Category: sports

Cord Cutting and the Olympics

First, a disclaimer. This might just be me. I’m basing my conclusions here on my own personal experiences, and there’s always a good chance that the slice of life I’m seeing is different from what’s happening across the country as a whole. But I’ve had enough discussions with friends around me that I’m at least reasonably sure of my observations.

As I’ve said before, I’m a bit of an Olympics junkie. I have always loved watching them each year, and I look forward to seeing what new cool things happen as the Games roll around. I remember talking about them with my friends in high school and in college. Everybody seemed to have been watching them along with me.

But not this year. This year, when I ask people if they’re watching the Olympics, a lot of them aren’t. For many of them, they can’t figure out a way to see them. They’ve cut cable or satellite from their homes, and the streaming options leave them scratching their heads about how exactly they can watch this thing they’ve always enjoyed. I don’t blame them. Watching live television in the more remote parts of the country is not for the faint of heart, if you don’t pay for a television subscription. You need to navigate sign ins, download the right apps, and make sure the Internet Gods are smiling on you.

Even then, the experience leaves some to be desired. The ads they play on the streaming  platforms are just plain exhausting. I know you’ll get a couple repeat ads when you watch over the air, but streaming shows you the same ads, time after time after time. It’s annoying when you’re watching something for an evening, but when you’re watching for two weeks in a row? I literally want to not buy whatever is being sold, just out of spite. It’s making me actively hate Coke, that DNA test, and Ritz crackers. DC has memorized the ads and can recite them with all the correct timing.

Of course, there are some things I really like about streaming. I love being able to watch whatever I want on demand. There’s a huge breadth of events available to me, and that’s wonderful. We watched many of the complete biathlon events where Slovakia medaled, and I’ve discovered I really love that sport. It’s a ton of fun to watch. NBC typically reduces cross country to a few overview snippets.

But I’m able to do all that because my internet-fu is strong. It’s not like that for everyone, and that means the Olympics aren’t getting the buzz they always have before. True, social media lets me connect with others who are watching, but it doesn’t feel like one of those “The World is Watching” events, and that makes me sad and nostalgic for how it was before.

This seems like a problem that can and should be fixed. If it were up to me, each of the main broadcasting networks would carry their live programming over the internet for free, without any logins. They could identify where you’re watching based on IP address, and then show you the same commercials you’d see locally. Or at the least they could show you the same local news. This is programming that’s broadcast over the air for free anyway. It’s just in the hinterlands that you can’t get it. Am I missing some vital reason that invalidates this plan?

Beyond that, I’ve noticed one other thing I’d like to comment on. People online seem to love to gripe about NBC’s coverage of the Olympics. “They won’t shut up during important times!” “They’re boring.” “They make it too much about Americans.”

I get it. There are times I’m frustrated by the same things. But I’ve watched the Olympics without the commentary, and I’m here to say that I believe that commentary is vital for the Games to be captivating. It loses a lot of the impact when you don’t know about who is competing. Last night is an excellent example. The duel between the two Russian skaters (sorry, Olympic athletes from Russia) was very well introduced. Because of all the promos and spotlights they did on those two girls, I was much more heavily invested in the outcome. When I watch the streams that just have basic “this is what they’re doing” commentary, I lose that connection. “Huh. Look. Some guy just did some move that has a strange name. I wonder if that’s difficult. I wonder if I should be impressed.”

If I were to watch one of those ice skating events live? I’d be completely lost, and (I think) bored out of my mind. I have no idea who did a double or a triple or a quad or an axel or a whatever. I need the commentary to make sense of it. Yes, I get that if you’re a big fan of the sport already, then you probably don’t need it, but let’s face it: the majority of the US don’t care about skiing, skating, curling, and all that jazz when it’s not the Olympics. We need the context.

And the Opening Ceremonies? Even that needs context, I believe. Sure, they skip some of it. But they let you watch the whole thing after the fact if you want, without or without commentary. How many people actually go back to do that? The Opening Ceremonies allow the broadcasters to set the stage. Let us know some interesting story lines to follow. And true, there are times I wish they’d branch out beyond American story lines more. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want stories.

So while I get some criticism of NBC, I think a fair bit of it is unwarranted groupthink, as people band together online to complain about something and then carry the complaints they’ve read out into the real world, repeating them as if they’re now experts in sports broadcasting. It gets a bit old.

