Wrestling deserves more coverage from TV networks

Centre Daily Times (TNS)

Thousands of people tuned in Feb. 19 to watch the biggest dual meet of the wrestling season — in two undefeated behemoths, Penn State and Oklahoma State.

As people gathered together in sports bars, at friends’ houses and in their own homes to watch the paramount event of the dual season on FloWrestling.com, the website crashed.

Penn State coach Cael Sanderson recently coached his team in the national dual-meet title match. Unfortunately, there was no network TV coverage of the event.

FloWrestling.com, the subscription-based internet streaming service and the lone option for viewing the biggest dual of the season, crashed because of “process failure.” Fans were livid, quickly lambasting Flo on social media, with comments such as, “You shouldn’t have taken on this match if you couldn’t handle it,” and “Stay out of markets that are too big for you.”

So where was NBC? Where was ESPN? Why did wrestling fans have to turn to the internet for the biggest dual of the season? The championships for college football, basketball, and even soccer and volleyball, would never be limited to an internet-only viewing option. But the sport of wrestling continues to get ignored by major television networks, depriving the sport of expanded exposure — and fans of the one-of-a-kind experience and stories that are associated with the sport.

Missed chance: Last month, NBC, home of the Olympics, missed out on the chance to tell the story about how sports can help breach the political divide by covering the Iran-U.S. wrestling controversy. In response to President Donald Trump’s travel restrictions, Iran revoked its invitation to the U.S. men’s freestlyle wrestling team for the World Cup, held in that country. Iran eventually re-extended its invitation, and by all accounts, treated the Americans with the utmost respect.

Had NBC aired the World Cup, fans would have had the chance to watch former Penn State great David Taylor beat three Olympic medalists and pin the reigning gold medalist on his way to the 86 kg world title. Taylor’s effort put the Americans within striking distance of the Iranians. The U.S. fell just short of making the comeback and settled for second, but the effort would have been nice to watch on TV.

FloWrestling kept event off network: There was a glimmer of hope before the Penn State vs. Oklahoma State dual, when NBC Sports Network announced it would air the match. But because FloSports owns the rights to all Oklahoma State home duals, the Austin, Texas-based sports media company obtained a declaratory judgment to remain the sole source for viewing the national duals championship. FloSports CEO Martin Floreani defended the action on an episode of “FloWrestling Radio Live,” arguing that Flo earned the rights to this broadcast because it has invested in and supported the sport of wrestling from the beginning, not just when demand was peaking.

“We earned the right to fail,” Floreani said on FRL. “It’s as if you earned you right to get into the semifinals, but then you get tech’ed in the semifinals. Well, that’s what we did.”

PSU fans lucky: Agree with how Flo handled the situation or not, NBC has already waited too long to get on board with wrestling. Wrestling, at all levels, doesn’t get the type of coverage it deserves.

Penn State fans are lucky enough to have solid coverage of coach Cael Sanderson's standout team via the Big Ten Network, but even that is limited. Competing with men’s and women’s basketball, BTN can only air about two away duals per team each season. Penn State fans also have the added bonus of exemplary play-by-play radio coverage from Jeff Byers. But other schools and other conferences aren’t all as lucky.

During this summer’s Olympics, fans had to turn to NBC’s subsidiaries to watch one of the oldest sports in the Games. When NBC had the chance to air Maryland native Helen Maroulis’ thrilling victory over three-time reigning champ Saori Yoshida, of Japan, to become the first American ever to win gold in women’s wrestling, the company opted to instead to air an interview with swimmer Ryan Lochte, regarding his fabricated robbery story.

Networks continually ignore sport: Again and again, the mainstream networks continue to ignore wrestling. And this, by no means, is a new story. But the issue with the national dual brought it back to the forefront. Markets respond to demand. The overload on Flo’s stream was proof there is demand.

So, how can we get more networks to take notice? We need to keep supporting the sport, along with the networks and streaming sites that support it. When wrestling is on, watch it; no matter what it is — high school, college, Olympics. And when it’s not on, speak up. Write the networks, especially NBC — home of Olympic sports — and let them know that the market is there, and we’re ready to watch more wrestling.