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Brandon Veale column: Why aren't you watching Beijing Games?

I'm doing my part to bolster NBC's abysmal Olympic TV ratings. How about you?

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Brandon Veale
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I have been innately aware that many of my life interests don't align well with what my peers consider "popular."

I spent many Saturday nights as a kid watching quiz bowl games on public television. I only mind four-hour baseball games when they mess with my publication deadline. In church, I prefer singing hymns, in four parts, from a hymnal, to following the words to worship songs projected on a screen.

If I were to list all the things that have made me "not cool" since I was a kid, I could probably fill 10 columns.

But I thought liking the Olympics was a pretty uncontroversial stance. According to the early ratings, perhaps not. The Opening Ceremony on Friday averaged about 16 million viewers across all platforms. By comparison, that's roughly analogous to the number of people who tune in on television for an underperforming noon window in the middle of the NFL season.

It's also down 43% from the presentation of the PyeongChang Opening Ceremony four years ago. The women's figure skating short program from 1994 (aka Nancy vs. Tonya Round I) netted 126.5 million viewers.

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I wrote quite a bit last week about how the host government has made watching these games morally challenging, an issue the Chinese double down on by making sure one of the final two torchbearers at the Opening Ceremony was an (alleged) Uighur Nordic skier.

Beijing remains 14 hours ahead of Duluth time, a fact that is only abetting my tendency to work too late. I don't think snowboarding is what they meant by the old adage, "It's 5 o'clock somewhere."

It remains to be seen whether NBC was wisely hedging its bets when it asked to switch Super Bowls with CBS so that Super Bowl LVI (that's the one that's happening on Sunday) would be airing at the same time as these Olympics. The NFL appears to be only thing Americans still watch on regular TV anymore, but with that matchup, they might only have 80 million viewers. I've met only one Bengals fan in my life, and the only people I know who are rooting for the Rams are Lions fans who feel bad about what their franchise did to Matthew Stafford.

I think it was a bad idea, if for no other reason that I think the average sports fan likes their sports to stay in order: Super Bowl, then Olympics, then Daytona 500, then March Madness, then Spring Training, then Opening Day and so on and so on. But now, everything's mixed up. There was an exhibition NASCAR race in a football stadium last weekend. Spring Training is probably not going to start on time since the MLB owners locked out the players.

NBC's Mike Tirico covered the first couple days of the Games from China, is flying back to the U.S. and will host the show tonight and Thursday from NBC Sports headquarters in Connecticut, then go to the Super Bowl, and then go back to Connecticut instead of China.

And if the sports world is out of order, the rest of the world is similarly cattywompus. We're all stumbling around like I do when I have to de-fog my glasses three times when I go to the grocery store. Maybe the Olympics are a party we're just not ready for.

We all have a lot of choices in the television landscape. Peyton Manning went on Saturday Night Live and kept turning the discussion to the second season of Netflix's "Emily in Paris." But unlike "Euphoria," no one at the Olympics knows who's been taking drugs until two months after the event.

Then again, there hasn't been a lot to celebrate. At the time of this writing (just after the United States-Canada women's hockey game), the United States has yet to win a gold medal. That can't help. Americans love their winners. I still haven't heard what arrangement of The Star-Spangled Banner the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee submitted for these games so I can critique if they've used enough strings.

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It's early, but the last time Team USA was this rough, they got George Steinbrenner involved after winning a grand total of six medals for the entire Calgary Olympics in 1988.

So, there's a lot of work to be done. But at the time of this writing, Team Shuster's Olympic title defense hasn't even started yet, Nathan Chen is in prime position in the men's figure skating and the likes of Chloe Kim and Jessie Diggins are just getting warmed up.

Until then, enjoy the weird stuff: all the people that flip 10 times and land on their feet like a cat tossed from a high-rise, how it is that anyone goes down the luge willingly, the oddly calming sound of two curling stones smacking together.

Trust me, weird stuff is good.

Brandon Veale is the sports editor of the News Tribune. He will be writing columns throughout the Olympics and tweeting @redveale. He can be reached at bveale@duluthnews.com.

Related Topics: OLYMPICS
Brandon has been sports editor of the News Tribune since August 2021.
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