Anyway. The Olympics are almost over, and I’ve really had a good time watching them. I’ll miss them when they’re gone, but I’m looking forward to being able to get more sleep at night. There’s always that . . .


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It’s Often Not about the Performance. It’s about the Competition.

I’ve been watching the Olympics since they started last week, and I was very excited to see Shaun White’s gold medal run last night in the half pipe, as I was to see Chloe Kim’s gold. We let Tomas and DC stay up late last night to see the final runs, and it was pretty riveting stuff.

As I was watching, I compared my investment in the event with the amount I was invested in the female halfpipe a couple of days ago. It was markedly different, and I wondered why that was. Kim and White both have compelling stories. There were strong reasons to root for both of them, but for Kim’s runs, I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, eyes glued to see what would happen.

The difference, of course, is the competition. In Kim’s event, she was in the lead the whole time. She seemed like she had the rest of the field simply outclassed. Her first run was a 93.75, which put her in first place by almost eight points. The second round, someone came within four points of her, but by the third round, everyone knew she’d already won.

With White, his first run was a 94.25, only a bit above Kim’s. But there was someone in second place with a 92. Already, he seemed more vulnerable. That score didn’t feel as ironclad. Like Kim, White fell during his second run. But for White, someone stepped up and took first place. Suddenly, he was losing by a point. So when he went down for his final run, everyone knew he’d have to do better. Everything was on the line. Kim ended up with the higher score, but White ended up with the better story.

In writing, this is something that can be easy to forget at times. I’ll be working on a novel and trying to get the main character just right. I want them to be relatable and realistic. I want my readers to be invested in what happens to them. But often the solution to unlocking that isn’t found in the character at all. It’s found in the circumstances around that character. Who he or she is up against. The odds they’re facing.

Generally speaking, if you want the climax to be memorable, you don’t do it by adding more pyrotechnics to the scene. You don’t get it by having the main character be even more awesome. You do it by raising the stakes. Making the opponents stronger and more fearsome. Increasing the odds. The Miracle on Ice isn’t remembered because the favorites won. It’s remembered because the underdogs pulled off the upset.

And there’s your bit of writing advice for the day.


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My Favorite Olympics Story

As we get ready for the Olympics to start tonight (well, technically they were already  on last night, which was this morning in South Korea, which means it was still today, right?), I’m pumped for another two weeks of thrills and chills. This is also the second winter Olympics I’ve watched since I ditched satellite. Having some experience with watching the Olympics online, I can that for a while, it left much to be desired.

NBC would stream things, but they wouldn’t stream everything, and there’s a BIG difference between streaming the live feed of an event and streaming it with NBC commentators. Yes, sometimes those commentators really irritate you, but when you’re watching a sport you don’t know a ton about, it’s difficult to tell when someone’s doing well if you don’t have someone there to . . . tell you that. So often I would just skip an event instead of watching it with the live feed.

These days, I believe they’re planning on doing a better job of that. (Though judging by the commercials on the app last night, they haven’t gotten around the “same commercials all the time” problem, though it’s a bit better. Why they can’t just have the internet run the same commercials as the TV is beyond me.)

Still, I discovered that often NBC would tap into some pool commentators. I have no idea who they were with. They were always British, so I kind of assumed the BBC, but I don’t really know that. The commentating was okay, and not slanted to any one nation, so I took what I could get.

However . . . four years ago, I was watching figure skating. The long performance, as I recall, so it was for medals. And I was watching it with the British commentators. From what I knew, there were supposed to be something like 8 or 12 people competing, but the commentators seemed convinced it was only 4. They really got into it, describing how it was a race to the end with these final four skaters, and after they were done, they congratulated the skaters who were in first, second, and third. They thanked everyone for watching, as the crew came out to fix the ice.

I kept watching, still confused, and still convinced there was more skating to come.

And the mic stayed hot. And a muffled British voice could be heard saying, “What do you mean eight more?”

Once the ice was fixed, the commentators came back on and did commentated for the other eight skaters. Didn’t miss a beat. Didn’t apologize for getting things wrong. Just pretended it had never happened.

And you know what? I didn’t mind at all. It was funny. I laughed. But I was there to watch figure skating, and I didn’t mind them screwing things up.

