Olympic Broadcasting Talk at University of Memphis

After talking to students and the general audience at Lewis-Clark State College (LCSC) in Lewiston, Id., a second opportunity to discuss Olympic media emerged in early November. This time, students at the University of Memphis were the audience for a guest lecture on Olympic broadcasting.

The lecture focused on how video images from the Olympic Games are produced and how international broadcasters—or RHB, short for Rights Holders Broadcasters—use them.

The lecture was part of an Honors course discussing specifically the Rio Olympic Games and mass media. The meeting took place via videoconference.

The instructor teaching the course, Dr. Roxane Coche, was satisfied with the outcome. Indeed, despite the indirect nature of the meeting, we were able to establish surprisingly good interaction and discussion.

Dr. Coche is herself a former journalist. This summer, she led a group of students from universities in Memphis and North Carolina (Chapel Hill) to volunteer as sports writers and reporters at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The Olympic Games are shown in over 200 countries and territories world-wide, making them the biggest TV show on Earth.  The video signal is produced by Olympic Broadcasting Services, the broadcasting branch of the International Olympic Committee.

In Rio, over one thousand cameras captured 3,120 hours of live sport competitions.

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Olympic Lecture at Lewis-Clark State College

Following this summer’s trip to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, I was offered the opportunity to discuss my observations at the Dr. Bob Frederick Sport Leadership Lecture Series organized by Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho.

The talk entitled Lessons from the Rio 2016 Olympics touched on the issues of spectator attendance at the Rio Olympics, facilities used, execution of the games, and the people involved.

The talk was part of a lecture series honoring Dr. Bob Frederick, a long-time sport leadership professional best known for his work at the University of Kansas. There, he competed as a student-athlete and later coached, served as an athletic director, and taught classes in sport management.

This year’s series included over two dozen talks from sport professionals including Swen Nater, a two-time UCLA basketball champion under the guidance of John Wooden and twelve-year NBA/ABA and All-Star player.

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Olympic Media Appearances

Before and during my recent visit to Rio de Janeiro to observe the Olympic Games, I talked to a number of media outlets about the event, how it’s packaged for the media, and what to expect from it.

First, an international study I am conducting with colleagues in Australia, Brazil, and the United States was presented by MMC RTV Slovenija, the website of the public service broadcaster. Thanks to Slavko Jerič for being dedicated to providing a broad coverage of sport!

Then, I spoke to Radio Capodistria about the social, political, and economic implications of the Olympic Games. In that talk, I even correctly “predicted” medal performances from Kosovo (in judo) and Fiji (rugby). Andrea Saccone is also introducing alternative perspectives to Radio Capodistria’s sports programming.

Finally, I spoke to Val 202’s (Radio Slovenija) Anja Hlača-Ferjančič about my observations in Rio and, more generally, media coverage of sport. I look forward to sharing more insightful observations on the topic in future interviews!

Hopefully, readers and viewers enjoy the news items and stories listed above.

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Host Cities Are Overwhelmed. Give Them Less Time.

The text below was first published as an op-ed on Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/simon-liaeen/post_12906_b_11615508.html?1471882399.

I left Rio de Janeiro five days before the end of the Olympics; this 16-day event, which has been dubbed the “greatest show on earth,” the “biggest show on television,” or simply the biggest circus, closes on August 21.

Two days into the games, I was asked on August 7 what it would take to consider them a success. At the time, I argued that it will be a success if the games conclude as scheduled. I stand by my assessment; by Day Five, I started being able to pass some (admittedly very few and not crucial) “checkpoints” without having my media accreditation examined. As the number of volunteers, both domestic (some of whom go AWOL) and international (some of whom go back to their normal lives in other countries and continents), and staff (the organizers explained in a meeting that some chambermaids stopped showing up for work due to dissatisfaction with their salary) further decreases in the final days of the Olympics, the number of issues and setbacks is bound to increase further. The Paralympics, currently scheduled for September 7-18, will be significantly downsized and were on the brink of being cancelled altogether due to cash shortage.

