One of my favorite parts of the Olympic viewing experience is finding a niche sport that is fun to watch and explodes in popularity.  Sure, it’s one thing to watch megastars like Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Roger Federer or the USA basketball team.  It’s another thing to watch NBC’s carefully manufactured primetime coverage around the same few sports every quadrennium.  I’d rather watch handball, fencing, volleyball, shooting, soccer, and all those other sports that truly make the Olympics what it is.

In the Winter Olympics, the breakout cult sport over the last decade has been curling.  Why?  Because curling is awesome.  And, as curling’s popularity reached a certain level of sustainability, NBC got behind the phenomenon with extended coverage of the sport on CNBC.  In fact, curling is so popular during the Winter Games, it’s surprising we don’t see more of it on American television during non-Olympic years.  (Hint: let’s see some more curling, powers that be!)  But the Summer Olympics hasn’t had one particular sport that has broken out of the niche sport pack… until London 2012.

The breakout sport of this year’s Olymipcs has been archery. No wonder athletes all over the world ensured that they have the latest equipment such as a bow case. Perhaps helped by the success of the Hunger Games, archery has seen a huge boost in viewership in this year’s Olympics.

In fact, according to NBC’s research, archery has been the most popular sport on cable thus far in the games, averaging 1.5 million viewers for the competition.  In fact, NBC’s Alan Wurtzel said point blank “archery is the new curling.”  1.5 million viewers is incredibly impressive, especially considering there isn’t a set archery schedule and it can be difficult to find which sport is televised when.

There are a few reasons why archery has translated well this year in London.  In addition to the Hunger Games phenomenon, the sport itself is actually very easy to watch, understand, and follow.  After all, it’s just men and women shooting a bow and arrow at a stationary target.  There’s no new rules to learn for casual viewers flipping around the Olympic networks.  Whoever gets the most points wins.  Moreover, the venue at Lord’s Cricket Ground is spectacular on television.  But most of all, top level archery is actually fun to watch and the matches (games? duels?) are often close and come down to the final arrows.

Now if we can only use the success of archery to make darts an Olympic sport, then I’d really be happy.

(H/T New York Times)

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