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NBC puts positive spin on problems in Rio

Television announcer Bob Costas watches the Houston Texans

Television announcer Bob Costas watches the Houston Texans warm up before playing against the New England Patriots on Dec. 13, 2015 at NRG Stadium in Houston. Credit: Getty Images / Scott Halleran

Most of the non-sports news leading up to next month’s Olympic Games has been negative, but NBC executives put a mostly positive spin on things Monday at a pre-Rio media event in the “Saturday Night Live” studio in Manhattan.

“In a nutshell, we are ready and Rio is ready,” NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus said.

That remains to be seen amid reports of security concerns, construction delays, sluggish ticket sales, polluted water, the pending impeachment trial of Brazil’s president and concerns about the Zika virus.

But NBC’s roster of executives, hosts and reporters has a reservoir of Olympic experience, including the many previous Games that started amid serious worries — most recently in Sochi, Russia, in 2014.

Generally speaking, such concerns tend to fade once the events begin — or at least they recede from the minds of American viewers once the focus turns to tumbling gymnasts and leaping beach volleyball players.

Lazarus promised that if there is news that impacts the Games, NBC news and sports personnel can and will cover it. But he added that short of that, the show will go on.

“Every Olympic Games, whether over the last few or years back, has always had issues,” he said, adding that NBC will have a one-hour preview show on Aug. 4, the night before the Opening Ceremony, that will address all of them.

“And then we’re going to focus on the athletes and the sport and the celebration of the youth of the world coming together and uniting around this commonality of competition. When we do that, hopefully these other issues will not rear their head. If they do, we will be there to cover them.’’

Said Bob Costas, who will host the prime-time shows: “We will frame all those issues that precede the Rio Games. We are not unaware of them. We’ll set it up beforehand.

“We’ll have our fingers crossed that none of them will intrude on the real reason we’re there, and the real reason people tune in, which is to see the Simone Bileses of the world. To see a veteran like Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps try to add to their Mount Rushmore status, to have the kind of moments that stay with you.”

Lazarus said fewer than 10 NBC employees out of 2,500 asked not to travel to Rio because of the Zika virus. But some of the world’s top golfers have, putting a dent in the first Olympic golf tournament since 1904. On Monday, Jordan Spieth joined Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy on that list.

“It’s surprising and disappointing that so many male golfers have decided not to participate,” said Lazarus, who added, “I think that these gentlemen will look back on this and say they wish they had participated.”

NBC golf reporter/analyst David Feherty said, “I think 50 or 75 or 100 years from now, people won’t remember who didn’t play in the 2016 Olympics in terms of golf. They’ll just remember someone was the gold medalist.

“These guys get to play in four majors a year. They get to play in one Olympics now every four years. I think major championships make your career. Maybe an Olympic medal makes you immortal.”

Jim Bell, executive producer of the Olympics, said Rio is a “home run” in terms of what TV viewers will experience, given its telegenic nature.

He said NBC is “cautiously optimistic” most or all will go well, but one concern he pointed to is the dirty water in the bay where the sailing is to be held.

“We don’t expect it to be an issue,” he said, “but it was a promise made that it would be clean and it was a promise that has not been kept.”

Lazarus said every athletic event will be streamed live. The Opening Ceremony will be on a one-hour delay both online and on television.


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