There was plenty of uneasiness as the Summer Olympics in Beijing neared. Security concerns, the threat of human rights protesters and poor air quality were just a few of the worries.
For NBC, the stakes were high. In addition to the issues of this year’s Games, the last two Olympics had not been good ratings generators. And, many wondered if the Internet would negatively affect prime time viewing.
Fortunately, the Summer Olympics have been, by all accounts, great. The Chinese simply did not issue permits to protesters. Other than the isolated stabbing incident of an American, security has been top notch. And, rain and preventative measures by the Chinese left the air much cleaner than expected.
Most importantly for NBC, the Games have proven popular beyond projections. The Internet has only served to draw viewers to NBC’s prime time coverage. The network hitched its wagon to Michael Phelps and women’s gymnastics, and they have not disappointed.
NBC-affiliated stations in Mississippi were not expecting this year’s Summer Olympics to be great for sales. And, in the weeks leading up to the Games, they seemed to be right.
But as the Games neared and began, the stations’ phones started ringing. It has proven a welcome shot in the arm.
“We were expecting to sell maybe 80% or 85% of our capacity,” said Dan Modisett, general manager of WLBT-TV in Jackson. “But in the days and weeks leading up to the Olympics, sales started to pick up. We quickly sold out. It’s been amazing.”
WTVA in Tupelo tells the same story.
“We were projecting to sell 75% to 80% of what we had,” said WTVA general sales manager Larry Harris. “After the Opening Ceremony, sales just went off the chart. We had drawn up all these promotional pieces to fill space, but we didn’t need them.”
Modisett said he is often a critic of his network, but gave NBC credit for doing a great job of making the Games interesting and telling compelling stories about the athletes.
Harris said he feels the Games’ locale was a plus.
“The Games are in Beijing,” he said. “China is a mysterious place. I think a lot of people tuned in to see the land and people.”
NBC-affiliated stations are not the only winners in the Olympics. Local companies have heard cash registers ring or expecting increased business due to the Games.
Sports bars have certainly benefited from the Beijing Olympics. Generally, they say traffic has been steady — great when Phelps was swimming.
“It really depended on what was on,” said Michael Deaton, manager of Buffalo Wild Wings in Ridgeland. “When Michael Phelps and the relay team won that gold medal, it was like the Saints had won the Super Bowl. It was absolutely amazing.”
Tim McCann, general manager of the Alumni House Sports Grill, also in Ridgeland, said generally the same.
“Traffic has been steady, and there has been a big pull from the swimming,” McCann said. “When Phelps swam, it was big time.”
Indeed, Phelps’ out-of-this-world performance pulled tremendous ratings and was the talk of the world. It remains to be seen how lasting that impact will be — Olympic events and athletes are usually forgotten after the Games end. But, local businesses in the swimming industry are hoping for a boost from the Phelps phenomenon.
For instance, The Maley Swim School in Ridgeland, which caters to young swimmers, is running print ads with an Olympic theme.
Laura Uecker, owner of The Swim Girl in Ridgeland, which caters to adult swimmers, said, “I have not seen a big jump yet in swim lesson clients due to the Olympics,” she said. But she added, “I teach adults only, and all of my current clients talk about the Olympics and how much they have enjoyed watching the swimming. They even noticed a few of my swim tips when they watched the underwater views of Michael Phelps.”
Indeed, it does seem NBC’s coverage — or lack thereof — has had a profound impact on generating interest in Olympic sports. Jamie Martin, owner of the Providence Hill Farm equestrian center in Madison County, said because NBC did not offer equestrian events during its prime time coverage, she believes the Olympics will have little impact on her business.
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at firstname.lastname@example.org.