By many counts, the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver have been a success, at least for the United States. The Americans are in position to win the medal count for the first time at the Winter games in 78 years. The ratings for NBC are up from the 2006 Olympics in Torino. We have emerging and returning stars from individual sports like Lindsey Vonn, Shaun White, Apolo Ohno, and Bode Miller bringing home medals of all colors. The American hockey team even gave us The Improbable On Ice by defeating team Canada in front of their own crowd north of the border. But that USA-Canada game was the indicative example of how NBC screwed up their Olympic coverage.
That game featuring some of the best and most prominent stars in the Olympics, including Sidney Crosby, Ryan Miller, Zach Parisie, Patrick Kane, Jarome Iginla, and several more of the NHL’s top players. More of the NHL’s top stars like Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Henrik Lundqvist, Teemu Selanne, Marian Gaborik, and Zdeno Chara are all part of the festivities. But if you wanted to watch these guys lace up the skates, you’d have to surf around your cable lineup. Most of the hockey games have been on CNBC, MSNBC, or USA (which only showed Team USA games) and so far only one Men’s hockey game has been on NBC (Russia vs. Czech Republic on a Sunday afternoon). The USA semi-final on Friday afternoon and the Gold Medal game will also be on the flagship Olympic network.
Why does none of this make sense. Because NBC owns the broadcast rights to the NHL. We are sure to see Crosby, Ovie, Kane, and more of the NHL’s best players and teams over the spring. So why wouldn’t the NHL want to put these guys front and center on NBC to promote their own product. After the Olympics end this week, no one is going to care what Bode Miller or Ohno do playing their respective sports. Vonn and White will have the X-Games, but that won’t be for another 11 months. When the calendar turns to March the NHL will be back in action, and come April the playoffs will get underway, and the rest of the Olympic athletes will be out of the picture.
If NBC had been smart (and considering they are still last in the ratings, means they haven’t been) they would have used the Olympics to promote the hell out of the star hockey players, from the US, Canada, and all over the world, in an effort to build up the NHL. And any hockey fan knows that the NHL can use the publicity. It could have been a win-win situation for NBC. But instead the fourth-place network acted like one. NBC could luck out and get their dream USA-Canada gold medal match up, allowing the world to get a full glimpse of Crosby, Miller and company. But imagine if those guys had been on NBC all week? How much more attention could that have generated for the NHL, and helped boost NBC’s ratings for the playoffs?
No matter what happens, NBC will claim the Olympics were a smashing success, because that’s what big conglomerates do when they invest as much time and money as NBC did in the Olympics (and NBC could use some good news, even if they manufacture it). But when the Stanley Cup playoffs roll around and the NBC execs are scratching their heads and wondering why the ratings aren’t higher and what they could have done to boost them, it will all come back to what they didn’t do in Vancouver.