Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

September 13, 2012

COLUMN: Internet robbed fans of Olympic surprises

Holly Vietzke
Esq.

---- — Note to the electronic media universe: you are the annoying person who attends a movie premiere and then tells everyone what happened in the movie. And your need to broadcast to everyone what you know has marred my Olympic enjoyment.

As an avid sports fan in a city whose professional baseball team currently gives her no reason to watch it, the sole sports highlight of the summer was the Olympics. The dates were circled on my calendar since my NHL hockey team exited the playoffs in the first round. I purposely had no social events planned for 16 days, and I started every conversation with, “Don’t tell me what happened!”

I realize that not everyone shares this passion, but there are enough of us who do that the media could have been a little more considerate.

Obviously, the international venues of each Olympic Games makes it impossible for most events to be shown live at a time when people can view them. And just as understandable is the newsworthiness of the Games and particular athletes and events. I also readily concede that perhaps the majority of sports fans in general do not care if they know the results before the events are aired. But even if we “Olympic-obsessors” are a minority, we are a large minority. Television contracts prove this: if people did not care about watching events after they happen, NBC would not devote nightly primetime coverage to them.

Thirty years ago, if you wanted to see an event on television, you had to first hope it was being aired, and then be watching it at the time it was shown. Now, digital video recorders can capture every minute of television coverage for you to watch at your convenience. Similarly, if you wanted to avoid learning results, you simply had to turn off the news. Even the news outlets of competing stations would announce that they were about to report results, allowing the viewer the chance to change the channel. There was more consideration for fans then. Occasionally, a radio station would violate that code of courtesy, but for the most part, if you actively tried to avoid hearing results, you could.

Not so anymore. With the Internet comes a wave of impulsivity and increased lack of concern for those of us naïve enough to think that we can watch the Games with anticipation and surprise.

Because I work full-time, I recorded the programming and listened to music-only radio stations when I’m in the car. But I could not avoid using my computer at work. I even changed my home pages to non-news-and-sports-related sites, but I was helpless when boston.com inconsiderately sent me a “Breaking News Alert” announcing the latest gold-medal winner in the subject line. It was like stumbling upon your Christmas presents before they were wrapped. (It is also not unlike the feeling I had when my husband, prior to our engagement, left a file titled “ring.jpg” on my laptop, but at least there was no accompanying anger with that spoiler.)

The Internet, ironically like the Olympics, brings the world closer together. Worldwide events can become local matters instantly. The facilitation of using Facebook and Twitter allows for instantaneous communication, invited or not. And to those of you who felt the need to congratulate the medal winners on your Facebook page, I applaud your enthusiasm and interest, but couldn’t you have waited until after the events aired? In an age when one cannot escape the Internet, e-mail and social media, there must be a conscious effort to be courteous. Internet sites could, like the news outlets before them, refrain from splashing results all over the page. A simple link of “Click here for Olympic News” is not too much to ask.

I recognize that it may not be possible to completely avoid learning any results for 16 consecutive days. In fairness, even NBC, with a vested interest in keeping results secret, goofed on the third day of competition when, during a commercial break, it teased an interview appearance with “gold medalist Missy Franklin” minutes before her gold-medal-winning race. But the media can and should do better.

The time difference will always be an issue with the Olympic Games. Although we cannot change that, we can be cognizant of it—and of the fact that some people really do want to be surprised by how the movie ends.

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Holly Vietzke, Esq. is a sports law professor at the Massachusetts School of Law on Federal Street in Andover. Her television documentary “Women’s Softball: The Game, the IOC, and the Future of the Sport” recently won a Clarion Award in the category of television sports programming.