Just a month before she was scheduled to hit the slopes in Sochi, downhill sensation Lindsey Vonn has bowed out with a bad knee.
Vonn, the reigning Olympic and World Cup champ, was expected to deliver a medal for the U.S. and ratings gold for NBCUniversal – owned by Comcast – which spent $775 million for the rights to broadcast the Winter Olympics.
The network relies on athletes like Vonn to not only deliver eyeballs to the contests, but to its other programs like “The Today Show” and “The Tonight Show.”
“That’s one of the big benefits of sports programming in general,” saysKenneth Shropshire, the Director of the Wharton Sports Business Institute at the University of Pennsylvania.
Shropshire says when television networks buy rights to major sporting events it’s a way to grow business and ratings across the board.
“It really is the idea, will this programming lead people to our network and get them to learn about the upcoming shows, the coming seasons ,” he says.
There’s also the benefit of Olympian interviews during the competitive morning ratings race.
The thinking goes that athletes like snowboarder Shaun White and Gabby Douglas, keep viewers from flipping to rivals like “Good Morning America.”
While losing skier Vonn is obviously a blow,television analyst Larry Gerbrandt says NBC will figure out how to work around it.
“Look NBC knows how to tell these stories better than anyone. They’ve been doing it for almost decades now. They are masters at it,” he says.
Gerbrandt says all the network needs is a couple of Cinderella stories, the improbable underdogs who emerge from the pack.
“You can survive an entire Olympics off of a couple of those stories and the beauty is they almost always emerge,” he says.
The hope for NBC is enough charismatic Americans bring home gold so the company can bring home the cash.