Super Bowl, Olympics demonstrate enduring power of live sports

NFL ratings have declined, ESPN has become a drag on parent Disney's earnings, and the way people consume TV continue...

Posted: Feb 2, 2018 6:29 PM
Updated: Feb 2, 2018 6:29 PM

NFL ratings have declined, ESPN has become a drag on parent Disney's earnings, and the way people consume TV continues to evolve, threatening existing business models.

Yet the next few weeks will offer a concentrated demonstration of sports programming's enduring power, and why TV remains so fixated on it, to the point of paying exorbitant premiums.

This Sunday brings Super Bowl LII, a TV event that dwarfs all others, followed by another sports showcase so big that it calls for Roman numerals, NBC's broadcast of the XXIII Winter Olympics. Even in the age of peak TV, the Olympics are perceived to be such a potent draw that other networks have largely gotten out of their way, with CBS, for example, trotting out "Celebrity Big Brother" as a means of (hopefully) helping to inexpensively keep the lights on for those 17 days.

Fox, meanwhile, just acquired rights to the NFL's Thursday-night football package, which had been shared by CBS and NBC. Part of that has to do with Fox's unique position -- the network is currently struggling, and will lose its sister production division whenever the Disney-Fox merger deal goes through -- adding a measure of desperation to its bid that football owners have always been happy to exploit.

Fox's five-year deal will reportedly pay the NFL more than $3 billion, a dramatic increase over the $450 million that the previous rights holders were shelling out per year.

As 21st Century Fox president Peter Rice noted in announcing the agreement, the NFL played a central role in establishing Fox as a fourth network, and 25 years after Fox stunned the TV industry by snagging football rights, "we understand that nothing beats the NFL when it comes to television that captures people's attention."

That's especially true in an age where roughly half the audience has a DVR and can zap through commercials. Sports remain almost unique in terms of programming that viewers feel compelled to watch live, making such events particularly attractive to advertisers.

For all the focus on the NFL's recent struggles, it's also worth noting that other sports have bucked the gravity dragging down ratings, including NBA basketball and this year's college football championship game, which surged 13% above its 2017 performance.

Small wonder that NBC is emphasizing the live component of its Olympic coverage from PyeongChang, South Korea, having faced past criticism for offering an abundance of delayed events in primetime.

Related: Olympics buff Leslie Jones joins NBC's Winter Games coverage

Citing the 14-hour time difference between the Olympic venue and the East Coast, NBC is touting live competition every night, excluding the opening and closing ceremonies. The network will also broadcast live across U.S. time zones -- as it now does with "Saturday Night Live" -- "creating a unique national collective experience for this event," Jim Bell, president of NBC's Olympics production, said in making that announcement.

It's become fashionable to portray the major networks as dinosaurs, and ESPN -- as the main beneficiary of a cable bundle that pays the sports titan billions each year -- as living on borrowed time thanks to the phenomenon known as cord-cutting, as people seek cheaper programming alternatives.

The juxtaposition of the Fox-NFL deal, Super Bowl and Olympics, however, provides a pretty stark reminder that broadcasting, in the truest sense of the term, still has some life left in it, even if the medium achieves that kind of reach with less and less regularity.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 556381

Reported Deaths: 7098
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1158471682
Ramsey47939856
Dakota42586422
Anoka38655415
Washington24993274
Stearns21052219
St. Louis16821298
Scott16013117
Wright14818127
Olmsted1276297
Sherburne1064880
Carver984945
Clay783490
Rice7649101
Blue Earth698640
Kandiyohi628181
Crow Wing618186
Chisago550650
Otter Tail543973
Benton532297
Mower451132
Goodhue444172
Douglas442870
Winona438649
Nobles400648
Morrison396059
McLeod395255
Isanti378259
Itasca373653
Beltrami372957
Polk366067
Steele364014
Becker356048
Lyon348648
Carlton329452
Freeborn328129
Pine312321
Nicollet307542
Brown294739
Mille Lacs282150
Le Sueur270822
Todd268830
Cass250426
Meeker237437
Waseca231421
Martin213429
Wabasha19953
Roseau197818
Renville172543
Hubbard172341
Dodge17193
Redwood166335
Houston162614
Cottonwood157021
Fillmore15179
Pennington151019
Chippewa146537
Wadena144621
Faribault144019
Sibley136410
Kanabec131721
Aitkin128736
Watonwan12569
Rock123019
Jackson117410
Yellow Medicine110819
Pipestone109926
Pope10306
Murray10269
Swift100018
Marshall85617
Stevens82210
Lake78419
Clearwater77814
Koochiching77313
Wilkin77012
Lac qui Parle73622
Big Stone5644
Lincoln5592
Grant5498
Norman5229
Mahnomen5088
Unassigned50378
Kittson46822
Red Lake3877
Traverse3605
Lake of the Woods3073
Cook1460

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 358085

Reported Deaths: 5821
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk56023604
Linn20310330
Scott19111234
Black Hawk15560306
Woodbury14906221
Johnson1405881
Dubuque13162202
Dallas1090196
Pottawattamie10763162
Story1031547
Warren555686
Clinton537790
Cerro Gordo522986
Webster508391
Sioux506673
Marshall477274
Muscatine460796
Des Moines441965
Wapello4254120
Buena Vista421940
Jasper407670
Plymouth397479
Lee368555
Marion354575
Jones293155
Henry286337
Bremer279360
Carroll279351
Crawford261840
Boone258833
Benton250355
Washington249550
Dickinson242343
Mahaska224850
Jackson218242
Kossuth213063
Clay211225
Tama206671
Delaware203039
Winneshiek194433
Page190421
Buchanan188831
Cedar184423
Fayette183041
Wright180435
Hardin179942
Hamilton178149
Harrison176473
Clayton167155
Butler162534
Mills158720
Cherokee157138
Floyd155442
Lyon154841
Madison154119
Poweshiek152733
Allamakee149151
Iowa145524
Hancock143734
Winnebago136131
Grundy135332
Cass134654
Calhoun133211
Jefferson131035
Emmet128740
Shelby128637
Sac127319
Louisa127249
Appanoose126647
Mitchell125341
Union124132
Chickasaw122615
Humboldt118326
Guthrie117929
Franklin112821
Palo Alto111022
Howard102822
Montgomery100637
Unassigned10050
Clarke98323
Keokuk94730
Monroe94128
Ida89733
Adair84532
Pocahontas83721
Monona81230
Davis79924
Greene76710
Osceola75516
Lucas74923
Worth7098
Taylor65312
Fremont6139
Decatur5899
Van Buren55518
Ringgold53623
Wayne52123
Audubon4939
Adams3284
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