The Impact of Social Media on the Awareness of the Olympic Movement

Submitted by Lawrence Judge, Don Lee, Jeffrey Petersen, David Bellar, Karin Surber, and Chelsie Krill

The Olympic Games are an established sports festival garnering a tremendous amount of public attention and awareness, while the X Games and the Youth Olympic Games are relatively new events targeted toward a younger audience. The purpose of this study was to collect awareness and opinion data from undergraduate students in sport administration, exercise science and sport pedagogy from a university in the Midwestern United States regarding the then upcoming Winter Youth Olympic Games, London Olympic Games and Winter X Games. The level of familiarity and public awareness of the 2012 Youth Olympic Games was generally very low (mean scores for both were 1.9 out of 7.0). In contrast, the participants expressed more familiarity with X Games as indicated by higher mean scores (4.4 and 4.6 measured out of 7.0, respectively). Similarly, the participants expressed greater familiarity with 2012 London Olympic Games as evidenced by higher mean scores (5.6 and 5.7 measured out of 7.0, respectively). Additional correlation and multiple regression analyses examined the relationships of event awareness, familiarity, social media and other marketing efforts on the intent to attend these sport festival or to watch them on television. The results of this study indicate rather poor results for the social media campaign promoting the Youth Olympic Games. ANOVA tests additionally indicated that participants’ intention to watch games and follow social media on the events were significantly different as the levels of both familiarity and public awareness changed.

The Olympic Games (OG) are a historic, century’s old world-wide sports festival garnering extraordinary amounts of public attention and awareness (13). The X Games and the Youth Olympic Games, on the other hand, are comparatively new events that are targeted toward a younger audience (3, 9). The 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) became the third sport festival event ever introduced by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), while the X Games (XG) and Winter X Games (WXG) began in 1995 and 1997, respectively (7). The world-wide exposure of the OG has increased dramatically during recent decades primarily due to the advances in media coverage and technology. Younger generations, however, may be losing interest in Olympic Sports due to the proliferation of extreme sports and becoming more interested in non-traditional sporting events like the XG. To create excitement and interest in these newly created events with the millennial generation (born between 1980-2000), the effective use of social media marketing can be used to specifically target this audience with messages tailored for each market segment (10). Social media could prove to be an effective communication channel for the millennial generation because the social media platform has become an essential part of their everyday lives (10).

Social media marketing utilizes various forms of internet-based electronic communication tools, forums and sites that offer customized messaging to very specific audiences. By utilizing social media marketing, the events associated with the Olympic movement may experience greater success with communicating to intended audiences with more relevant messaging. Likewise, the IOC has actively been encouraging its participants to use social media to blog, post, comment, and tweet during the OG (8). However, the IOC has implemented strict guidelines for participants and other accredited persons related to what and how he/she shall post, blog, or tweet while at the OG. The primary goals of the Olympic movement are to be associated with youth, health, sportsmanship, peace, education, and enjoyment; ideals encapsulated in the Olympic Charter (13). However, the youth of today have far more varied interests and distractions than during past decades when the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, each contested every four years, were more eagerly anticipated. Through events and marketing efforts targeting youth, the International Olympic Committee seeks to reignite interest in Olympic sports within a generation of increasingly inactive and overweight adolescents.

The IOC’s strategy for marketing the upcoming London Olympic Games (LOG) and the subsequent Youth Olympic Games (YOG) includes efforts to help create new generations of young athletes that have an ethical approach to sport with strong values and principles (8). They also look to educate young people on the importance of living healthy lives and lower the climbing youth obesity rate. Another goal of the committee is to inform young people about the problems that arise from doping and excessive training (8). IOC President, Jacques Rogge has taken it a step further and stated that he wants the YOG to be more about education than about competition. The main goal, according to Rogge, is to give the young athletes an education based on Olympic values. He elaborates further by stating that the main emphasis of the YOG is for athletes to enjoy the event. Not only was the event about the athletes gaining an education based on Olympic values, but the YOG has also established several related programs such as a Young Reporters program and a Young Ambassadors program to give invaluable Olympic experience and education. The Culture and Education Program (CEP) was designed to promote skill development, social responsibility and expression to the YOG participants through digital media efforts (8). The Culture and Education Program (CEP) was formed to create an atmosphere that would inspire the athletes to view their competitors not as mere competitors, but as lifelong friends (12). This can be seen carried over in the Olympic Games as well with distance runners Mo Farah (Great Britain) and Galen Rupp (U.S.A.) who became training partners due to their coach Alberto Salazar and British intermediaries. Rupp and Farah became great friends through the process and talked about anything but running; encompassing the Olympic ideals throughout the way (12). In promoting the YOG, they needed not concern themselves with the singular focus on winning and competing typically associated with the larger Olympic Games. Krieger’s (11) study of a group of (German) athletes showed that they were dissatisfied with what the IOC saw as one of the success stories of the first YOG in Singapore, the Culture and Education Program (CEP); yet, the athletes enjoyed the unplanned or unexpected experiences that come with being at an international multi-sport event and staying at the athletes’ village. Such a finding supports Gold and Gold’s (5, p. 405) assertion that the YOG are “an important step in helping to return the Olympics to something of their roots” and could help the IOC consolidate and enhance the Olympic brand. To do so, however, requires innovation in discipline selection and the cooperation of the international sport federations (2).