In my estimate, the organizers of the 2016 Olympics would need approximately one more year of hard work to prepare Rio and all necessary facilities for the event. Permanent venues in the Olympic Park lack finishing touches, but the big issues are athlete and media accommodations, many of which featured exposed wiring, faulty plumbing, missing appliances and even outside walls. The two media villages in the Barra cluster are surrounded by construction sites—many buildings within the village are not yet completed or inhabited, either. The traffic is chaotic despite the many detours, traffic marshals, and dedicated Olympic lanes. If London staged a Cultural Olympiad in 2012, the home of the Carnival and bossa nova can barely claim to be hosting an athletic one.

The poor condition of the facilities is not so much a matter of comfort — many campgrounds are in worse conditions, though admittedly it is odd to compare a flat in the Olympic village to a campsite — but rather a financial one. Apartments completed in a hurry (broadcasters had to indicate accommodation needs as early as 2013 and had to confirm their bookings by April 2015, probably so organizers would know how many units need to be completed) will need to be remodeled before they can be sold as housing. Re-piping, retiling, and repainting literally thousands of units will further increase the already very steep figure on the bottom of the Olympic bill; a bill which, as usual with such mega-events, will be footed in great part by the citizens of Brazil.

Olympic rings falling apart

Has the Olympic Movement started falling to pieces in Rio? Photo credit: Simon Ličen

Adding to that figure will also be the temporary competition venues built only for the event, including large ones hosting beach volleyball, rugby, team handball, modern pentathlon, and part of the tennis center. While temporary buildings will eventually be dismantled, thus saving the sizable long-term operating and maintenance costs typical of “white elephants“, this also means their “construction” cost needs to be covered by box office revenues. This looks unlikely given the very modest attendance: Hundreds or even thousands of seats sit empty in all events except for home team performances in team sports.

Empty seats at the rugby medal ceremony

The empty orange and yellow seats at the Rio 2016 women’s rugby medal ceremony. Photo: Simon Ličen

The piling costs and other woes of the 2016 Olympics have received some media coverage; they would deserve more. A visit in streets and neighborhoods away from Olympic venues confirms that most cariocas are not directly affected by the ill-planned extravaganza even though they will cover part of the expensive bill. Others paid an even steeper price. Still, too few reporters went up to the edge. Criticism of the chauvinist rhetoric of some American Olympic broadcasters is in order, but seems somewhat self-centered. North American mass media should do a better job of informing and educating the public about the deeper social issues that accompany such mega-events. Cycling became considerably cleaner (though it still has far to go before it can be considered a truly clean sport) after German broadcasters ended their television contract with the Tour de France and later exposed the international cycling federation’s plot to cover up Alberto Contador’s use of performance-enhancing drugs. International sport is sensitive to media campaigns as it depends on media coverage for survival.

The International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Agenda 2020 recognizes that reform is necessary: The Olympic Games have become unmanageable mammoth enterprises. Let me throw in a suggestion that would fit well with the forty reforms recently launched by President Thomas Bach.

Host cities are currently chosen seven years in advance; hence, we learned in 2015 that Beijing will stage the 2022 Winter Olympics and next year we will find out the host of the 2024 summer ones. This is turning out to be too short a time frame to prepare a realistic urbanistic plan, build new accommodations and stadia, plan the logistics, and develop a meaningful and comprehensive post-Olympic sustainability plan. On the other hand, seven years are an eternity in today’s era of instant gratification and frenetic pace: When Rio de Janeiro was selected in 2009, Brazil’s economic outlook was significantly different than today’s, the worst recession since World War II was ending, crude oil was twice as expensive as it is now, the Arab Spring had yet to commence, and Instagram had not been invented yet.

