A day after Simone Biles crashed out of the gymnastics team finals at the Tokyo Olympics, the American superstar announced that she is withdrawing from Thursday’s all-around competition to focus on her mental health.
You hear that loud blubbering is coming from the folks at NBC, the network that paid billions for the Special Olympics broadcast rights and trumpeted Biles as this summer’s marquee attraction.
To fully understand what a major setback this is for the network, think of the Olympics as one big, ratings-dependent TV show (which it essentially is). Now imagine the show without its biggest star – “I Love Lucy” without Lucy… “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” without Mary…
OK, this is overshadowing things dramatically. The Olympics is clearly an ensemble piece, with interesting “cast members” and a wealth of interesting stories — many of them moving away from the main TV spotlight.
But coming to the Games was Biles NS focal point. Gymnastics Goat. Ace in the hole. The 24-year-old has been named the face of the Games by NBC and several of its sponsors. (One could argue that that thunderous publicity may have contributed to his mental stress).
Now she won’t be in action around Thursday and may just be done for good. (Biles has not said whether she will compete in the individual equipment finals starting next Monday).
And so the question becomes: do you still care about these troubled, tumultuous Olympics? Will you even watch on Thursday as Team USA, now led by Suni Lee and Jade Carey, goes on without their anchors?
NBC has already experienced significant ratings declines ahead of the 2016 Rio Games and it will be interesting to see how Thursday’s airing goes without Biles. Olympic TV viewers are fickle and this can be a nightmare for the network.
Ironically, before the game began, Sam Fales, was a writer. Deadspin.com, insisted in a short post that Biles’ health would be critical to NBC’s Olympic ratings success.
“In the context of wrestling, Biles means money,” he wrote. “She’s an NBC executive trembling about. She’s the one who can’t compete so she’ll send everything to the toilet.”
We will find out soon whether this assessment turns out to be correct. Will spectators for the most part be interested in the Tokyo Games? Or are they ready to give them all away?