Yesterday I wrote about why I thought NBC should show the US women’s semifinal olympic soccer match on NBC instead of the NBC Sports Network. Now it’s time to address NBC’s decision to air the gold medal match on NBCSN. It is a terrible choice that shows NBC’s total disregard for the audience’s wants, something they have been guilty of since the very first moment of the 2012 Olympic games.
First, the USA v. Canada semifinal game NBC chose not to air yesterday on network TV. It turned out that it was one of the most thrilling soccer matches in a long while. Spectators were treated to a hat trick by Canada’s Christine Sinclair, whose three goals put Canada in the lead three times. Megan Rapinoe was stellar for the USA, bending a corner kick into the goal for the USA‘s first score and hitting a hard shot from way out to tie the game at 2-2. After Sinclair scored her final goal, the US was able to answer with an Abby Wambach penalty kick, an entire series of events which will certainly be considered one of the most controversial of this tournament. In the 80th minute, the referee called a foul against the Canadian goal keeper, Erin McLeod, for holding the ball too long after a save. The US was awarded an indirect free kick. The free kick bounced off the elbow of Canadian player Marie-Eve Nault and the referee called a handball. That set up Wambach’s PK and she did not let her team down.
The game went into overtime, with the young US striker, Alex Morgan, heading a cross from Heather O’Reilly into the goal with about 30 seconds left in the game. The US won, 4-3.
On Thursday, the US women will play Japan, who had their own exciting semifinal game yesterday against France. France took many more shots on goal but Japan’s goalie, Miho Fukumoto, made save after save. Even though France dominated the ball, Japan, the defending World Cup champions, won 2-1.
This sets up a rematch of last year’s World Cup final that the US lost on penalty kicks. That game set a ratings record for ESPN: an average of 13.5 million viewers, the largest TV audience for a soccer match that ESPN has ever had.
NBC, in trying to build up its fledging NBC Sports Network, may be betting on Thursday’s monumental game to bring new viewers to their new channel. The NBCSN has hit pay dirt with Major League Soccer game ratings and it is very possible that NBC has chosen to show all soccer matches in the 2012 Olympics on NBCSN in order to build itself as the cable home of professional soccer. [Also, something worth noting: both men's and women's basketball, whose tournaments have been shown almost entirely on NBCSN during the Olympics, will have their gold medal games broadcast on NBC, not NBCSN.]
Where does that leave the spectator, though?
As I wrote yesterday, NBCSN is in 80 million homes but its viewership is low, especially compared to NBC. The live-streaming is also often a poor option.
Instead of showing the women’s gold medal soccer match on its network channel, NBC will be airing the gold medal women’s water polo match, in which the US women will play. And while I applaud NBC for spotlighting sports and women’s sports in particular that don’t get a lot of love, there is no doubt which of these two sports is more popular and which of these match ups is the more anticipated one.
Before the Olympics even started, the Japanese team made headlines because their country’s football association chose not to fly them business class to Europe even though that is how they flew the men’s team. And now, here in the US, our women’s soccer team, despite being spectacular and battling hard to once again defend their Olympic title, can’t even get on network TV. Telling bookends, no?
The US women’s soccer team has built a large following mainly by being really good at soccer for a really long time now. Japanese women are virtual rockstars in their country following last year’s surprising World Cup win. These women deserve to play for the gold on network TV on Thursday. Shame on NBC for this decision.