The moral? Sometimes you will do something totally idiotic, and you’ll feel like an idiot, but if you just keep going, you might be surprised how little everyone else minds. We’re the hero in our own stories, but we’re just extras in most everybody else’s. That can be depressing at times, I suppose, but when you’ve just made a big blunder? It can be great to keep it in mind.

Happy Olympics, everybody. Go USA! And Slovakia! And Germany! And I don’t really mind if some Czechs do well, either.


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Watching the Mayweather/McGregor Fight

I had the chance to watch the Mayweather/McGregor fight on Saturday. I don’t typically watch much boxing or MMA, but this was a fight that had gotten so much hype, I decided to give it a shot. I enjoy watching boxing matches, and I still remember watching the Bite Fight back when I was in high school, when Mike Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear off. (Okay, just a piece of his ear, but still.) Tomas wanted to come watch as well, so why not?

Finding out when exactly the fight was going to start was tricky. The best I’d been able to find was 9pm on Saturday. Tomas and I had been up since 5:30am that morning, but I thought 9pm wasn’t too late to watch. We’d be done by 10pm or so at the latest, and then home by 10:15.

At 9pm, we discovered there would be three boxing matches that happened before the main event. I faced a choice: head home and just read up on the fight later, or hang around. Since we were already there, and having a good time, we hung around. How late could it really go? I also didn’t think it would be much of a fight. I figured Mayweather would overwhelm McGregor easily, and that would be that.

The fight started at midnight. (Of the three lead-in fights, only one was really worth watching, in my opinion. The first was drawn out. The second was quite exciting. The third was anticlimactic.) It ended at 1am. So I was quite tired the next day at church. However, I had a really good time in spite of the late start. We were watching with people who were *really into* the match, and that always makes for a more fun environment. There were great snacks, and some fun conversations ahead of the fight. And the fight actually turned into something worth watching.

Back when I watched Bite Fight, it was pretty anticlimactic. We tuned in, and i about twenty minutes, it was over due to a DQ. Sure, it makes for a good story years later, but I remember being disappointed at the time. I wanted Rocky vs. Clubber Lang. I got Hannibal Lecter instead.

This one lived up to the hype, I felt. It went 10 rounds, and the early rounds looked quite good for McGregor. In the end, Mayweather had a great approach. (He pegged McGregor as not being prepared for a long match, since those don’t occur in MMA. He turned out to be right.) Some objected to the fight being called before McGregor was on the mat, but I felt like it was called at a good point. By then, the guy didn’t have his hands up to defend himself. He wasn’t throwing any counter punches. He was basically a semi-mobile punching bag.

He was done.

I’m still yawning from some sleep deprivation, but the experience delivered what I hoped. (I also realized I haven’t shown my kids any of the Rocky movies. I fail as a father.) Tomas had a good time, as well. If it hadn’t been so late, it would have been easily a great decision to go. As it was, I’d still give it an 8/10 for the experience. Would do it again.

A Patriotic Win in Patriots’ Country

I realize the majority of the football world hates the Patriots. And I’m still primarily an Eagles fan, but I’ve been willing to adopt the Patriots as a secondary team. (This isn’t the Cowboys, people.) For one thing, I’m already a Yankee fan in Red Sox nation. I’m not giving an inch on that ground, but this is an NFC/AFC split. I can afford to show some love for the home team. (Plus, I think Tomas will have an easier time loving the home team if his dad is pro-Patriot. I’m raising him as a Yankee fan in Red Sox nation. It’s good to make some concessions now and then so he doesn’t have an impossible time with his friends at school.)

(And yes, I find it amusing that the universe has contrived to make it possible for me to be a fan of both the Yankees and the Patriots. What can I say? Maybe I just tend to have a soft spot for the teams that are generally hated. But I’m not becoming a Lakers fan. Period.)

Anyway. So last night the fam and I went to a Superbowl party. These were serious Patriots fans. There were Patriots hats. Shirts. Pants. Socks. For all I know, Patriots underwear was in there somewhere. I didn’t check. But this was a 100%, unapologetic bastion of Patriots’ strength.

The feelings of my family kind of ranged the spectrum. I was looking forward to the game, as always. Denisa loves a few sports, but mainly just the Olympics. Tomas was excited for the game, the food, and the commercials. DC was . . . less than enthused, but looking forward to the food. MC was just happy to be going someplace new.

