In the early days of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Minnesota residents already are in contention for gold in one chest-beating category: biggest fans.
For the first time in recent history, the Twin Cities are leading the nation in viewership with more than 41 percent of all sets in use being tuned in for Saturday night’s coverage. The national average? Twenty-five percent.
“I’ve become somewhat addicted,” said St. Paul novelist Nicole Kelby, who despite describing herself as a non-sports fan, has been glued to the set every night. “My husband has always watched at this level, but I never have in my entire life. I mean, I don’t even like ice-skate dancing, and I’ve been mesmerized.”
Friday’s opening ceremonies drew a 26 rating here, which translates to about 468,000 households. Our closest competitor? Salt Lake City’s 24.4 rating. No one else was even close and metro-area viewers continued their hard-watching ways through Sunday’s prime-time events, which drew 25 million viewers across the country.
What’s the secret? Some say our recent spate of frigid weather has encouraged TV watching; others point to the long roster of local athletes at this year’s games in Sochi, Russia.
Tom Glynn, KSTP’s research director, believes freezing temperatures are partly responsible for an uptick in viewership during the daytime, but overall viewing numbers don’t suggest more Twin Cities residents are spending their evenings in front of the tube. In fact, KSTP’s prime-time numbers were actually down in January among 25-54 viewers.
“The weather hasn’t really impacted my viewing,” said Matthew Bick, who works in marketing and advertising in Golden Valley. “I would be watching even if it were 75 degrees and sunny with no humidity.”
Bick, like so many Minnesotans, is particularly looking forward to rooting for the 27 athletes who hail, one way or another, from Minnesota, six more representatives than four years ago. Only California can boast more participants.
“Growing up in the Twin Cities made me a hockey fan almost by birthright,” Bick said. “I’m very excited to see so many players on both the men’s and women’s hockey teams.”
There were actually 28 Minnesota athletes on the original docket, but St. Paul-born skier Lindsey Vonn had to bow out due to injuries.
KARE news director Jane Helmke admitted she worried that the loss of one of the state’s most famous sports figures might dampen enthusiasm in the area. But Helmke said she’s been reminded that people like to use the Olympics to discover new talent.
“The greatest names are the ones you don’t know yet,” she said. “People are looking for the next refreshing thing.”
In addition to the personalities, Minnesotans are naturally drawn to the Winter Games’ other stars: snow and ice.
“As much as we like to complain, we love winter,” she said. “No one celebrates the season more than the Olympics.”
Neal Justin • 612-673-7431