A solution to this ill-conceived system could be to select the organizer on a shorter notice—say, four, rather than seven years in advance. This would encourage bids from cities or consortiums (according to the first proposed reform of Agenda 2020) which either have (most of) the necessary infrastructure already in place or are in the process of developing it and will build apartment complexes and/or stadia regardless of whether they will actually be selected as hosts. Such approach should deter candidate cities applying only with blueprints for what might as well be castles in the sky. Rather, it would encourage bids similar to those of Los Angeles in 1984 (which used existing sports infrastructure) and Barcelona in 1992 (whose renovation plans predated the bid). The four years between selection and execution should suffice to adapt facilities, build very few temporary ones, and develop a comprehensive logistical plan. Finally, the next host city or cities could be announced at the closing ceremony of the preceding edition, thus revitalizing a ceremony that seems to have lost most of its appeal and viewers. This would make great copy, which is something both professional sports and media organizations are sensitive to.

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Interview for Radio Slovenija

Days before traveling to the Rio Olympics, I discussed sport, media, money, and politics for Radio Slovenija. Thanks to Tatjana Pirc for the very interesting talk; fans of the topic can listen to the interview (in the Slovenian language) following this link.

Despite the nice looks, the 2016 Rio Olympics have started falling apart one circle at the time (photo credit: Simon Licen)

Despite the nice looks, the 2016 Rio Olympics have started falling apart one circle at the time (photo credit: Simon Licen)

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Olympic Threats Interview in WalletHub

As the 2016 Summer Olympics get closer, WalletHub, a personal finance website, interviewed me for a story on the threats faced by the looming mega-event.

The story, which can be found here, crunches some numbers related to the event and features interviews with scholars on the risks and threats related to the Olympics.

My interview can be also accessed directly by clicking here.

Enjoy the read, and keep an eye on the Olympic and on independent reports from Rio.

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[SI] Zakaj je bila kandidatura Planice za SP 2021 neuspešna

Pred dnevi je Slovenija – natančneje, Smučarska zveza Slovenije – izgubila priložnost za organizacijo svetovnega prvenstva v nordijskih disciplinah v Planici leta 2021.

Prireditelja so izbirali na kongresu mednarodne smučarske zveze (FIS) v Mehiki. Za organizacijo tekmovanja sta se poleg Planice potegovala Oberstdorf v Nemčiji in Trondheim na Norveškem. Izbrana je bila kandidatura bavarskih prirediteljev.

Nekateri najpomembnejši slovenski množični mediji so predstavitev ocenili pozitivno: Delo jo je označil kot »uspešno« in »prepričljivo«, spletni portal javnega servisa pa kot »izvirno«.

Številni opazovalci v Sloveniji so predstavitev označili občutno bolj skromno; nekateri so jo celo opisali kot »sramotno«.

Ne eni ne drugi pa niso slovenske predstavitve – ali celo razlogov za njen neuspeh – temeljiteje analizirali. Škoda, saj bi množični mediji s tem naredili uslugo tako splošni kot strokovni javnosti države, ki se postopoma odpira organizaciji velikih mednarodnih športnih prireditev. Zato naj to storim sam. Na tej ali tej povezavi je dostopen zajem celotnega zvočnega kanala in pripravljenih video posnetkov.

Kritična izjava člana upravnega odbora Smučarske zveze Slovenije ter podpredsednika mednarodne smučarske zveze Janeza Kocijančiča, da obžaluje, da svetovna zveza nima strategije organizacije svetovnih prvenstev (»I feel sorry that we do not have a long-term strategy about World Championships, where you would accommodate on one side the interest of the experienced organizers and on the other side the idea that you should enlarge the basis and go to the new countries and new places,« na posnetku od 1:55 dalje), in sledeči odziv na izjave drugih o njegovem delu gotovo nista pripomogla k pozitivnemu prvemu vtisu delegatov. Pri seznanjanju z neznanimi ljudmi ali, v tem primeru, situacijami je prvi vtis izredno pomemben ali celo ključen. Tokrat je bil ta prvi vtis negativen oziroma celo prepirljiv.

