as a competitor by ESPN, the move made by the CAA wasn’t taken too kindly by the folks at the Worldwide Leader. Each year since 2003, ESPN has hosted a BracketBusters weekend in which mid-major schools from opposing conferences play each other on national television so as to improve their tournament resume and gain more exposure prior to the NCAA Tournament. With the CAA abandoning ESPN for NBC Sports, ESPN decided not to include the CAA for next year’s BracketBusters series.

So where does this decision leave each party? There are different arguments on each side. Awful Announcing pointed out the CAA will no longer get positive treatment from ESPN, and the lack of exposure from the most-watched sports network could hurt the league when it comes to Selection Sunday. Unsurprisingly, NBC Sports had a different take, saying without the nation’s premier mid-major conference, BracketBusters will lose its appeal.

To me, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. It’s true, without extra exposure from ESPN the CAA won’t have as much mainstream attention simply because NBC Sports doesn’t reach the amount of households that ESPN does. At the same time, BracketBusters now has lost some of its appeal without a top caliber mid-major conference.

Time will tell whether the split is beneficial or detrimental to either side, but if nothing else the war of words between the parties should be entertaining.

Power Struggle: Rupert Murdoch, News Corp. Set to Challenge ESPN

Since its inception in 1979, ESPN has been the undisputed leader in sports coverage. It isn’t called “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” for nothing, with viewership in over 100 million American homes and presence in print, radio, online and multimedia.

If there's one man crazy enough to challenge ESPN, it's Rupert Murdoch

ESPN has dominated the sports market, but media tycoon Rupert Murdoch is hoping to change that. Word spread on Wednesday that Murdoch and his News Corp. are interested in starting a new cable sports network to rival that of ESPN’s. With many sports fans growing tired of ESPN’s programming decisions (read: Tim Tebow), some say the time could be right for a major ESPN competitor.

As other networks have already learned, taking down ESPN is no easy task. NBC Sports, a joint venture between NBC and Comcast, launched on Jan. 2, but has failed to provide much of a challenge. NBC has exclusive rights to broadcast the NHL, Indycar racing, the Tour de France, Notre Dame football and recently also acquired MLS broadcasts. While these are nice pieces in the portfolio, they simply do not drawn the attention of the NFL, NBA and MLB, three sports which ESPN has a strong hold on.

Thus far the only acquisitions by News Corp. include college football games and the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, but it will take more than that to topple ESPN. As some have pointed out, the new sports network would need the right personalities. ESPN grew to enormous popularity with hosts such as Chris Berman, Keith Olbermann, Dan Patrick, Stuart Scott and more. Right now the biggest name NBC has is Bob Costas, and he simply doesn’t measure up (and not just because he’s 5-foot-7).

I, like many sports fans I presume, am hoping a serious ESPN contender joins the fray. As much as I like ESPN, I feel it need to re-evaluate its coverage and spend less time on tabloid-style storylines (do we really need to see aerial coverage of Peyton Manning leaving Indianapolis?) and more on stories that actually matter.

Hey News Corp. How about giving Ron Burgundy an audition? After all, he won’t be allowed back at ESPN.

Photo (cc) by David Shankbone and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.