Miller: Janesville's Hughes preps for NBC role in Sochi

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Tom Miller
Friday, January 31, 2014

In case you haven’t heard, there is another major athletic event set to begin within a week after the Super Bowl.

The XXII Olympic Winter Games begin a week from today in Sochi in Krasnodar Krai, Russia.

Janesville native Tucker Fredricks will be there as part of the U.S. team, going for a medal in the 500-meter speedskating event Monday, Feb. 10.

Greg Hughes is another Janesville native who will be in Sochi. Hughes will be the lead publicist for NBC, which is televising the Games.

Hughes, who has been with NBC since 2011 as a senior vice president of communications, leaves New York City on Saturday for Sochi. He will spend a little more than three weeks there.

This will be his seventh “full” Olympics, which started when he worked at Turner Sports in 1992. Hughes also helped out for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics but not in a full-time capacity.

He’ll use all that experience as NBC’s lead publicist at Sochi.

There always are potential “fires” that might appear during the two-week-long actual Olympic competition, but Russia’s controversial anti-gay laws, along with the potential of terrorism, could create news stories outside of the actual competition.

NBC has spent years of preparation for these next few weeks.

Hughes’ 22-year-old daughter, Sarah, a senior at the University of Georgia, has been in Sochi for two weeks, serving as an intern “runner” as the network puts its final touches on its communication facilities.

“People have been planning for this for a few years,” Hughes said in a phone interview earlier this week. “We’ve had to ship all kinds of equipment over there.

“It’s not like there’s a Home Depot in Sochi. So you have to ship over all the plywood and other equipment. It’s quite an undertaking.”

The 1982 Janesville Craig High graduate will be part of a small town of network workers in Sochi. Approximately 2,300 NBC employees will be part of the network’s coverage.

NBC will be telecasting 1,539 hours of programming across all its channel and online outlets, according to Sports Illustrated. The online outlets have become a major part of Olympic coverage. “Times have changed,” Hughes said.

The 10-hour time difference between Sochi and the Midwest means no live events will be going on during primetime viewing hours here. The events will occur during our morning hours, so any coverage seen on NBC or NBCSN at night will be taped.

NBC will live-stream many of the events, which it did for the first time in the London 2012 Summer Games with much success.

The Nielsen Company reported 219.4 million Americans watched the London Olympics on the networks of NBCUniversal, setting the record as the most-watched event in U.S. television history.

Laptops, tablets and phones became an important part of Olympic viewing. Hughes said NBC discovered that making “morning” events available through these devices increased the amount of U.S. viewers at night for network “replays.”

 “It spawns more interest,” Hughes said.

One event that will be televised live is the figure skating competition. You can watch all the Salchows and Lutz jumps live on NBCSN.

Hughes, who owns part of Bazinga and Game Day Sports Bar & Grill in Janesville, has a special interest in Fredricks’ attempt to medal. Hughes grew up less than a block from Tucker’s father, Dan, growing up on Jackson Street. He said Tucker’s 500 event will begin at 3:30 a.m. our time, which will require anyone who wants to watch the event live to acquire access to the streaming video.

Hughes is taking enough clothes for 10 days, with laundry service available. He knows it likely will be a hectic three-plus weeks, but is confident that the NBC contingent will be able to celebrate a successful project when the Olympic flame is put out to end the closing ceremonies Feb. 23.

That’s why Hughes is packing a few cigars for the trip.

Tom Miller is a page designer/sports writer for The Gazette.

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