Zamisel o prikazu predstavitve kot televizijska poročila Ski News (»smučarske novice,« pa tudi aluzija na britanski televizijski program Sky News) je bila zanimiva, sploh ker je predstavitev vodil Igor Bergant, sicer novinar RTV Slovenija. Manj primerna sta bila prikaza, da potekajo v živo tudi javljanja s predsednikom vlade (na posnetku na 4:35) in Petro Majdič (7:01): v Sloveniji sicer neredki t.im. »fejk vklopi,« pri katerih se voditelj v studiu pretvarja, da vnaprej posneto javljanje poteka v živo, v tujini (npr. Italiji in ZDA) pogosto naletijo na kritike in posmeh gledalcev in strokovnjakov.

Povsem neposrečena je bila »vremenska napoved,« ki jo je vodila 21-letna smučarska tekačica Anamarija Lampič (od 3:27 dalje). Izbira športnice (ne pa športnika) je pohvalna, vendar je nujno izbrati takšno, ki dobro govori (tuj) jezik, ali pa vsaj besedilo prirediti njenemu znanju. Poskus potlačenja drugih dveh kandidatur (od 3:55 dalje) je velik faux-pas in spominja na športnike (še pogosteje pa otroke), ki poskusijo tekmeca premagati tako, da ga od zadaj potegnejo za dres v upanju, da bo padel ali pa vsaj počasneje tekel; nikakor torej zgled »fair playa.« Povrhu je sama napoved – »Globally, the weather may go wild a little bit, with prospect of big freeze up Northern Europe and touch of tropic in Southern Germany. But for Planica we see some fantastic prospect, even an upgrade from Planica 2020« – povsem nestvarna, saj je vreme nemogoče napovedati pet let vnaprej. Po izmišljeni napovedi in zaigranih vklopih začne gledalec dvomiti, kateri deli predstavitve sploh so resnični. S tem se krši najpomembnejše pravilo odnosov z javnostmi: Nikoli ne laži (viri ena, dve, tri…).

Izražena podpora predsednika vlade Mira Cerarja (od 4:35) je zelo neprepričljiva: odlikovalo naj bi ga to, da je sin dobitnika olimpijske medalje (5:02), kar je sicer res – vendar se ne spodobi kititi se s tujim perjem. Obenem se predsednico vlade druge države kandidatke omenja kot morda celo najboljšo možno bodočo generalno sekretarko Organizacije združenih narodov, kar sicer ni športna, vendar je gotovo bolj prestižna odlika. Poskus poudarjanja primerjalne prednosti in ugleda se je po neposrečenem »boljšem vremenu« torej spet izjalovil. Ni čudno, da celo zaigrani udeleženci izjave za medije (na 4:59) maloštevilni – dva stola sta prazna – in tako nezainteresirani, da eden od njih med govorom predsednika vlade celo zre v prenosni telefon.

Če sta pomanjkanje skromnosti in pretirana samozavest še nekako razumljivi pri izjavi Petri Majdič (vendar pa se vodstvu kakršne koli svetovne organizacije vendarle ne spodobi govoriti, kaj naj naredijo; 8:18), je voditeljev dovtip o prerekanju s slovenskimi dekleti nepotreben. V zahodnem svetu se nepotrebni namigi na spol že leta opuščajo tako v športu kot na drugih področjih, mednarodni priročniki pa novinarjem že leta zapovedujejo, da se dekleta, starejša od 18 let, označi kot »ženske«. Generalna sekretarka mednarodne smučarske zveze gospa Sarah Lewis se kot udeleženka prireditev in kongresov, ki opozarjajo na vlogo žensk v športu, tega gotovo zaveda.

