The London Paralympics were a smashing success, and the numbers prove it. These Games were the first sell-out — 2.5 million tickets sold. A record number of athletes competed — 4,200 representing 165 countries. Coverage of the events was groundbreaking, with Britain’s Channel 4 showing over 150 hours of competition, quadrupling their previous coverage. This success is unprecedented, but why were the Paralympics mostly invisible on American televisions?
Linda Mastandrea, attorney, wheelchair user and former Paralympian, says television coverage was also nearly nonexistent when she competed in the 1990s, but global coverage has progressed by light years since then. Mastandrea is puzzled as to why NBC has continued to ignore coverage in the face of marketing campaigns by Citi, BP, Visa and Coca-Cola. “Obviously these sponsors saw some value in the Paralympic property, but the [American] broadcasters still didn’t get it,” Mastandrea says.
Mastandrea attributes the lack of coverage partially to a lack of understanding that the Paralympics is something Americans want to watch. It’s her hope that double amputee Oscar Pistorius’ prominence in primetime during the Olympics will help. Mastandrea says his appearance certainly raises the level of awareness and may give Americans a new level of exposure.
The excitement over Pistorius’ participation will stay in viewer’s minds for a while, but will this momentum last? NBC’s ratings benefited from the buzz surrounding Pistorius, but was it enough create a demand for the Paralympics in the minds of NBC bigwigs? It may take more high-profile athletes like Pistorius on sport’s largest stage to keep interest moving ahead.
Mastandrea would like to see a minimum of two hours of daily coverage to expose viewers to over 20 sports. “There’s a lot of activity going on every day, and even two hours wouldn’t fully do justice,” she said.
The Paralympics are an indicator of growing participation in sports around the world. Mastandrea encourages people with disabilities to engage their friends and family in an effort to urge NBC and other TV networks to recognize this progress. Hopefully one day soon, the Paralympics will truly be part of American sports culture.