Due to low viewership for this year’s 2020 Olympic Games, fuelled by a pandemic-weary public and angered by “woke” athletes protesting the U.S. flag and national anthem, NBC is offering advertisers who booked slots during the Tokyo Olympics more ads to compensate.
NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua told the Associated Press that the 2020 Olympics will still earn money for the network, but he didn’t say how much.
On July 26, NBC’s primetime coverage of the Tokyo Olympics averaged 14.7 million viewers, down 49 percent from the same night in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro and 53 percent fewer than the 2012 London Olympics. The audience for the opening ceremonies was at its lowest level since 1988.
The dip has sparked “advertiser anxiety” according to Variety senior TV editor Brian Steinberg, which wasn’t helped when famous American gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from team competition and fan favorite Naomi Osaka was ousted from the tennis medal fight.
The early viewership statistics “clearly are not what NBC, our agency or our clients were looking for” from a pricey investment, according to a media purchasing executive.
“When you look at the numbers, it’s hard to be pleased with them,” Andy Billings, head of the University of Alabama’s sports communications program, told the Associated Press. “It’s probably NBC’s worst-case scenario, but it’s probably a worst-case scenario that they would have been able to predict months ago.” On some nights of this year’s tournament, viewership has lagged behind Rio coverage by about half.
According to Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in New Jersey, woke demonstrations by American players denouncing the United States or the national anthem alienated Republican spectators and did nothing to attract new viewers. Then there was the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
The university released a study last week that revealed a third fewer Americans are interested in watching the games—43% of respondents said they had little interest in watching, compared to only 16% who said they were very interested.
While 55% of Americans thought it was a good idea to conduct the postponed 2020 Olympic Games this year, 36% did not.
“The Olympic spirit is a bit dampened this year,” Murray remarked. “The delay from last year and lack of spectators have taken the edge off the typical anticipation and excitement for this event. But the emergence of Black Lives Matter in the sports world has also led to a backlash among some Americans.” Last week, the woke women’s soccer team had to settle for bronze, but the U.S. men’s basketball team won gold, and star Kevin Durant mocked media critics by telling one to “act like you’re American.” And after becoming the first female Black American wrestler to win gold, Tamyra Mensah-Stock wrapped herself in the flag and declared, “I love representing the U.S., I freaking love living here.”
Images of other players protesting the flag and the anthem, on the other hand, haven’t helped to re-engage jaded spectators.
Just over half of Republicans who said they weren’t interested mentioned political demonstrations as a reason, while the same number of Democrats blamed the pandemic’s impacts—less audiences and less competition.
Independents opposed the protests, according to the university.
“The people we sent over aren’t representing the country,” said one Maryland man in his 40s, who defined himself as an independent. “I don’t want to see virtue signaling,” said a 45-year-old New Jersey woman who is also an independent, “Be a proud American.” The drop in television watchers isn’t the whole issue; more people are viewing online and through streaming platforms, where advertising income is much lower.