Why Are Some Olympic Sports Less Popular than Others?

This article discusses the relative popularity of different Olympic games. Using table tennis, or ping-pong, as a case study, we examine why some sports don't get as much attention as others, suggesting that TV networks might make the choice as much as or more than we do.
Are Some Sports Better than Others?
The Olympic Games is a truly international phenomenon, and every two years people around the world gather together to watch as the planet's best athletes compete for the glory of their respective nations. It seems, however, that some sports bring nations more glory than others by virtue of their popularity. For example, high profile team sports like basketball, soccer, and ice hockey are eagerly watched by fans everywhere. Other sports, like weightlifting and dressage, don't receive nearly as much attention.
Table Tennis: An Overlooked Event
During the Summer Olympics, table tennis is a great example of sport that does not get its due. Although the game is fairly exciting to watch, networks that broadcast the Games rarely feature table tennis matches, opting instead to show swimming, gymnastics, or other events. As a result, Olympians in table tennis have names that are not as well-known as the names of top athletes in other sports.
Is Table Tennis Really Unpopular?
Why are television networks so reluctant to feature table tennis? Anyone's first guess would be that the sport is just not that popular. People might argue that table tennis players do not make exciting celebrities or that the sport is not very interesting to watch. Upon closer examination, though, these arguments don't make much sense. There is nothing inherently different about gymnasts, for example, that makes them into better celebrities. And table tennis is arguably much more interesting to view than swimming, which is repetitive and involves no interaction between the athletes.
The Conspiracy Against Table Tennis
If table tennis is not unpopular by nature, then there must be another reason that it is given so little airtime during the Olympics. Not only is the sport not broadcast live, it is often cut short or used as filler material in between other sporting events. Although it's easy to assume that this treatment is a result of the sport's unpopularity, the opposite is probably closer to the truth. When networks treat table tennis as a second-rate Olympic event, throwing it in here and there or airing it in the middle of the night, viewers are not given the opportunity to appreciate the sport.
If Table Tennis Were a Featured Event
Imagine what would happen if TV stations insisted that Olympic table tennis was worth viewers' interest. They could air table tennis events during prime time hours, announce the ping-pong schedule in advance, feature interviews with stars of the sport, and so on. In short, they could treat table tennis like they now treat swimming, gymnastics, and soccer. Would the result be that no one would watch TV because they find table tennis too boring? On the contrary, people would get interested in table tennis, they would learn the rules and strategy of the game, and they would be just as excited to follow the sport as they are to follow the current big-ticket events.
Giving Lesser Sports a Chance to Shine
Of course, there simply isn't enough time in the day for ordinary people to be interested in every single event at the Olympics. After all, the Games are the world's premier showcases for almost every sport in existence. At some point, people - both individuals and networks - have to pick and choose. But as the example of table tennis shows, what we pick and choose as individuals has a lot to do with what networks pick and choose for us. Maybe it's time to demand more table tennis, more weightlifting, more badminton, or more shooting, and to give the athletes involved in these sports a chance to bask in the limelight.
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