Readers Roundtable: Why Do Women Watch the Olympics?

WTF NBC?This week, in an attempt to justify the time-delayed coverage of the Olympics, NBC explained that they did this, in part, to appeal to the majority of Olympic viewers: women. Apparently, we don’t really care about sports and timely results, we just watch for the human interest stories behind each amazing Olympic feat. As NBC has stated, it’s not about competition for us ladies. No no, far be it from us to care about the sports part of sports, because we just care about Phelp’s new baby (be still my ovaries!). His potential for a record-breaking Olympic medal count? Bor-ing.

Except that is completely untrue, as shown by the interweb’s outrage over NBC’s coverage. Personally, I do care about the results, so much so that I’ve had to temporarily send my emailed news updates to spam so I don’t inadvertently discover winners before primetime coverage starts. Yes, I also care about the stories behind the athletes but that’s not because I’m a woman, it’s because I’m a human. More than anything else, I love the Olympics because of the nail-biting competition between the best athletes in the world.

As an alternative to NBC’s focus-group results, tell us why you watch the Olympics. Is it just for the human-interest stories or the competitive, fast-paced, heart-racing results? Do you only cheer for your country’s athletes or teams, or do you cheer for the individuals with the most compelling stories and hardest journey to the games?  

Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021 to raise money for Girls on the Run. Next challenge: Collegiate Trail Loop FKT. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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23 comments

  1. It wasn’t just women annoyed with that awful justification …

    Personally t love to watch 10 minute segments of 2012 Olympic performances. Oh, no … I really don’t. And definitely love hearing how Michael Phelps is ‘coming up next’ for 2.5 hours before he actually appears … by which time I am the only one of the four of us still watching and my wife has gone to bed! Ugh.

    I agree that there is a balance of sport and human interest to be made, because for the most part we only see these athletes now. Seeing the 7-time, 41-year old gymnast was incredible, the story of Romania and seeing Nadia in the stands (I remember watching the ’76 Olympics!), and all of that. But c’mon, you can do better, NBC!

    But at the same time, the networks respond to ratings and watch people actually watch … and the big pull for the Olympics is non-sports watching people, and apparently demographically those people tilt female. So actual sports fans have to suffer through coverage not intended for us … regardless of gender.

    1. Yes! So many good comments (and reminder that the statement should offend everyone, not just women). I agree that they have to hit the demographic watching, but I wonder who really prefers it this way?

  2. I get so excited in the weeks leading up to the Olympics and then get SO frustrated when I start watching them. Does it make me sound like a horrible person to say I really don’t like the human interest stuff???? I mean I like a little backstory but I want to see the events. (I really do have a heart :-))

  3. Women’s field hockey!!! And of course running. I like to know who the athletes are so I appreciate a little backstory for context, but I’ll pass on the human interest puff pieces. I love the Olympics because it’s nice to see women’s sports featured so prominently on TV.

  4. I watch because I love seeing all these people competing who spend their lives perfecting their chosen sport. And also because it’s fun – I don’t understand a thing about, say, fencing or judo, but it’s still fun to watch! I love watching to see who wins, but also to see people who have worked hard or overcome huge odds compete. German tv has way, way fewer heartwrenching human interest stories and I can’t say I miss them, though I do like learnng about the athletes’ lives and stories.

  5. I watch because I enjoy seeing athletes strive for their best. (Consequently, I don’t always enjoy watching qualifying heats where the goal is mostly to be “just good enough”; that is, unless I just really enjoy the sport or am particularly interested in a specific athlete / team.)
    I tend to favor individual sports over team sports – and it doesn’t much matter which sport.

    I’ve been watching online and have to say I’m really enjoying the ability to skip around between events at will and to come back later and pick up where I left off (like, returning to watch Katie Ledecky’s 400m and the men’s 4×100 this morning). Haven’t seen any broadcast TV; but, might circle back so I CAN see some of the human interest pieces.

  6. I love the diving because it is so outside my sphere of experience, gymnastics (male & female) because they are so damn impressive, swimming, & all the track & field, of course 🙂 I do enjoy hearing the athletes’ backstories, though, because it makes them seem more real or human. Knowing what they sacrifice or what their lives are like outside of the Olympics gives you more insight & usually makes their athletic performances even more inspiring.

    1. Agree on the diving completely – I have flash backs to my one stint trying to learn the complicated dives the teams would do. I never moved beyond the back dive and I remember being sure I’d break my neck.

  7. I’ve been watching most of the coverage this time around whereas in the past I’d typically just stick to Track and maybe some swimming and gymnastics. But it’s been neat to learn about the different sports and even though I’m nowhere near the Olympic level, I think seeing someone work so hard and achieve their goal is something many of us can relate to. I like the human interest stories but some have been stereotypical (the mom/athlete angles) and a bit too long. Nonetheless, I enjoy being able to come home and watch events that only get love every 4 years.

    1. There has definitely been some gender bias in the coverage too – both NBC and other news outlets. Luckily, I think viewers are starting to recognize and call it out even if media outlets aren’t responding (yet)!

  8. Like many have said- I like the human interest stuff, to a point. I like SOME backstory, because it makes it easier to root for them and of course then i get emotional when they either make their goal or don’t. But I do think that there are times they could really pare it down a bit and focus more on the competition. At the end of the day, I watch because it’s exciting seeing competitions of any kind. Seeing people who are the best in the world at what they do- and by god they are amazing to watch and it’s clear they love it. At the same time, I’m a sucker for seeing the family shots too because even at my measily level of athleticism compared to Olympians- I know that it takes a village, and family coaches and friends have a huge impact when working towards and achieving goals.

    1. I completely agree – I think BOTH are so important. I definitely find myself cheering for people and watching sports I wouldn’t normally watch because of the stories.

  9. The media often gets things right, eh? (Note sarcasm). Like many have mentioned, I enjoy the human interest stories to a point, but it is the insane talent and athletic performance that has me turning on the TV and following athletes at the Games.