Typical as in large patriotic viewership for a major event and then back to obscurity. It's the same story for almost an Olympic sport. Sure, people remember the flavor-of-the-quadrennial downhill skier or figure skater for a while, but few winter sports whet the appetites of sports consumers on a regular basis.
From the just completed games, snowboarder Shawn White and his friends might have the most potential staying power because they're part of an emerging competition that has at least an annual forum with the X Games on ESPN -- and White himself certainly knows how to stand out in a busy marketplace.
Even U.S. women's downhill standout and gold medal winner Lindsey Vonn, who leaves the Games to continue her pursuit of another overall world championship, might not really jump into our consciousness again until 2014. Even with her success and the media's love for her story, she might be another typical Olympic story as well. (Thanks for the gold medal, and then off to the sports world's version of the witness protection program).
Overall, the Vancouver Games on NBC were well-watched, dominating nightly viewing in the United States and drawing better numbers than the 2006 Games in Italy but lower numbers than those from 2002 in Salt Lake City. According to the Sports Business Daily, the final Nielsen rating for its primetime coverage of the Vancouver Games through Saturday night (16 telecasts) was up 13 percent from a 12.3 average in 2006, but down 27 percent from a 19.0 in 2002.
While many in the media complained about the overall lack of live events, because of NBC's storytelling approach to save many events and show them on tape in prime time, regular viewers did not seem upset. They tuned in night after night, and flocked to their TV sets for the live events that were shown and the U.S.-Canada hockey game in the preliminary round (8.2 million viewers on cable's MSNBC) as well as the gold medal game (more than 25 million viewers on NBC).
In terms of on-air action behind the microphones, hockey play-by-play man Mike Emrick was one of the big winners, with his smooth, super style getting much-wider-than-usual exposure because of the number of people watching hockey. He's one of the best at what he does.
Also, Tim Ryan always seems to do a good job on downhill skiing and Al Trautwig, with U.S. competitors in contention for the first time ever, had a reason to do good work -- and did so -- on nordic skiing events.
Former speed skater Dan Jansen was good as an analyst, appropriately critical of ice conditions early in the Games, and the folks from the curling venue (Andrew Catalon, Don Duguid and Colleen Jones) also provided necessary background and critiques when necessary.
While the network started strong, mixing an appropriate amount of news about the death of a Georgian luge competitor at the start of the game, NBC rarely lingered over conditions at venues or other problems. Worse, though, was the lack of stories. While taped coverage allows for features and storylines, those things were mostly missing -- at least in any in-depth form, or about anyone not on the network's predetermined list of stars.
And whether those stars emerge again on TV remains the everlasting Olympic challenge. Again, while Sunday's hockey game 25 million U.S. viewers, the NHL never delivers such numbers.
In fact, a more fair (and striking) comparison might be the preliminary round game between the United States and Canada, which drew 8.2 million viewers on MSNBC. Conversely, regular season hockey games average fewer than 250,000 viewers on Versus.