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What I Hate About NBC/Universal’s Coverage of Track & Field

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  • What I Hate About NBC/Universal’s Coverage of Track & Field

    With the recently completed IAAF World Athletics Championships and less than a year to go until the Olympic Games in Rio, I again find myself very frustrated at NBCU’s coverage of a sport I love. I watched with an informed eye and found NBCU lacking in so many areas of the coverage, it borders on the ridiculous.

    I was first hooked by the sport in 1983, watching the Worlds from Helsinki each night in the Late Night with David Letterman timeslot (this continued in 1987), and even though my family was on vacation that week, I skipped the beach on the sunny weekend afternoons to watch Carl Lewis, Mary Slaney, Jarmila Kratochvilova and Eamonn Coghlan, among others. I have watched every Worlds since, and starting in 1987, I made a point to record the event on VHS, then DVD, and now to my computer. Funny thing, is that I have more hours from 1987 on VHS than I do of 2015.

    1. The World Championships are virtually unwatchable. I mean this literally, as with the exception of a total of 6 hours on four weekend afternoons (1 ½ hours per), it is almost impossible to find the rest of the Worlds in the United States. I am fortunate enough to have access to Universal Sports in HD (which cannot be said of DirecTV subscribers – only low-def for them). For many track fans, they have to jerry-rig various websites to find complete coverage of the events. I was in a similar plight two years ago, but I was able to find Russian language coverage on youtube. One of the priorities of USATF CEO Max Siegel in the next few years should be to make his sport, at its most elite level, accessible to the fans. I had Universal Sports up until the end of 2011, and the infuriating thing about Universal Sports, is that you need to sign in via your provider to access the video on their site. So, if your cable company does not carry Universal Sports (and most do not), you are out of luck. Lewis Johnson interviewed American 400 meter runner Phyllis Francis after her first round race and asked her about competing at the Worlds, “When I was a little girl, I would look at this on TV.” I guess the little girls of 2015, who may become the athletes of tomorrow will not have that same inspiration.

    2. Ignoring the field events. The field events, especially the ones without American contenders, is almost completely ignored. “The javelin throw has just gone final.” Show us one throw from Yego and that’s it. Maybe if we are lucky, a graphic with the silver and bronze medalists. Todd Harris seems like a nice enough guy, but his expertise is elsewhere. He added nothing to the telecast, doesn’t seem to clearly know the rules and is largely irrelevant. I still don’t know why Dwight Stones was not asked back (and from his twitter neither does Dwight). The main problem is that nobody at NBCU, and certainly not Tom Hammond, has the ability to juggle the three-ring circus that live track and field is. I was recently watching the tapes I had of ABC’s coverage of the 1984 Olympics, which were largely live. Al Michaels covered the field events as well and went to the color commentators for some insight. It is ok to show a live high jump during a heat of a distance race OR wait until the race is over and show a field event attempt on replay.

    3. Not telling the story. NBCU leaves viewers in the dark much of the time. They focus on what they think the story will be before the event starts and not really know what to do if the reality is different than their plan. They are particularly bad about this in field events. Lavillenie, Suhr and Barshim were favorites in the vertical jumps (forget the women’s high jump – NBC almost entirely ignored that event). In each case, NBCU came in and showed each athlete miss a third attempt, which put them out of the competition. Each time, we saw a graphic with the current placing of the athlete now elimination, no mention of the athletes remaining in contention. This is simple story telling, let us know who has a chance to win. I looked back at the 1984 Olympics and ABC would show a graphic during the high jumps with the names of the athletes still in contention. Very simple, informative and respectful of the viewers. Another case in point, during the women’s discus they showed Caballero throw and Harris said “she is the leader.” What about everybody else? At the very least, who is in second and third, that would take less than five seconds to say. During the men’s triple jump final, NBCU showed Craddock take third place with his fifth jump. They got lucky that a lull in the track action occurring as Thompson dropped his enormous last jump. I did not know until the graphic was shown briefly at the end of the TJ that Evora had passed Craddock on his sixth attempt to take the bronze, that would have been a somewhat dramatic and important moment to show.

    4. There are more than one of two people in a race. I do not think that Tom Hammond can process more than two or three names per event, especially in the heats. During the first round of the men’s 200, Hammond did not mention any runner other than Bolt during his heat. During Gatlin’s heat, no mention of Sani Brown in 2nd place. Hammond during another 200 meter heat, “and the with a lean…” who was that Tom? It would seem pretty standard to mention first, second and third places in a running race. There are times that Hammond won’t know who won a sprint race if it was an outsider who is neither American nor Jamaican.