Since the ability to impact sport and engage a younger audience will initially hinge on audience awareness, it is important to understand how the event is viewed by various stakeholders. The external stakeholders of the YOG (athletes, international delegations, athletes and their mission/support staff, media, sponsors, and the community) can to be explored by using the network approach to gain a better understanding of how the various pressures created by the YOG are experienced (8). The network approach is a construct that allows examination of changes in the interconnections between the actors involved (6). A variety of internal and external stakeholders exist with the OG, those organizations, groups, individuals which have an impact or are impacted by the local organization (4). Exploring the newly framed YOG using a network approach helps to explain how various stakeholders exert various forms of pressure on YOG (19). The IOC, the media, and the parents were the three primary stakeholders with the most influence on the development of the YOG. Two main points can be made in this regard. First, utilizing the network analysis, independently and in relation to each other, the YOG needs to take into account the needs of all three stakeholders. The high salience of these three stakeholders means that the organizational survival of the YOG is dependent on all of them; they must be satisfied to a sufficient level, as determined by the stakeholders, in order for the YOG to gain legitimacy and survive, as well as be successful (1,15,17).

The network approach could help in understanding certain processes and activities connected with the YOG’s sustainability potential (19). The stakeholders have a bigger impact on the sustainability potential of the YOG than they would in the OG because less attention is paid by the media by design (19). Sponsors could have a different degree of involvement with less attention paid to the YOG by the media, and this could affect the sustainability potential because they are a primary funding source for the Olympic Movement (19). However, the stakeholders’ expectations, needs, and interests should be considered as they may change as the YOG changes with time, especially with the emergence and impact of social media (19). Public awareness and effective messaging of the LOG and YOG will play a critical role in drawing advertising and sponsorship dollars for future OG and YOG events. The economic and tourism impact are key determining components of the legacy that the YOG will leave for Nanjing. In addition, it is important to understand present and future coach and sport practitioner awareness and how they view the creation of such an event. The purpose of this study was to collect awareness and opinion data from undergraduate students in sport administration, exercise science and sport pedagogy from a university in the Midwestern United States regarding the then upcoming winter YOG, upcoming LOG and upcoming WXG. This manuscript will review the basic characteristics and behaviors of millennial consumers, effective marketing techniques to reach this audience in meaningful ways and the marketing strategy changes adopted by the IOC to increase their reach and impact for future Olympic events.

Sample and Procedure
Students majoring in sport management, exercise science and sport pedagogy were surveyed during the 2012 winter YOG to assess the event’s global marketing efforts. The survey instrument was composed of six demographic elements and five research-related questions, and was modeled upon a previously developed and tested instrument (9). This current survey was modified from the original instrument with changes to the demographic elements and the addition of scaled questions related to intention to attend or view the London Olympic Games (LOG), Winter X Games (WXG) and future Youth Olympic Games (YOG) events. In order to verify both content and face validity, the instrument was reviewed by a panel of experts in the area of youth sport. The demographic components included: gender, coaching experience, sport administration/management experience, athletic background, parental status, and nation of residency. A seven-point Likert-scale method was used for ranking the dependent variables of the study which included: perceived personal awareness of the YOG, perceived public awareness of the YOG, intention of YOG event attendance, and intention to view the YOG on television. Questions were added to the present study to measure the social networking habits and behaviors of the subjects. The final question was a multiple choice element requiring the recognition of the correct logo of the YOG, WXG and the LOG from a selection of five similar graphic designs. Both the survey and the research protocol were reviewed and approved by the appropriate university Institutional Review Board (IRB).

