Questions About Water Polo in Rio 2016

Tuesday afternoon. I’m watching Italy take down Greece in men’s water polo. I’ve been mulling over some questions about water polo in the 2016 Rio Olympics:

1. Why are the Australians so cool? Everything they do is cool. When they swim, they look cooler than everyone else. When they shoot, it’s with a powerful coolness that no one else possesses. When they talk, they sound so cool. When they yell, they sound even cooler.

2. How does Southeast Europe manage to dominate the sport of water polo? Here’s something to consider: The population of Montenegro is 675,000; the population of California is 39 million. Montenegro beat the US 8-5 in Rio. I think it’s great that smaller countries are able not just to stand up to the geographical giants, but to beat them regularly in world water polo competition. Hungary was won nine Olympic gold medals in water polo since 1900. The US has won zero.

3. How did that American play-by-play announcer get his job and why hasn’t NBC fired him? Seriously. He’s terrible. I would rather listen to silence than to be further subjected to his painful efforts at run-on sentences. He lost my support in the first game he announced when he referred to a player’s shot on goal as “delicious.”

4. Why do British announcers sound so fabulous no matter what the sport? The British announcers are top notch, as is the Australian guy. I love their accents. I love their descriptions of the play and the players. The Europeans, I am compelled to admit, have a much more colorful vocabulary when describing sport. My favorite so far: “And the end-of-play hooter has sounded.” So much more interesting than, “And that’s the final horn.”

5. Is there a strategic reason for the beards? Men’s water polo is like a high fashion ad in GQ. Ripped dudes with scraggly beards. They look great. Maybe that’s the only reason. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t allow them to swim faster.

Watching Water Polo on the NBC Sports 2016 Rio Olympics App

It’s Sunday afternoon. I’ve got my iPhone connected to my flat screen television with the NBC Sports app streaming the Spain-Montenegro men’s water polo match. Happily, the pool is a healthy shade of light blue. 

As a water polo fan, I give a huge thumbs up to NBC for their streaming app. I’ve been able to watch several hours of polo on my terms. If the live feed fits my schedule, I watch it; if not, I can go back to that particular game whenever I want.

NBC doesn’t broadcast all the games, but it’s done a good job of the selecting the most interesting match ups as well as all the US games. The US women’s team hasn’t disappointed, going undefeated in the preliminary round and scoring in double figures in each match. The US men’s team sadly didn’t do so well, and won’t make it to the medal rounds in Rio. With all the other games to watch, however, it’s been nice to get to the know the power teams (Hungary, Servia, Croatia) and start rooting for some underdogs–like Japan and France.

In fact, that’s what I like about what NBC has done in Rio in 2016. With streaming, they’ve been able to show us so much more of the Olympics, even when it has little to do with America and its athletes. Network television, provided for free to the masses and funded by the advertisers, has a big disadvantage when it come to Olympic coverage: the advertisers want the biggest audience for their buck. The demands of American advertisers give us an Olympic viewing experience that borders on jingoism. They demand that the network broadcast those events that will draw the largest number of American eyeballs. Water polo is not one of those events. 

Most Americans have no idea what “ball under,” “exclusion” and “hole set” might mean. The fact that the US men’s team is not a powerhouse doesn’t help viewership. There’s no way that water polo would get on network television and certainly not during prime time. 

But with streaming, the problem is eliminated, or at least moderated. The folks at NBC make the “less popular” events available on their smartphone app and then pop some commercials into the stream. They make money from their advertisers and I get to watch the events that interest me. I simply don’t want to watch gymnastics, men’s or women’s. Same goes for track. Bleh. I haven’t watched a single prime time event, and don’t plan, too. Water polo and cycling are my sports of choice and the NBC Sports app lets me get what I want.

I do have one gripe, however, and I know I’m not the only one. Get some more commercials, NBC! When I watch ninety minutes of polo, do I really have to witness darling Simone Biles do laundry fourteen times? It’s been indelibly scorched into my brain that she stands 4’8″. When she sticks a landing during competition, all the judges’ papers go flying. When she shuts her locker, it falls over and knocks down a bunch of other lockers, too, like dominoes. When she slams the door of her front loading washing machine and walks off smiling, laundry baskets fly into the air and pictures fall off the wall. I get it. She’s powerful. Haha. Yes, it was funny the first time. It was not funny the last 72 times I’ve seen that commercial. Maybe NBC could change its pricing or something to get more advertisers into the mix.

By the way, I know that the Biles commercial has something to do with laundry detergent, but I can’t for the life of me remember the brand. I’ve heard that the most annoying situation for an advertiser: creating an ad that’s memorable for the action but forgettable when it comes to the actual product. Whoops.

But other than that minor issue, good job, NBC! Keep up the good work.