    5. Use graphics! In watching the international feed, the graphics will fill in the blanks that the announcers didn’t cover. Give us information. In sports like baseball and football we are inundated with graphic information on the screen, use this in track as well.

    6. The Erki Nool effect. In the 2000 Olympics, it seemed as though Erki Nool came out of nowhere to move into contention following the pole vault, but anyone who knew the decathlon at the time knew that while everyone else was underperforming, Nool had the chance to come on strong. NBCU will routinely show the top three after each event of the multis, while I am sitting at home wondering who else is close to the medals and how many points back they might be. NBC has been giving the decathlon the short end of the stick for a while now. Growing up, Jenner and Thompson were huge parts of the Olympics. In 2008, Bryan Clay became the world’s greatest athlete in almost complete anonymity. We didn’t see much of his second day until the 1500 was run on the late night program.

    7. The stupid KEY QUALIFIERS! This drives me completely nuts. After qualifying heats or rounds, or sometimes even semifinals, NBCU will be too lazy to show more than “key qualifiers.” In the men’s 400 meter hurdles, I had predicted Gibson to win the bronze. After the first round, NBC showed only a few heats, and did not show the one Gibson was in. They did not list him among their illustrious “key qualifiers.” Well, he did qualify and captured a bronze medal in the final. For some reason, NBCU’s swimming folks can get it right, but not the track guys. In swimming, all events of 200 meters or less have 16 swimmers qualify for the semifinals after the heats. During the Olympics, NBC covers the heats and will show a graphic with the sixteen qualifiers for the semifinals and their respective times. NBC, please do the same for track and field.

    8. Steeplechase finals. Please show the entire race without going to commercial. The only last about eight or nine minutes. I can understand breaking away during the 5K or 10K or even the steeplechase heats, but not the finals.

    With the Olympics in Rio resulting in a largely live telecast, I can hope that NBC will cover the events completely, tell the whole story and respect the viewers.

  • #2
    Originally posted by Slowrunner View Post
    I again find myself very frustrated at NBC’s coverage
    Join the effin club . . . and well-articulated rant. :-)

    Comment


    • #3
      These guys are not interested in Track and Field fans. They cater to the casual viewer who knows the sport as well as I know Badminton. If you can find a British feed go for it. My wife did comment about Hammond's "man boobs" which means she wasn't paying attention to what he was saying, who does, but to his general demeanor: bloated, puffy, all fat and no muscle.

      Comment


      • #4
        Agreed on every count.

        Wish every event can be spectated LIVE or on replay (in its entirety). Don't understand why there aren't several "channels" or "feeds" online that viewers can switch between. Heck, I can log into my low-rent home security system from anywhere in the world and see what my dogs are up to. No reason why we can't watch ANY event and EVERY event (even if commentary isn't available). The technology exists.

        NBC have really dumbed down their coverage for the average viewer. We, the track and field obsessed, are not the average viewer. So naturally nothing they are wiling to do will make us happy.

        Comment


        • #5
          Excellent screed, Slowrunner. You nailed a lot of the complaints that I have about the NBCU coverage. They really do seem to try and dumb it down for the American audience--it ends up insulting and stultifying for us actual fans, and does nothing to educate and inform the casual viewer. As for Tom Hammond, I'm sure he had his day and at some point was quite competent as a play-by-play guy, but he is obviously increasingly out of his depth and should NOT be the voice covering T&F in Rio. Todd Harris you already talked about, Craig Masback is also completely unenthusiastic and incapable of capturing the drama that is happening out on the track, a case in point being the women's 5000, when Ayana made her move and kept tightening the screws. Hammond and Masback seemed to be at a loss. Like you said, when the action starts to veer off the script, they are lost. I really hope NBC can get it together for Rio. I know that when go back to watch highlights on YouTube from London 2012 I always watch the Olympic channel with the awesome commentators from the BBC.

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          • #6
            Graphics-wise, I've always been annoyed at the usual absence of the lap splits which we are accustomed to from many of the DL meets. Most of the American announcers, including Craig Masback who should know better, do not seem to provide the level of excitement in their reporting which is commiserate with sudden changes in pace. I resent having to do my own split-timing.

            Comment


            • #7
              I agree with everything that was said above, and all the type that's been spilled here before, regarding NBC's shoddy track coverage.

              I am also very bothered by the access question though. As long as Universal Sports is not available to most viewers (except 'lucky' Time Warner families like mine) then it's a terrible solution to getting your sport's biggest event seen by anybody. This is the best way I can think of to continue losing fans.

              With the runup to the Eugene WC, and all that USATF has invested in that, I wonder if there some possibility that they could go the route that has worked for some other sports, and for college conferences, and self-produce the coverage of their big meets? I know the IAAF is in charge of selling the WC rights, but they can't be happy with the type of exposure their biggest event is getting in this huge market.