Predstavitev Planice (od 8:42) je všečna, vendar premalo specifična; županovo izjavo o investiciji stotih milijonov evrov v turistično infrastrukturo v naslednjih desetih letih bi bilo treba dopolniti s pojasnilom, kako se morebitna organizacija prvenstva vklaplja v ta širši načrt (kot sta to storila Los Angeles in predvsem Barcelona pred olimpijskimi igrami v letih 1984 in 1992). Poudarjeni prizori vihrajočih slovenskih zastav v času finala svetovnega pokala v smučarskih skokih marca 2016 (na posnetku na 9:48) so slovenskim gledalcem sicer všečni, hkrati pa nasprotujejo napovedi »vremenske napovedovalke« Anemarije Lampič o »good vibrations provided by tens of thousands of happy people from all over the world« (3:45). Vprašljiva privlačnost velikih športnih prireditev za tuje obiskovalce – teh je včasih celo manj kot v času brez športnega dogodka – je eno najpomembnejših vprašanj na področju športne industrije (športnega menedžmenta, turizma, organizacije dogodkov itd.). V primeru kandidature Planice je bilo to vprašanje zelo slabo obravnavano. Podobno izgubljena je bila priložnost zaokrožiti predstavitev z izjavo, kaj naj bi bil odločilen argument v prid organizacije prvenstva v Planici (od 11:10): »I’m dealing with kids myself,« je dejal nekdanji smučar skakalec Franci Petek. »It’s so important, I really know it first-hand, it’s so important to assure a ski future. And Slovenia can be a role model about this, about all of this. And we want to share with the whole world.« As v rokavu naj bi torej bil kar »vse to;« a kaj je to, to?

Predstavitev je zaokrožila do gostiteljev zelo žaljiv stereotipni prikaz Mehičanov kot muzikantov s sombrerom (od 12:18). Številne ameriške medijske hiše so se zaradi podobnih stereotipnih prikazov (predvsem v času mehiškega praznika Cinco de Mayo) morale že večkrat opravičiti; o tem sta med ostalimi poročala CNN in Huffington Post.

Če je bilo v predstavitvi kandidature Planice vse to narobe – kaj pa bi sploh lahko oziroma morali narediti? Tukaj ali tukaj poglejmo predstavitev Oberstdorfa, ki je organizacijo prireditve tudi dobil.

Ta predstavitev je bila krajša, jedrnata, specifična. Ni se ozirala na tekmece, pač pa se je dotaknila vseh tem, ki v tem času zaposlujejo organizatorje velikih športnih prireditev in novinarje, ki jih spremljajo: uporaba obstoječe infrastrukture in nastanitvenih kapacitet (na posnetku od 5:25), zavedanje vpliva na okolje (5:40, 6:07) in potreb medijskih hiš (5:59).

Z besedo in sliko so se dotaknili potrebam po osebju za takšne prireditve (t.im. »staffing«): »With a pool of around 2000 passionate volunteers…« (6:51).

Najpomembnejše in najpomenljivejše pa je zagotovilo po solidni finančni konstrukciji, saj omenjajo in prikažejo podporo prepoznavnih podjetij, kot so Audi, Adidas, Intersport, Viessman, Würth in približno 35 drugih, ki bodo plačala za organizacijo prvenstva (od 8:15 dalje). Spomnimo, Planica se je na tem področju naslonila na predsednika vlade (torej implicitno na državna finančna sredstva) in župana Kranjske Gore (torej občinska sredstva). Tekmovanje bi torej spet financirali pretežno z javnim denarjem, namesto da bi profesionalni šport podpiralo gospodarstvo (in proračunu vračal, namesto da bi iz njega jemal).

Pred objavo tega prispevka sem se obrnil na Smučarsko zvezo Slovenije z vprašanji, kdo je predstavitev (njen koncept, scenarij, videoposnetke) pripravil in ali je pri tem sodeloval kakšen zunanji izvajalec (podjetje, agencija) oziroma partner. Njen predstavnik za odnose z javnostmi Tomi Trbovc je odgovoril:

»…[k]ar ste videli na youtubu ni bila predstavitev Planice. Tako neprofesionalno je seveda ne bi naredili. Predstavitev je potekala v živo in je bila namenjena 17 članom predsedstva, ki so sedeli v dvorani. Naredili smo vse od igre luči do osebnega kontakta in bili po mnenju drugih najboljši. Seveda pa so si pri nas nekateri te posnetke, ki so bili vrženi skupaj iz konteksta predstavitve razlagali kot predstavitveni video. Samo idejo in izvedbo smo naredili v ožjem krogu ljudi, ki tudi drugače delajo za vsakoletno prireditev v Planici. Stroškov pa praktično ni bilo oz. so bili minimalni.«

Seznam članov organizacijskega odbora zadnje skakalne tekme v Planici je dostopen na http://www.planica.si/Organizator.

