Home > NewsRelease > The Big TV Sports Story Of 2022 Will Emerge From NBCUniversal’s Coverage Of The Beijing Winter Olympic Games
The Big TV Sports Story Of 2022 Will Emerge From NBCUniversal’s Coverage Of The Beijing Winter Olympic Games
CommPRO.biz -- Fay Shapiro CommPRO.biz -- Fay Shapiro
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: New York, NY
Tuesday, January 11, 2022


(Which Will Also Provide A Big Lesson for PR People)

Arthur Solomon

There are some important lessons that emerged from the TV sports scene in 2021:

That the decline on watching football on TV has disappeared.

That the Tokyo Summer Olympics was the least watched of any Olympics in prime time.

That NBCUniversal ignored the various controversies during the Tokyo Games as if they never happened.

Olympics 2022That the same network, thus far, is letting criticism from U.S. elected Senators and Congressmen and Human Rights organizations regarding its televising the Winter Olympics in totalitarian Beijing, China, pass without any response.

That all the major sports leagues have changed their positions regarding betting and promote it by allowing TV commercials encouraging viewers to gamble from home on its telecasts.

And that, as usual, TV sports commentators too often sing the praises of athletes on the field performance and ignore their off the field deplorable misbehavior. (To me, that’s a big story. But to others it isn’t because it is an on-going happening.)

All of the above, of course, is yesterday’s news.

But what is emerging as the big sports news story of this year will not be known until after the Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, which NBCUniversal will be televising on various platforms beginning February 3, although the official dates for the games are February 4-20. It is how NBC will report on the human rights abuses from China and how many viewers will tune in to the games because, thus far, various polls have revealed scant interest in the games.

Not since Berlin’s Nazi Olympics in 1936 has the choice of a city to host the Olympic Games received so much criticism because of its human rights record. Several countries, including the United States, have accused China of committing genocide against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities and cracking down on freedom in Hong Kong and Tibet’. 

In addition to watching if NBC will remain mute about the human rights issues during its Olympic reports, also closely watched will be the TV viewership of the Beijing Games. A Pew Research Report from June revealed that “In the United States 90% say Beijing does not respect individual liberties, including 93% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and 87% of Democrats and Democratic leaners.” 

That’s not good news for NBCUniversal and the Beijing Games sponsors  because  a 5W Public Relations’ 2020 Consumer Report  revealed that  consumers are becoming more politically and socially conscious and buy products from businesses that adhere to their political and social beliefs. In addition, an annual Accenture Strategy Global Consumer Pulse Research survey of nearly 30,000  people found that “Among consumers, 62% want companies to take a stand on the social, cultural, environmental and political issues that they care about the most.”

Adding to the concern of the Olympic Family was what emerged from  a Morning Consult poll, conducted December 3-6, that could not have made bean counters at NBC happy. The poll showed that “there are troubling signs unrelated to geopolitics about the Winter Games’ potential to engage the American public. The share of Americans aware that the next Olympics are scheduled for winter 2022 (prior to being prompted with questions about a boycott) was just 26 percent, a figure that remained unchanged from a late October poll. Meanwhile, the share of respondents who expect to watch “a lot” or “some” of the Beijing Olympics (44 percent) was 36 percent lower than at roughly the same point prior to last summer’s Tokyo Games, which were the least-viewed Olympics on record.

However, all the criticism of the IOC, NBCUniversal and its brand sponsors haven’t affected the sale of commercials. NBC has nearly sold all of its advertising space for coverage of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing months ago, according to published reports.

But Rich Perelman, in the January 6 edition of Sports Examiner wrote, “It is one month until the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Winter Games. Yet a scan of the digital presence of the five U.S.-based global IOC sponsors might lead you to believe the Games weren’t even happening.” Perelman continued, “That’s the opening of a short but insightful post by highly-respected sponsorship strategist Jim Andrews writing on TicketManager.com.”

NBC is in the proverbial pickle. It has invested a fortune in its quest to televise Olympic Games through 2032. In 2014, NBC paid $7.75 billion for the rights to broadcast the Olympics in the U.S. until 2032. It wants to maximize its investment by steering clear of Olympic controversies. And, of course, it does not want to anger the Chinese government, which has twice cracked down by canceling National Basketball Association telecasts in the country because of comments criticizing China’s human rights record.

The state-run China Central Television stopped televising NBA games in 2019 when  on Oct. 4, 2019, Daryl Morey, then the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted an image that said “FIGHT FOR FREEDOM STAND WITH HONG KONG.”  The NBA was blacked out in China for more than a year. 

More recently, “Chinese broadcaster and NBA partner Tencent blocked Boston Celtics games on its platforms,” reported the Associated 

Press, “in apparent response to comments that Celtics center Enes Kanter made to advocate Tibetan independence. Kanter, as part of a series of social media posts, also called Chinese President Xi Jinping a “dictator.” In a November 20 opinion column in the Wall Street Journal, Kanter also called for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics, writing, in part, “The IOC has ignored Beijing’s abuses for years. As athletes concerned about human rights and justice, we must pressure the IOC to move the games. All the gold medals in the world aren’t worth selling your values and your principles to the Chinese Communist Party. Wake up and speak up. Change is coming, and no one can stop it. They can’t silence us all.”

In the days leading up to the February 4 Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, and  during it, NBC will be attacked for helping burnish the reputation of a totalitarian country by providing it with a media platform that will be watched by millions. The Peacock Network will be defended by those who say that politics has no place in sports, as the IOC has long claimed.

NBC did not receive high marks for its coverage of the Tokyo Olympic because it failed to report on controversies. Perhaps a headline on a Variety December 8 article summed up the concerns of media watchers critical of the Beijing Olympics. It said, “Can NBC Sidestep the Peng Shuai Scandal and Deliver Credible Coverage of the Beijing Winter Olympics?”   

The answer will not be known until after the Closing Ceremonies on February 20.

But the big lesson that PR pros should remember from the controversies engulfing the Beijing Olympics has also thus far been an unsolvable problem for more than a year: How to obtain favorable earned media for a client that is involved with a project that is under constant attack for wrong doing? So far in the U.S. sponsors of the Olympics have largely been mute about their involvement. And that might be the answer to the big lesson emanating from the Beijing games: Sometime the best PR strategy for a client in a weak position is not to try to defend itself, as Boeing did during its 737 Max disasters and Wells Fargo did during its problems, but to advise the client to keep a low profile until the problem is resolved because, history shows, that often the more a client with a PR crisis says, the more it leads to additional negative media coverage. 

The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee.  He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr@juno.com.

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