Don’t Care About The Olympics? Neither Does Anyone Else, Apparently

If you don’t care one whit about the Olympics, join the club: apparently no one else does, either (well, that’s hyperbole, but not by much). As half-empty stadiums dot the Rio de Janeiro Olympics landscape, American TV viewers are treating the whole affair with a collective “Meh.”

On the TV ratings side of things, viewership for Friday night’s opening ceremonies was off 28 percent compared to London’s opening ceremonies four years ago, according to The Hollywood Reporter (THR). 28 percent may not sound like a major drop, but consider this: if ratings for a popular TV show like Modern Family dropped by 28 percent, you can bet that ABC would be moving the show to a new night, adding new characters, and introducing a controversial new plot line like Mitch and Cam getting divorced or Haley getting pregnant. It’s that big of a deal.

don't care about the olympics
Don’t worry, Mitch and Cam are fine. Or are they? [Photo by Ari Perilstein/Getty Images for TWC]
In fact, depending on which set of statistics you choose to believe, Rio’s opening ceremonies were the lowest-rated Olympics opening ceremonies since either Barcelona in 1992, according to TV by the Numbers, or Atlanta in 1996, according to THR.

Still, comparing Rio’s opening ceremonies to London’s four years earlier may be a bit unfair to Rio. London is, after all, a cosmopolitan city in a first-world nation with a strong economy, stable government, good infrastructure, low crime rate, and money to burn on a spectacular opening ceremony. Rio is none of those things.

Brazil’s government has been dogged by scandal, its economy is in the tank, and legitimate concerns have been raised about whether or not Rio is equipped for the Olympics. And as a practical matter, Rio de Janeiro is so plagued by poverty and violence that it makes the slums of Detroit look like Park Avenue.

Already, Olympic athletes have been robbed, according to Cosmopolitan. And if they’re not being hassled by brigands, they’re being forced to compete in waterways so polluted by sewage that they’ve been told not to put their heads under the water, or staying in accommodations so sub-par the that the U.S. Olympic Basketball team has chosen to stay in a cruise ship docked nearby, according to People.

Those problems plaguing the Rio Olympics appear as if they’re going to have a marked effect on attendance, too. As The Guardian reports, only a few hundred people showed up to a 60,000-seat stadium to watch a soccer match. Soccer is not only the most popular sport in the world, it’s the king of all sports in Brazil. So if soccer brings an almost-empty stadium, imagine what the attendance is going to be like for even more obscure sports, like dressage or trampolining.

So dismal are ticket sales in Rio that the city’s Olympics organizing committee has given away nearly a quarter of a million tickets to boost attendance, according to RT.

Despite lackluster Opening Ceremony viewership and well-documented problems on the ground, don’t count the Rio Olympics out just yet. Falling viewership aside, the Olympics remain a money-maker; at least, for TV networks and corporate sponsors, according to THR.

“The Summer Olympics are ratings pay dirt. The 2012 Summer Games in London were the most-watched event in U.S. TV history, pulling in 219 million American viewers over the two-plus weeks of coverage… NBC, which has the Olympics on lock through at least 2032, did not have a difficult time wooing advertisers. The Rio Olympics are pulling in an estimated $1.2 billion to the Comcast-owned network.”

Are you one of the millions of Americans who aren’t too proud to say ‘I don’t care about the Olympics’?

[Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images]