When I showed up, I asked everyone what they wanted out of the game. It was pretty much universal: a blowout. I said I wanted a close game where the Patriots won. “Ideally,” I said, “I’d like another game like the Seahawks/Patriots game a few years ago. Something we can remember for years to come.” They agreed that was a great game, but they said that game had shaved years off their lives. They’d rather be happy throughout the whole game.

I stuck to my guns. Close games are just so much more fun to win.

The game begins, and the food flows like queso. We consumed so many calories, I think I could have hooked the house generator up to my arteries and run the place for a few hours. (Seriously. I felt so sick when I went to bed. When you go from a pretty tight diet with little sugar and then ambush your body with muddy buddies, queso, chips, guacamole, root beer, pulled pork, coleslaw, baked beans, chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter balls, ice cream, and chocolate sauce in mass quantities . . . you’re yearning for a burning. I skipped breakfast this morning. Just too stuffed. Gained 2.2 pounds yesterday.)

But those of you who watched the game can guess what the spirit in the party was like after that first half. Lady Gaga’s show had plenty of energy, but the mood in the room was broody. Worried. “Come on guys,” I said. “They just need a good stop. They’re only down by 3 scores. They have a whole half to come back.”

I have plenty of experience with these self pep talks. I’m a BYU fan, remember?

But then the third quarter happened, and things looked even worse. 28-3? 25 points down?!? The biggest Superbowl comeback ever was 10 points. Even when the Patriots managed to score a touchdown, they couldn’t make the extra point. It just seemed like One of Those Nights. They had been doomed from the beginning. Out played. Out coached. Out executed. They try for an onside kick. They fail. Ugh.

That fourth quarter is going to stay with me for a long time to come. Even as an adoptive fan, it was exciting. In a situation like that, you want to believe it’s possible, but you’re still in containment mode. You don’t want to let yourself get your hopes up. The Patriots score another field goal. Whoopity doo. They’re still down 16 points with 9:44 to go. Sure, they’re technically within 2 touchdowns, if they managed to get the 2 point conversion both times. The way they’ve been playing, that’s just not going to happen.

And then they stop the Falcons and manage to get a touchdown. Better yet, they get the 2 points. Down 8 points with 5:56 to go. And still you’re fighting to keep your head on your shoulders. A single field goal puts this game away. Matt Ryan makes a 39 yard pass on the first play of the Falcons’ drive. 2 plays later, it’s a 27 yard completion. They’re on the Patriot’s 22 yard line, for crying out loud! They could just kick a field goal right this second and end the game!

We interrupt this game recap for a quick life lesson. If you’re ever in a situation where you can win a game outright, do it. Don’t try to win style points. Get the W and move on. Yes I suppose they could have missed the field goal. It would have been a 39 yard attempt. Matt Bryant is their place kicker. He makes 85.6% of the field goals he attempts. At 30-39 yards, he makes 90.7% of them. Sure, I guess you could argue that if you go for it right that second, and he misses, then the world will think you were a bonehead, especially when you’d just had such success with long passes. But they didn’t go for it. Instead, Ryan got sacked for a 12 yard loss, followed the next play by a holding penalty on Atlanta. Suddenly they’re out of field goal range completely. Remember: minutes before, when they’d started the drive on their 10 yard line, they’d had one goal: get into field goal range and kick it through the uprights. They’d checked off the first item on that list. If it had been 4th and 3 on the Patriots’ 22 yard line, the game would have been over with a Falcons’ win. But it wasn’t. It was 1st and 10 on the Patriots’ 22 yard line, and that ended up making a huge difference. They went for a touchdown instead of simple victory.

Anyway. At that point, it felt like a totally different game. The Patriots were in it to win it. They were moving the ball at will. But they still needed the touchdown and the 2 point conversion, and you still couldn’t help but doubt. The whole room erupted when they got the touchdown, and we went crazy with that conversion.

You can only imagine what happened when the Patriots scored the winning touchdown in overtime. MC was running around the room yelling “Did we get a touch? Did we get a touch? We wonned! We wonned! Go BYU!” (I’ve trained her well.) There was a resounding roar from the entire room. High fives. Chest bumps. Tears. Tomas declaring himself to be a Patriots fan from now on. It was everything you’d want a victory to be. We even set off fireworks after it all.

And so I ask you. Which would you rather watch? A complete blow out where your team dominates from start to finish, or a game where your team makes the biggest comeback in Superbowl history, in the only Superbowl game to go to overtime?

I’ll take the nail biter, every time.

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