Thanks for the Money, NBC
You'd hardly know it from NBC's rah-rah coverage of American victories in these Olympics, but China has begun to lap us in the gold-medal count. It could even win the overall medal tally by the time the Beijing Games conclude next Sunday. This has already inspired some hand-wringing on this side of the Pacific and will likely inspire more once the cold medal reality sets in.
Can we possibly compete against China's state-planned, state-subsidized athletic juggernaut?
The answer, of course, is of course. In fact, we'd better, if only for the long-term financial health of the Olympics.
Oddly enough, the single most important element in American athletes continued competitiveness is NBC. I'd argue that it's also among the most important factors in the success of the Olympics, too.
NBC, after all, supplies the two things American athletes and the Olympics themselves can't live without: Money and American television exposure.
About 60 percent of the International Olympic Committee's entire global TV income comes from the U.S., specifically from NBC. The network paid $894 million for the rights to the Beijing Games, and an astounding $2.3 billion for the rights to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the 2012 Summer Games in London. The IOC needs NBC every bit as much as NBC needs the IOC.
NBC also just happens to be the biggest single underwriter of American Olympians, at least indirectly. Under terms of its contract with the IOC, the network sends a big chunk of change -- somewhere around $300 million -- to the U.S. Olympic Committee. That's a huge windfall for America's Team, and doesn't even count the lucrative sponsorship deals that the various committees pull in ("Official Waterpik of the U.S. Olympic Skeet-Shooting Team," etc.). The USOC redirects this money to all the sub-federations (track, swimming, judo, whatever) that bankroll training, travel, facilities and research for our would-be medal winners.
This money blizzard wouldn't be possible if Americans were doing as poorly as, say, India (one medal so far) at the Olympics. The system only works as long as we keep piling up medals.
Why? Simply because Americans don't like watching losers. American victories in swimming, gymnastics and track -- the three biggest Summer Olympic events in the U.S., judging by TV ratings -- are critical to NBC's ratings success, which means they're also critical to the Olympics' financial well being. Fewer American medal winners mean fewer American TV viewers. Fewer American viewers mean fewer American advertisers. Fewer advertisers and NBC isn't handing $2.3 billion checks to the IOC.
Conversely, when Michael Phelps, Nastia Liukin, et al, win, everyone wins -- viewers, advertisers, NBC, the IOC.
NBC makes another valuable contribution to America's medal count, although one that's a bit harder to quantify. By promoting, packaging, and airing the Olympics in primetime every night, NBC creates enormous interest in the Games among young Americans. This all but ensures the flow of future Phelpses and Liukins.
How many little kids will take up the butterfly or jump on a balance beam now because they want to be just like Mike or Nastia? Remember that the U.S. was a second-rate gymnastics power when Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci wowed the world (and sent ABC's Olympic ratings into the stratosphere) in the 1970s. Inspired by those Soviet bloc pixies, American kids flocked to the gym. American gymnastics teams now regularly contend for medals.
All of which is why I don't think we have to worry too much about the Chinese coming to eat our lunch. U.S. Olympic development programs now have more money than ever before. Our athletes also have plenty of incentives -- money, fame, glory -- to do as well as the Chinese. You can't guarantee gold medals, but our decentralized, private-sector approach to developing champions seems perfectly capable of keeping up with anyone in the world.
So, bring on the new Big Red Machine. We'll very likely respond as we always have -- by figuring out how to run and swim faster or jump higher.
The only thing the USOC and the IOC really have to fear is that Americans will stop watching the Olympics.
Please, Mr. Nielsen, don't fail us now.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: WhatNot | August 18, 2008 4:19 AM
Posted by: Chinese Translator | August 18, 2008 4:59 AM
Posted by: Chinese Translator | August 18, 2008 5:06 AM
Posted by: Paul | August 18, 2008 6:06 AM
Posted by: md | August 18, 2008 6:17 AM
Posted by: dynagirl | August 18, 2008 6:56 AM
Posted by: Joe | August 18, 2008 6:56 AM
Posted by: JL | August 18, 2008 7:41 AM
Posted by: JC | August 18, 2008 7:47 AM
Posted by: Peter | August 18, 2008 8:57 AM
Posted by: Paul Farhi | August 18, 2008 9:04 AM
Posted by: TonyP4 | August 18, 2008 9:45 AM
Posted by: sdfsdfdf | August 18, 2008 9:51 AM
Posted by: Dave | August 18, 2008 10:07 AM
Posted by: nameless | August 18, 2008 10:39 AM
Posted by: Chasmosaur | August 18, 2008 10:52 AM
Posted by: WestCoastViewer | August 18, 2008 11:37 AM
Posted by: TonyP4 | August 18, 2008 11:51 AM
Posted by: TonyP4 | August 18, 2008 12:00 PM
Posted by: Anonymous | August 18, 2008 1:05 PM
Posted by: China Insider | August 18, 2008 1:15 PM
Posted by: Travis | August 18, 2008 1:43 PM
Posted by: CALSGR8 | August 18, 2008 2:00 PM
Posted by: DaveG | August 18, 2008 4:10 PM
Posted by: Wendyl | August 18, 2008 5:28 PM
Posted by: Cliff | August 18, 2008 11:45 PM
Posted by: Andi Ye | August 19, 2008 5:25 PM
Posted by: Jean Williams | August 20, 2008 3:48 AM
Posted by: Lisa Ellerby | August 20, 2008 6:06 AM
Posted by: Liser Ellerby | August 20, 2008 11:24 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.