Olympics losing U.S. viewers

Published 10:49 am Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Fewer Americans are watching the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro than they did prior Games. I offer a solution.

According to The Christian Science Monitor, only 26.5 million Americans watched the Olympics opening ceremony —- “a 35 percent drop in viewership from London’s ceremony four years ago and the lowest rating for the event since 1992.”

Why the low ratings?

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For starters, fewer people are watching TV. Anyone under 30 is too busy snapchatting and Facebooking to sit in front of something as outmoded as a television set.

America’s waning interest in the Olympics could also be because too many events have been added by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which may be diluting the Olympics brand.

Consider: During the very first Olympics in 1896, there were only nine sports. The Rio Olympics are featuring 28, two of which were newly added: golf and rugby sevens.

Now I played rugby at Penn State. In my book, its toughness qualifies it as a genuine Olympics sport.

But golf? Sure, golf requires precision and smarts. But that’s about it. The better golfers don’t carry their own clubs or even walk. Their caddies do most of the work.

Besides, if you can smoke a cigar, sip gin and flirt with your mistress on your smartphone while in the throes of competition, I don’t think that qualifies as an “Olympics-level” event.

Nonetheless, the IOC, eager to appeal to younger audiences, keeps expanding its list of sports. In fact, the IOC just announced that it will add five events to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. In addition to the return of baseball/softball, there will be karate, rock climbing, skateboarding and surfing —- to which I respond”Cowabunga, dude!”

It seems to me that if the IOC wants to draw in American viewers in bigger numbers, maybe it should add other key “sports” that appeal to our national sensibilities —- “sports” that have long been trying to make the Olympics lineup, such as bowling and ballroom dancing.

Sure, bowling doesn’t require the speed and physical stamina long associated with Olympics sports. But it does require a stamina of sorts: Only a true professional can drink three pitchers of lager and still roll a perfect 300.

Keeping track of the “athletes” will be a lot easier, too —- since bowling is the only “sport” in which each competitor has his name stitched onto his shirt pocket.

Proponents of ballroom dancing have been trying like mad to have their “sport” added to the Olympics event list and I say why not.

Such dancing does require the finesse of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. And I don’t care how difficult traditional sports, such as swimming and track, may be. Only ballroom dancers run the risk of blowing out a knee by tripping on a buffet table.

That brings us to pole dancing. Its proponents are hoping that this “sport,” made popular by ladies who shed their clothes in dark, smoky bars, should join the esteemed list of Olympic Games, and I couldn’t agree more!

Now I know that the games are —- or are supposed to be —- about excellence, sacrifice and commitment. I know they’re supposed to be about athletes pushing themselves beyond their physical limits.

But Americans have gone soft over the years. We’re no longer as interested in “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” as we are about instant gratification, junk food, adult beverages and figuring out new schemes by which we can get “the rich” to fund more “free” government goodies.

If the IOC wants Americans to tune back in, it needs to include more “sports” that appeal to what we have become.

Which is why the IOC should add Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating contest to the Olympics lineup.


Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated by Cagle Cartoons. Email Tom at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.