Data Analysis
Descriptive and analytical statistics were calculated for the overall variables using SPSS version 18.0. Two multiple regression analyses were conducted to examine the extent to which the independent factors (familiarity with the YOG initiative, level of general public awareness, accessibility to social networking/media sites, advertisements on social media sites, importance of traditional means of newspapers and magazines, importance of traditional means of TV and radio, and utilization of World Wide Web to gain information) influenced 1) the intention to watch televised Youth Olympic Games, and 2) the intention to attend future Youth Olympic Games. The sample (N = 256) consisted of 58% of males and 42% of females with ages ranging from 18 to 50 with the mean age of 21.0 (SD = 4.58).

Descriptive Statistics
From the descriptive statistics, nearly 54% of the participants had no coaching experience while 41% and 7% of them had coaching experience in youth sports and public/private school, respectively. A total of 73% of the participants were former athletes, while 18% and 10% of them are current athletes and had no athletic experience, respectively. Participants’ sport leadership background was assessed, and the following was found: no leadership background (83%), local sport official (15%), and local sport administrator (3%).

The level of personal familiarity and perceptions of general public awareness of the 2012 Y OG was generally very low (the mean scores were below 2.0 out of 7.0). In contrast, the participants expressed more familiarity with the WXG as indicated by higher mean scores (4.4 and 4.6 measured out of 7.0, respectively). Similarly, the participants expressed more familiarity with the 2012 LOG as evidenced by higher mean scores (5.6 and 5.7 measured out of 7.0, respectively; (see Table 1).

Table 1 Descriptive Statistics
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Correlation Analysis
Statistically significant correlation values were found between independent factors (familiarity and general public awareness) and dependent measures (intention to attend, watch, and follow social media). The only exception was that general public awareness of the 2012 London Olympic Games was not statistically significantly correlated with intention to attend the event (see Table 2).

Table 2 Correlations
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Multiple Regression Analysis
Multiple regression analyses were performed to examine the extent to which independent factors (the level of familiarity with and the general public awareness of the designated sporting events) influence participants’ intention to watch televised coverage of the YOG, WXG and the LOG, follow social media related with the three events, or attend the three events. The overall results revealed that the two independent variables collectively explained small to large amount of variance in the dependent measures (variance explained ranged from 9% to 55%). At the univariate level, several significant findings were revealed. First, the level of familiarity with the designated games and the general level of public awareness of the games consistently impacted participants’ intention to watch and follow social media related with 2012 YOG, 2012 WXG, and 2012 LOG. However, none of the examined independent factors had statistically significant impact on the participants’ intention to attend any of the three tested sport festivals. The overall regression results confirmed consistent patterns observed in the mean scores and correlation values (see Table 3).

Table 3 Summary of Significant Multiple Regression Analysis Results of the Independent Variables on the Intention to Watch Events on Television or Follow Events on Social Media

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Analysis of Variance (ANOVA)
As a post hoc test, ANOVAs were used to examine statistical differences in the dependent behaviors due to different levels of familiarity and public awareness of the games. The analyses were all significant, F values ranged from 47.53 to 96.12. The overall results indicated that participants’ intention to watch games and follow social media on the events were significantly different as the levels of both familiarity and public awareness changed (see Table 4).

The IOC’s good intentions, regarding the establishment of the YOG, were not met with the requisite effort to draw sufficient public attention to the event (9). Olympic competition, in general, draws great world-wide attention, with the 2008 Games in Beijing drawing the largest global audience in Olympic history (9). As for the LOG it appears to have a high level of awareness from the students in the present study. In Table 1, the descriptive statistics show the mean number of students’ in the present study “intention to follow social media” of the YOG (2.10) is nearly two-thirds that of the WXG (3.31) and even less than half the mean of the LOG (4.68). This means that even with the impact social media has on the millennial generation, it is not impacting the YOG as much as it has with the popular X Games and Olympic Games. As the winter YOG approached, the event received very little attention from the mainstream media and the personal awareness and perceived public awareness of the students in the present study was very low. With the addition of 966,110 Google followers, 1,931,365 Facebook fans, and 1,686,762 Twitter followers to its social media fan base the LOG has been nicknamed the “Social” OG (13). While 166 networks worldwide covered the 2010 summer YOG, high levels of coverage on top networks were lacking (9). Perhaps the IOC selection of a non-American broadcast company for the broadcasting rights of the 2010 YOG demonstrated their commitment to avoiding the evolution of becoming a commercialized mega-event and to consider the best interests of the participants. The IOC appointed Media Corp, SingTel, and Star Hub as the official broadcasters within Singapore for the inaugural YOG in 2010. However, Olympic Broadcasting Services, the host broadcast subsidiary that is wholly owned by the IOC, was responsible for delivering to these three organizations and broadcasters around the world, a number of live broadcast feeds and a 24-hour Youth Olympic News Channel, which incorporated two daily highlight programs. The coverage embraced all broadcast platforms, including free-to-air television, radio, cable television, mobile phone and online (9). This greater level of IOC control over the media coverage may have been put in place to guard against an over-commercialized and nationalized message. But, based on the results of the present study there may have been a lack of interest in the event by U.S. television networks because of a limited audience for the new event. In contrast, the XG’s were arranged and are controlled by the U.S. sports broadcaster ESPN (with coverage also shown on its sister network ABC)(3) .

