Monday, October 13, 2014

NBC's coverage of the Chicago Marathon was understandably terrible

NBC's coverage of the Chicago Marathon was awful in so many ways. To broadly characterize it, although the main broadcast was done by Ed Eyestone and Tony Reavis, with Greg Meyer and Joanie Benoit Samuelson following the men's and women's races respectively, the whole thing showed, once again, what's wrong with running as a spectator sport. As bad as NFL broadcasts can be, they at least are wrapped up in themselves, alternatively missing the forest or the trees for the other while committing linguistic atrocities as they go along. What routinely passes for coverage of running in mainstream media is inconceivable for another sport.

First, let's go over what made this broadcast so bad for those who either missed it or weren't paying attention. I suspect that we saw about 8-12 km of running total out of the 84 km of racing that took place. The coverage reminded me of sharing a TV with my brothers when, say, one person was watching a playoff hockey game while they other wanted regular updates on a regular-season baseball game. NBC showed the race go off, then cut away after a couple of minutes, showed the mile split and returned for a minute of every mile until 5k, after which it seemed to be a minute for every two mile until we were at around 23 miles. The women's race got about a third to one half of the coverage that the men's race got. There may have been one instance of a split-screen showing both races simultaneously, but I may have just imagined that.

So, what do you do when you're airing running's equivalent of a tennis grand slam but don't actually want to show anyone running? You interview everyone you can get your hands on, and get reporters to provide their unique insights on things that have nothing to do with running. And you show commercials. While watching, I loudly criticized Eyestone, Reavis and Meyers for mistakes such as Meyers repeatedly not being able to pronounce Kipchoge's name or Reavis' Joe Biden-like misspeaks, but those are really trivial, not unlike how football analysts say dozens of ridiculous things in every game.

What was infuriating were the dozen or so weather updates NBC aired showing what the temperature was at each mile marker, explaining and reiterating how the wind would be at the runners' backs at some times and in their faces at other times. There were the interviews. The lengthy interview with Steve Jones was not bad, but it's indicative of the fact that even a generation from now, the only elite runners the casual fan will be able to name will be people like Bill Rodgers. Was there not a more recent champion that could have been interviewed? Does Steve Jones have more name recognition or is he an easier interview as a Westerner? Or both?

Other interviews included people who had run aid stations, people who were standing at aid stations watching the race, and people who were involved with charities that supported the race. Particularly bad was an interview with a family who had been at the 2013 Boston Marathon, even though the video feed had just shown that Kenenisa Bekele had been dropped from the lead pack during the lengthy feature that just finished. A little bit after that, the weather reporter said that because "not much is happening" behind her, they could take another look at the weather. NBC showed pretty much all of the last three miles of the race, but chose to take a commercial break between 24 and 25 miles, which is when Eliud Kipchoge separated himself from Sammy Kitwara and Dickson Chumba.

The coverage was atrocious, but that a major marathon is televised and anyone around the world can watch it is a good state of affairs for track, considering that few non-championship track meets are televised. I have no idea how many people watch NBC in Chicago on a Sunday morning, but it might well have been the case that the number of people who watched even a portion of the telecast online exceeds the number of people watching it on a TV (I'm imagining both numbers in the tens of thousands and using the number of people who run marathons as a barometer).

NBC really isn't to blame because the number of people who care about how a race is shown is really small. Outside of the LetsRun bubble, knowing that the lead pack was not simply jogging despite appearances is on the knowledgeable end of the spectrum, knowing anything more really means you represent less than one percent of the one percent who would watch the race in the first place.

Although major marathons are increasingly and now absurdly popular, with both world records and Boston qualifying times slowly dropping, this hasn't really translated into anything beyond "2:02:57! Wow, that's fast!" in terms of an interest in running as a spectator sport. You can make improvements in how its presented, but I don't think it's ever going to change, not that the improbability is going to stop me from posts on media coverage of running.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Watched the 2017 run and sad to see nothing has changed. Your analysis was and remains spot-on. Ridiculous that they haven't learned from their mistakes.