              With self-produced coverage of some select domestic events, and purchased (say, from Eurosport) coverage for international events, USATF could offer and sell its own advertising time to its sponsors, and package its own product to give fans and potential fans a much better show than NBC's half-assed presentations. They could also make an enormous amount of more in depth coverage available on the web. I've often wondered why T&F doesn't try this, and why ideas like this apparently aren't even on the table at USATF. Given the changing media landscape, it seems pretty short-sighted

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by jeremyp View Post
                .. My wife did comment about Hammond's "man boobs" which means she wasn't paying attention to what he was saying, who does, but to his general demeanor: bloated, puffy, all fat and no muscle.
                that's below the belt and uncalled for. Has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Reading all of the above makes me very appreciative of the coverage here in Jamaica. Every minute live, courtesy of TVJ utilizing the IAAF feed. Lots of commercials, some at seemingly ridiculous times, but all action was live nonetheless. And, repeats of all sessions later in the day on their dedicated sports channel (TVJSN). Bonus; in-studio pre-games and post-games shows, before and/or after each session, with knowledgeable analysts.
                  Regards,
                  toyracer

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Slowrunner View Post
                    3. Not telling the story. NBCU leaves viewers in the dark much of the time. They focus on what they think the story will be before the event starts and not really know what to do if the reality is different than their plan. They are particularly bad about this in field events. Lavillenie, Suhr and Barshim were favorites in the vertical jumps (forget the women’s high jump – NBC almost entirely ignored that event). In each case, NBCU came in and showed each athlete miss a third attempt, which put them out of the competition. Each time, we saw a graphic with the current placing of the athlete now elimination, no mention of the athletes remaining in contention. This is simple story telling, let us know who has a chance to win. I looked back at the 1984 Olympics and ABC would show a graphic during the high jumps with the names of the athletes still in contention. Very simple, informative and respectful of the viewers.
                    They often miss the boat completely in terms build up in a closely-contested field event. We know that this is done in the interest of brevity, as there is such limited time given for coverage and so priorities have to be assigned. Hell, it is the drama which makes competition so appealing. Just getting the executive summary stinks. By the end of the WC, I was practically numb from so much of this.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by jeremyp View Post
                      These guys are not interested in Track and Field fans. They cater to the casual viewer who knows the sport as well as I know Badminton.
                      Originally posted by hipNrip View Post
                      NBC have really dumbed down their coverage for the average viewer. We, the track and field obsessed, are not the average viewer.
                      The stupidity behind catering to the casual viewer is that casual viewers don't watch the IAAF World Championships!

                      This is not the Olympics where people who are fans of other sports (or no sports) will watch track & field once every 4 years, or the World Cup where non-fans in the US will watch a match if team USA is playing. The majority of viewers of the IAAF World Championships are going to be actual fans of track & field, not casual viewers.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        They don't treat the sport with respect.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Of course I agree with the complaints about NBCU's coverage, but I don't believe anymore
                          that this kind of coverage appeals to the casual fan. We are lucky enough to have BEIN
                          sports and can watch diamond league meets on this. This is good coverage, probably
                          an English feed, but it's like watching track and field in Europe. Sometimes I watch
                          t&f when my 14 year old daughter is in the room. She is barely a casual fan, but
                          I noticed that her eyes are always on the screen when there are races happening or field events are shown, but her eyes go back to her phone when they start their talking segments, or they do interviews. I don't understand why anyone would think watching commentators talking would be more interesting than watching races. It gives the impression that the people determining T&F coverage are the same people who plan daytime talk shows. Finally, I'll add another pet peeve. They take commercial breaks during the coverage of distance races, and even though the coverage is tape-delayed, they still don't show the key points in the race, like when Ayana accelerated in the women's 5K.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by 18.99s View Post
                            The stupidity behind catering to the casual viewer is that casual viewers don't watch the IAAF World Championships!

                            This is not the Olympics where people who are fans of other sports (or no sports) will watch track & field once every 4 years, or the World Cup where non-fans in the US will watch a match if team USA is playing. The majority of viewers of the IAAF World Championships are going to be actual fans of track & field, not casual viewers.
                            If that were true, I suspect there'd be no telecast at all, because there aren't enough "actual fans" to make it worth NBC's while to telecast it, even if it is seen as a loss-leader for the Olympics.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              very soon, maybe 5-6 years, the only "tv" for track will be streaming...it simply will not be feasible for any carrier to spend the money on coventional/cable tv coverage. Any chance of the current "team" of announcers being replaced by the time Rio arrives?

                              Comment

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