The authors recently reviewed the new marketing assets for the 2012 Innsbruck YOG and found some improvements. The website content has been updated and is more interactive than the inaugural YOG site. The primary focus on the front page was on a contest for youth around sending photographs of their personal performance of a YOG sporting category. Additionally, the site offered various school focused initiatives including a program to connect various schools across the globe to encourage international collaboration and communication. A second program, the YOG School Sports Challenge, was designed to introduce youth to the 15 sport categories included in YOG and encourages a local school led sporting challenge to be held during the 2012 YOG (7). In addition, the site asked visitors to identify themselves as one of the following: a youth, a fan, or a volunteer. Visitors were then directed to customized content. These enhancements to the site added significant relevance to millennials and should impact the number of repeat visitors to the site. In contrast, the Facebook site, which is a primary social media vehicle, was static and did not appear to have any updated information. Ideally, the Facebook site would have content updated several times a week if not daily to drive adoption of members and sharing of content. There were no additional social media sites available or mentioned from the Facebook site. However, on the YOG website there are other social media sites available such as Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and Google Plus. There is even a large Twitter bird logo stating “Check out our Twitter feed” showing what the YOG has previously tweeted to help promote itself with the growing social market. The @innsbruck2012, which was the Twitter screen name during the 2012 YOG, currently has 2,901 followers during its YOG period. On the @innsbruck2012’s profile it also shows other screen names fans could have also followed to stay up-to-date on the 2012 YOG. The fans could have also tweeted about their favorite “trend”, for example the website had #innsbruck2012 to spread the excitement of the YOG as a “trend” (7).

The Nanjing Youth Olympic Games Organizing Committee announced that the Internet Services sponsor will be Tencent for the 2014 Youth Olympic Games (18). Tencent, using its already strong influence among young audiences, plan to include key features on the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games website such as sports program and results, culture and educational activities, and interactive games targeted at youth (18). One Olympian diving champion relates her excitement about her ability to share her experiences at the upcoming 2014 YOG with the World (18). However, there has yet to be additions of any social media sites to the website such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google +, or the like, but this could be due to the newness of the website and the announcement of Tier One sponsor Tencent (18).

Based on these results, it can be extrapolated that the general publicity and marketing activities surrounding the YOG event were not as effective as needed to drive event attendance or television viewing, and thus, self-sustaining revenue to fund the events. The participants in the present study were more aware of the X Games and the LOG. Sport marketers can take from the results of the present study and learn how to better market toward the millennial generation. For example, marketers can utilize social media during the more popular XG and OG to promote the YOG. The LOG website started promotion of the Second YOG that will be held in Nanjing. There is a direct link from the LOG’s website to the Nanjing YOG’s website for fans to explore and begin learning about the 2014 YOG (13). Sport marketers could also expand their study on social media by taking a methodological approach to the social network theory in the future. The social network theory could solidify the measurement and analysis of how the relational properties of social media impact the YOG, XG, and the OG (19). An alternative route that researchers may take is a type of cross-sectional study. Researchers may consider conducting a study that compares behavioral variations of millennial generation who may associate themselves as a fan of professional sports than collegiate sports. Analyzing the efficacy of the marketing and awareness campaigns is an important step in improving future results, and insuring the long term success of a relatively new event like the YOG. Analyzing these campaigns can be difficult due to the numerous variables involved, and the fact that the “newness” of the YOG provided little historical comparative data.


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