The corporate world has been adapting to technology, re-developing engagement with customers and using the new tools and platforms available to make buying/selling/servicing more interactive, open and human.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) however, has struggled with this since Beijing, something I’ve written about before. The IOC is lucky enough to own a property where people want to engage and even share the Olympic stories that inspire them, spreading the spirit of the Olympics in a positive fashion. The IOC has made some attempt in appearing to encourage more open behaviour (here and here), but these campaign efforts are not without limitations nor do they meet a fan’s expectations. The fear of losing control combined with the fear of losing integrity of the Olympic brand is still present. Reports of attempting to control mobile and digital behaviours of viewers and athletes, indicate that the people behind the Olympics still don’t get it. They still fail to acknowledge that encouragement over suppression works in their favour.

The IOC has every right to be worried about protecting the equity of the Olympics; however initiatives can be implemented which do protect the integrity and future of the movement, not damage it. The IOC needs to work out how to strategically develop the right platforms, so that their solutions can speak to the Olympic fans of today whilst adhering to the guidelines and requirements specified in the official Olympic Charter.

A timeline of the progression of media channels against what the IOC should be implementing.

The fundamentals of Olympic Marketing

The objectives of Olympic marketing can be bucketed into 4 main areas:

  • Monetisation – involving revenue creation and securing sponsorship partners who help promote Olympic ideals;
  • Creation of long term marketing plans;
  • Olympics experienced by the maximum number of people in the world; and
  • Protect the equity and brand of the Olympic Games.

The IOC’s main means of monetisation is the broadcasting rights for the Olympic Games. It ensures a revenue stream which enables the Olympics to have an ongoing future. One of the key points to acknowledge here is that this objective includes a clear point that broadcasting should maximise exposure across all available media platforms and exploit the latest media technologies. I’m not convinced that this has been met at Beijing or Vancouver. Especially when coverage in Beijing included:

  • A record 5,000+ hours of coverage
  • 1,000 cameras
  • More than 5,000 Games-time staff
  • 450 Videotape machines
  • 350 Broadcast trailers
  • 60 Outside broadcast (OB) vans
  • 1,420 Commentary positions
  • 2,580 Observer seats
  • 220 countries televising the Games
  • 250+ rights-holding broadcasters, with over 12,000 on-site staff
  • 55,000msq International Broadcast Centre
  • Broadcast rights fees of $1.737 billion

Source: Source: IOC Marketing Media Guide, 2008 Edition

Unfortunately, no single point has had access to all of this coverage, except the IOC. Countries tend to broadcast their own athletes or big events. They never show the more obscure events or even the bigger events because a local competitor competing at the same time takes priority. Time differences are also cause for erratic broadcasting which lead to a lot of missed viewing experiences. It’s cause for viewer frustration, and 2008 wasn’t without criticism:

People are clearly not happy with the way the events are being handled. The IOC is interpreting their charter in a way that doesn’t speak to a more modern age. Consequently there is a huge gap between consumer expectation and Olympic delivery.

Why the IOC is losing touch with reality

The IOC is failing to recognise that the world is a very different place from the one that revolved around one-to-many communications. This could be because the IOC is not recognising the following:

It boils down largely to accessibility. It’s something we see repeatedly in this day and age. If a company fails to provide what their customers want, they’ll drop off or go elsewhere to get it. In the Olympics’ case, no real other options exist due to their steadfast hold. Having limited external options isn’t  a bad thing, but there are ways to open up accessibility and still retain control. The IOC does possess the assets to be a leader in global multimedia monetisation.

Failing to adapt and lacking the ability to recognise that viewers want to watch what they want, when they want, how they want it- will be the final nail in the Olympic movement’s coffin. Without the IOC shifting to move to these new human behaviours, the Olympics will lose favour with viewers. Fewer viewers will lower the value of broadcasting rights and also disregards one of their own key objectives, for the Olympics to be experienced by the maximum number of people in the world.

How can the Olympic movement become more open whilst protecting their equity?