Nekateri slovenski komentatorji so po izboru gostitelja prvenstva preko družabnih medijev pisali o spletkah in teorijah zarote, po katerih naj bi bodisi namenoma oškodovali Planico in Slovenijo bodisi koristili Oberstdorfu in Nemčiji. Morda res. V vsakem primeru je bila s strokovnega vidika predstavitev Oberstdorfa zmagovalna, predstavitev Planice pa pač ne.

(Opomba 22. junija ob 13.26: Iz objave sta bila odstranjena nedelujoča videoposnetka s spletne strani YouTube. Za ogled video posnetkov kliknite na povezave med besedilom.)

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Appearance at Maraton Franja Panel Discussion

On Thursday, June 9, I will be speaking in a panel discussion on Values in Sport organized by Maraton Franja, a cycling race.  The round table starts at 8 p.m. in the Crystal Palace (Kristalna palača) BTC City in Ljubljana.

The discussion will revolve around the importance of cultural and sporting values at international sports events. Organizers anticipate “examples of practices from different environment and possible approaches in training children, adolescents and young athletes in the relationship between coaches and supportive environment that works with the athletes.”

The round table is the final event of a week-long workshop entitled, Franja Academy. The initiative, co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union, aims to develop, share and promote good practices in sport.

Speaking in the discussion will be sport professionals from Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland, and Slovenia.

A list of participating speakers, as well as details about the initiative can be found online at http://my.franja.org/ and on Facebook.

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Guest lecture – check

The guest lecture offered to sports journalism students at the University of Ljubljana on May 25 was successful. Students were interested and attentive, prompting me to run out of time to discuss almost half of the material I had prepared: Their questions and scenarios were more engaging. Admittedly though, I do have a tendency to over-prepare (and I did incorporate a fun activity to generate practical student involvement). Apologies to Jim Crawford for not showing his Shooting for Seven feature; in turn, I did recommend Play the Game as an invaluable resource to the true journalist about sport.

Faculty attending the lecture seemed very satisfied as well so this meeting will hopefully lead to tighter collaboration in the future; students, academics, and (future) professionals would benefit from it. Stay tuned for announcements on future writing and educational efforts!

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Guest lecture at the University of Ljubljana

Coming up on what used to be the Day of Youth in former Yugoslavia is a guest lecture your correspondent will offer to students enrolled in a course on Specialized (Sports) Journalism at the University of Ljubljana, his alma mater.

The lecture will focus on the role journalism has in sports.  Your correspondent is a proponent of the concept of sports journalism as “journalism about sports,” meaning there is no reason to waive fundamental professional principles when reporting about sports.

The topics covered in the meeting will include several issues of global relevance that will be applied to the Slovenian context.  Among them will be the use of performance-enhancing drugs: Excellent journalistic work will be exemplified with a reference to Hajo Seppelt’s work at ARD/WDR.  Match-fixing will be touched on with references to the work of Declan Hill and a local case study.

After introducing global topics we will switch to local sports and use Jim Crawford’s (www.jimcrawf.com) feature, Shooting for Seven, as an example of a compelling story about youth sport that is sure to attract interest of local audiences.  Proud to have had the opportunity to interact with Jim in an instructor-student capacity!

Finally, we will “localize” the discussion and controversies surrounding mega-events by discussing some findings on popular attitude, willingness to pay, and international media coverage of the European Basketball Championship for men hosted by Slovenia in 2013.  A fun class activity is also planned!

The talkative guest is likely to run out of time before being able to cover all topics.  Nonetheless, he will surely do his best and hope to satisfy student curiosity!

Stay tuned for more activities coming up soon!

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