Skip to content

What Happened with the Minneapolis World Cup Broadcast Coverage?

Photographer Steve Fuller posted an image from Outside Watch’s livestream during Saturday’s World Cup races.

Popcorn in hand, many of us sat down last Saturday to watch the Stifel Loppet Cup (a.k.a. the Minneapolis World Cup) on Outside Watch—the livestream service offered a free broadcast of the first domestic World Cup in 23 years. Within minutes, the questions were flying (and perhaps the popcorn).

“Is skiing always on Outside now? I can’t get it to work,” texted one friend.

Then came an email from a disappointed fan who tracked me down via my website: “Too bad many of us can’t watch the XC races this weekend,” he wrote. “Outside Watch app is an utter failure.”

Posts and comments started to appear on social media, too. “Reason #756473 why @fiscrosscountry should own its media rights,” posted Nordic photographer Steve Fuller, along with a screenshot of the error message that greeted viewers when they logged into Outside Watch. “It was easier to watch the WJC/U23 in Planica than the @usskiteam’s first World Cup in 23 years,” Fuller added.

Frustrated viewers also spared no punches on Outside Watch’s Instagram account. “I have run my website covering American Nordic skiing for two seasons now,” commented Nordic Insights’ founder Gavin Kentch. “I have never seen American ski fans more united than they are today in their belief that your coverage sucked.” (His comment was liked by several people, including men’s 10km winner Gus Schumacher.)

“Imagine if half the country couldn’t watch the Super Bowl!” Kentch wrote to me in a follow-up email. “Last weekend was the Super Bowl for multiple generations’ worth of American ski fans, and to have it be unviewable by so many is clearly inexcusable.”

When Outside did manage to get its livestream working, the broadcast had race titles like “Men’s 10K sprint” and “Women’s 10K sprint ” (huh?) And, inexplicably, the coverage cut away to ads for other programming during the first of the women’s sprint semifinals. 

So, what happened? 

“This Is Unexpected …”

I reached out to Outside, Inc., which oversees Outside Watch, and Jon Dorn, the company’s chief entertainment officer, immediately called me back (kudos for the quick response). He apologized repeatedly to Nordic fans who were stymied by the “utter failure” on Saturday.

“Obviously, we were looking forward to the event and know that this audience was too,” says Dorn. “It’s been a long time coming, and we always want to try to do everything possible to put great content on the airways.”

The reason for the failure is actually good news for Nordic skiing’s popularity: too many people were trying to log in at the same time. The high demand overloaded the system, crashing the site, Dorn explains.

Outside Watch’s engineering team was on call and had the problem fixed in about 40 minutes, says Dorn. But by that time, he acknowledges, a lot of people were already frustrated and had “probably gone away.” (Yep, I did for one, but with an unexpected hour of free time, I finally got my closet cleaned out.)

One frustrated viewer created his own graphic with race names corrected.

Had Outside not expected such high demand for a domestic cross country race livestreamed in the U.S.?

“We knew there was a lot of enthusiasm for this [event], and we were prepared for that,” says Dorn. Not wanting to get too technical, he describes the breakdown as an “anomalous, unprecedented code issue.” 

“We learned a lesson from it in terms of what could go wrong and have fixed that problem and also put at least two different fail-safes in place,” he assured me.

To make amends, Outside Watch is offering the Stifel Loppet Cup skate sprint coverage free for the rest of this week. “But I know that doesn’t necessarily solve the disappointment that folks had on Saturday,” says Dorn.

As for the mislabeled “10K sprint” videos, the Outside team merely printed the information given. They fixed it by midweek.

NBC’s Missing Coverage

With Kikkan Randall and Chad Salmela as the commentators for NBC’s coverage of the Minneapolis World Cup on Sunday, they—as usual—entertained and informed us with their lively banter. And it was great to see the races on schedule as promised. The only downside? Limited coverage. 

In the sprint broadcast, the one-hour time slot (actually 44 minutes when not counting the ads) limited the number of sprint heats that could be shown. We saw Jonna Sundling’s and Jessie Diggins’s quarterfinal heats, then the semis and final, but no Sammy Smith, Julia Kern or Rosie Brennan. Understandable given the time constraints and the desire to show both the men’s and women’s sprints, but still disappointing not to see every American who had made the sprint heats get their three minutes of fame.

The tens of thousands of fans at the Stifel Loppet Cup enjoyed better viewing than the fans at home. [Photo] Hansi Johnson

Then for the 4 p.m. broadcast, the guide promised the “Men’s 10km.” Hooray! We would get to witness Gus Schumacher win his first World Cup in front of a home crowd; the news was all over social media by that point. But when we tuned in, we saw only a quick post-race interview with Schumacher, then it was on to the women.

I was unable to get a comment from NBC. But in the network’s defense, who knew Schumacher would win? All bets were on Diggins. When Schumacher won, there was, I’m guessing, not enough time to shift gears.

Moving Forward: Some Suggestions

Many Nordic fans have advocated for FIS to follow the International Biathlon Union’s model: namely, control the broadcast rights, have the same crew cover each race and livestream the coverage for free on the federation’s website—no workarounds or subscriptions required.

“The result is a consistent, professional product, which does not vary from venue to venue depending on the whims and competence of a local broadcast team,” says Kentch.

But cross country skiing—and the World Cup skiers—benefit from broadcasts on traditional networks, too. It brings the sport to a general audience and highlights both the stars and breakthrough performers.

It’s a tricky balance. As Kentch says, “You have to make the massive Nordorks like me happy, while also not completely turning off the casual viewer. I mean, I’d be happy with just the raw feed, no commentary, but, clearly, I am not normal.”

More information during races, particularly interval start races, would also help. Kentch suggests using better graphics to tell the story of who’s in the lead and how the top stars are doing as well as data on who skied key segments of each course the fastest.  “Saying, ‘Jessie always skis the downhills well’ is a good start,” says Kentch, “but can we get some data on how she fared versus [Frida] Karlsson there on the first lap?”

Another idea: pair an athlete’s sports watch with a transmitter that shows their physiological metrics in the live coverage.

“Imagine seeing what Gus’s heart rate was doing on Sunday while you watched him go up the final hill for the last time, a kilometer away from finishing off the race of his life,” says Kentch. “That sounds compelling to me.”