It’s pretty simple. The IOC should create a social portal which meets the official charter:

  • Monetisation and revenue creation of Olympic assets through localised asset management of the digital portal. Keep the broadcasting rights at a premium when every click, every impression goes back into the rights owners’ pockets.
  • A long term marketing strategy which grows and evolves with time and technology. This should include access to all archived content and records to promote the spirit and history of the Games. Thereby creating more opportunities for advertising revenue.
  • The Olympics is experienced and shared by the maximum number of people in the world by being an easily accessible portal.
  • The Olympic equity and brand is protected via easily accessible rights managed content.

The current Olympic owned platform, the Olympic Hub has taken some steps to connect with fans, but really fails to meet any of the above criteria, by only allowing fans to connect with replicas of athletes’, teams’ or countries’ existing Facebook or Twitter feeds. People cannot connect with the events or the sports they are interested in. To view a sample of historic content, participants need to perform tasks to unlock these videos. Wouldn’t the IOC want to generate actual revenue from engagement with a pre roll or accompanying ads, not just generate engagement? People may dislike ads, but they know it’s part of the package. All proving that the IOC has clearly lost sight of its main goals.

Another initiative is The Olympic Games Facebook Page. Looks pretty and is ad free, but feeling very one dimensional and disorganised. The strength of the Olympic Games is that people can connect over country, over sport, over the history. Really over any facet that they want to be passionate about and Facebook does not allow for this kind of structure without the creation of multiple groups and access points. The Head of Social Media for the IOC, Alex Hout, recently commented on the astronomical increase in friend count, but this has absolutely no value to a fan. The Director of Communications at the IOC, Mark Andrews further added that Facebook has the biggest impact, forgetting that there is more to strategy than just platform.

The IOC is running a strategy like a corporate brand, not that of a movement. Of course the Olympic Games Fan Page will get millions of likes, people love the idea of the Olympic Games. But once they start getting a feed of facets they aren’t interested in, or can’t drill down to specifics, they’ll turn off. How many people want to read 7,000 comments on one post? How many people want to filter the uploaded posts or pictures (no user uploaded pictures allowed) to find the one that’s relevant? Not many.

How to fix the flaw

The number of official Olympic Games updates on the Facebook page won’t actually even measure up to the number that they should be. The IOC needs a strategy where each and every sport is self managed and crowdsourced via attending participants and observers (hello volunteers!). If I’m on the other side of the world, I should be able to see what’s happening at the events I’m most interested in. I should see live updates to the Badminton page, Swimming and European Handball if I so desire. I should also be able to see all the statistics and historical content that’s available because that data and history is what makes the Olympic Games. It elevates my interest and engagement.

The best part of this model for the IOC, they own all of that content, current and past. They own the rights and retain control. You can share the link on Facebook or Twitter if you want to, but at least the right content is filtered to the right individual. If athletes don’t participate, well then it’s their loss, but at least events and countries have a good information flow and people connect and experience the Olympics within a modern day framework.

I think this year the IOC is up for a rude shock. There will be limitless content that breaks the current rules of copyright and distribution that the IOC is trying to protect. Further to that, viewership will be down which means broadcaster revenues will suffer. The IOC needs to shape up, bringing viewer, participant, brand and the right platform together where all find value in their social media exchange.


Thanks to the following people for their recent articles on the sociability of the Olympic Games:

Facebook’s Social Olympic Ambition, Explore London 2012: A Dedicated Athlete Portal, But No Ads  by Ingrid Lunden for TechCrunch.

London readies for first social Olympics by David Stringer and Stephen Wilson for The Financial Review.

Olympic bosses are feeling antisocial about new media by Sam Squiers for The Punch.

Blurry vision on Games photo sharing by Clare Kermond on The SMH.

0 Comment
  • author avatar
    Jeff Roach
    12 years ago

    Very sharp, Deb! The Olympics could own the online social community around elite sport worldwide if they wanted to. If they don’t completely lose touch and lose relevance, a brighter crop of leaders might make it happen in another decade…


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