What NBC’S Olympic Coverage Teaches About Content Marketing


By Stanford Smith, {grow} Contributing Columnist

Addiction to the Olympics is a family tradition. The television in my bedroom is tuned to NBC 24-hours a day. Changing the channel for the next few weeks is punished with immediate “pooper-scooper” duty.

We revere the U.S. Olympic team, and my wife and I never miss an opportunity to use an athlete’s story to teach our kids a lesson about courage and excellence. But, last night, I privately added another set of heroes to my pantheon of Olympic greats –

The Sports Commentators.

I haven’t lost it. Stick with me.

The Sports Commentators are often forgotten because their voices are ubiquitous. We take their services for granted because we are stuck with them. But when it comes to the Olympics, NBC’s work is invaluable for viewers and instructive to people who use content marketing to attract and retain customers.

Look and listen closely and you can distill four criteria for creating compelling content. Here’s what I discovered:

Technical Expertise is a Must
The U.S. Women Gymnastics team had trouble with their floor routines on Sunday night. At least two gymnasts stepped out of bounds after a tumbling pass. During their routines, the commentators showed us what went wrong. They told the viewers about over-rotation, extra springy floors, and one-tenth scoring deductions for every step taken out of bounds. In minutes, millions of viewers became armchair coaches and used their new knowledge to inspect and encourage our athletes.

As a content creator you need a similar grasp of your subject’s technical details. Mastery of the technical details allows you to educate and persuade with credibility. Reinforcing your content with concise details also empowers your reader to share your insights and advocate on your behalf – the key benefit of social media.

Goal-Sharing Storytelling
Olympians have one goal, winning a gold medal. The commentators make sure we are focused on that goal too. They tell us why winning a gold medal is important for Ryan Lochte. They explain how the medal will change Ryan’s life by finally moving out of Michael Phelps’s long shadow. They also share the impact another gold will have on the United States’ medal count – connecting the viewers with the athlete’s drive for the ultimate prize.

The best social content shows how the writer’s goals are aligned with the reader’s objectives. The content quickly establishes that the business or organization is on the reader’s team and will do all it can to help them achieve their objectives. This is the essence of building rapport and laying the foundation for a relationship with the reader.

Authentic Drama
I often forget the incredible sacrifices families make to send their children to the Olympics. Last night, I fought down the lump in my throat as I learned how Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas’s mother struggled to finance her daughter’s Olympic dreams. My wife and I immediately took stock of the price we would pay to send our three boys to the Olympics. In that moment, we went from spectator to fan. Thank you NBC.

Your readers want to know what skin you have in the game. They want to know the challenges you overcame to deliver a stellar product. I often tell my blog review clients that “The more you share, the more they care”, having the courage to be transparent about what is personally at stake demonstrates authenticity. This is how you turn readers into advocates and evangelists.

The Villain
The shouting from my bedroom almost prompted my 10-year old to rehearse his 911 calling skills. On the TV, my wife and I were shouting our fool-heads off encouraging the U.S. Men’s Swim team to “DIG DEEP” and beat the French Swim team. This would have been just another race if NBC hadn’t raised the ante by painting an intimidating picture of the villain – the dominant French team. The commentators reminded us that we narrowly beat the French in the 2008 Beijing Games during the same event. The French wanted payback and were determined to snatch the gold from our cold, dejected, fingers.

By now, you know we lost that race. But I was reminded of why having a villain is so important. Business content marketers must convince their readers to buy from them and ignore the competition. The villain helps the business clearly articulate why their service is better, faster, or cheaper. I’m not telling you to obsessively focus on your competition rather understand that your reader has to make a choice, help them by explaining how your product excels.

The Olympics are on tonight. Can’t wait to hear about the lessons you’ve learned. Make sure you tell us about them below.

Contributing Columnist Stanford Smith obsesses about how to get passionate people’s blogs noticed and promoted at Pushing Social, except when he’s chasing large mouth bass!

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  • Great piece, Stan. You know, ironically, I’ve got this SAME topic queued up on my blog (hopefully for tomorrow). You’re right – the Olympics makes for incredible storytelling. The intensity, drama, all of it. What NBC does so masterfully is they get us to care about athletes and sports we’d never heard of before. That’s the mark of great storytelling! The same lessons can definitely be applied in business and content marketing. Well done!

  • Stanford, you always make a good showing here. Good job.

  • Thanks Adam.

  • I totally would be lost without the coverage. With that being said, it looks like a bunch of folks are pi**ed-off by the coverage. I wonder what would be different if Brava covered the Olympics?

  • guyb99

    I would argue that the Villain are NBC for their own lacklustre coverage, lack of live coverage and poor streaming and Twitter as co-villains for the @guyadams debacle.

  • guyb99

    I’m watching on BBC feeds and its everything NBC isn’t – knowledgable commentators who know when to shut up, LIVE coverage of every event and big enough to take the odd hit on Twitter without running crying to teacher.

  • Fair point. Regardless of NBC’s missteps, they’ve done a great job of introducing us to a new generation of heroes.

  • Admittedly, the time delay and spoilage debacles (saying Melissa Franklin won gold minutes before the aired it) have made the coverage a bit rough. After I found out the gymnasts won gold, it took away some of the drama of watching it and I ended up taping it to catch later. That said, their pieces about the athletes are usually good.

  • Good announcers add value to the program by providing the details and information that most viewers aren’t familiar with or don’t have access to.

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  • Actually, I have enjoyed the NBC LiveExtra coverage – I could stream on my computer screen under the guise of “blog topic research” – I watched a lot of tennis and judo that way. I did save the gymnastics and swimming to watch with the family.

    Enjoyed a couple of the stories last night – one was the kid from Granada that won the 400M, and I think the other might have been a hurdler that lost his grandmother during the prior Olympics.

    I love sports, but the Olympics are top-shelf when it comes to coverage that gives you glimpses into the sacrifices of the athletes to get their shot at gold!

    Great analogy, Stanford – coming from a guy who loves using sports analogies!

  • Matthew Mackenzie

    NBC has been far from perfect even though they have been doing a very good job this year. The worst slip-up was when they ran an advertisement for the Today Show saying that Melissa Franklin had won gold before they even showed the time delayed race.

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