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Apps, Social Media and Why Competition for Slots on the Olympic Sports Program Will Heat Up

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Olympic sports are under pressure to appeal to younger fans using new technology. Photo: Reuters / Grigory Dukor

By David Owen |

The start of the year is when we, journalists and others, like to dust off our crystal balls.

So here is one small prediction: while competition over where the Olympic Games are staged will remain subdued until at least the 2032 race, jostling among different sports and events to determine what the Games will actually consist of will intensify.

A number of things point to this conclusion: the sports movement’s ongoing focus on capturing as big a youth audience as possible; pressure on costs; pressure on the value of broadcasting rights for many sports, making a share of Olympic Games-related revenue all the more necessary/enticing; the media/tech revolution we are all living through, which besides offering the indispensable two-way conduit to the minds of the young, enables property owners like the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to measure audiences and engagement more accurately than ever.

I came across a fascinating illustration of this recently while catching up on minutes of old International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) meetings.

In the middle of a PowerPoint presentation on the shooting program for Tokyo 2020 was a chart offering at-a-glance analysis of IOC media consumption data for the 15 shooting events at Rio 2016.

The reproduction is a little bit too blurred to read most figures on the chart with any degree of confidence; but these would in any case be of interest primarily to the shooting community.

What most caught my eye were the 13 distinct parameters used to provide a ranking for the events from one to 15.

Only three of them, I think – “Viewer Hours”, “Total Audience” and “Average Audience” – were related to traditional TV broadcasting figures, with a further one column each allotted to press articles, tickets sold and “General Public Surveys”.

The remaining seven categories – “Internet Searches”, “Page Views IOC”, “Page Views Rio 2016”, “Page Views Other”, “Popular Websites”, “Social Sharing” and “OCOG App Views” – may all be classified as new media.

A separate slide notes that data from 73 geographic territories was collected; that the total number of viewer-hours of shooting coverage consumed was 312.062 million; that the average minute of shooting coverage was seen by 48.072 million viewers (rather more than the population of Spain); and – fascinatingly – that this compared with the equivalent measure for the “average sport” of 40.923 million.

I do not think that even this can give a full picture of the complexity of the analysis that the IOC – which, under the Olympic Charter, ultimately determines the events program for each edition of the Games – may now be intent on applying to deliberations over the detailed content of future Olympics.

The chart I stumbled upon appears, for example, to include no attempt to weight the 13 parameters to favour those regarded as most significant.

Presumably some account would need to be taken, even in the digital age, of the timing of individual events and whether this was conducive to optimal audiences in the countries where they are most popular.

Allowance should also be made, I would think, for the built-in advantage that sports and events widely-watched in the most populous territories would otherwise enjoy.

The highest audience for any single shooting broadcast from Rio was 70.385 million viewers in China.

I also note that the four top-ranking shooting events under the IOC’s 13 parameters – the men’s and women’s 10-meter air rifle and 10m air pistol – provided four of China’s seven shooting medals.

The very top-ranked event – women’s 10-meter air rifle – was won by a United States athlete, Virginia Thrasher, with China taking silver and bronze.

Up to this point, of course, many event changes, such as the introduction of mixed team events in shooting and other sports, have been aimed primarily at attaining gender parity among Olympic athletes.

With this well on the way to being achieved, and with pressures to contain Games costs intense, will the focus post-Tokyo begin to switch to limiting the Summer Olympics to the “approximate” number of 310 events written into the Olympic Charter as a bye-law to Rule 45?

If it does, then things could start getting very interesting: when I tried to tot up the number of events at next year’s Games I reached a figure of 321 – and that was without counting the five “one-off” sports which will presumably be pushing for places at Paris 2024 if they make the desired impression in Tokyo. 

To be honest, I have difficulty believing – and I think history will largely back me up on this – that the number of events from one Summer Olympics to the next will ever actually diminish.

But of course sports would be ill-advised to take this for granted, and one suspects that those associated with events which find themselves in the nether reaches of the IOC’s media charts after Tokyo 2020 are likely to endure some tense moments before learning if they have made the cut for Paris 2024.

What is more, if comments made by IOC sports director Kit McConnell to another ISSF meeting are a reliable guide, everything is all set to be decided very quickly once the Olympic Cauldron is extinguished in Japan.

According to McConnell, cited in the minutes of this meeting, “For 2024, the IOC will look to take the final decision on the events program and the athlete quotas in December 2020”.

He continued: “This means that the first meeting of the Executive Board after the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will take the decision on the event program and the athletes quotas for 2024.”

Between now and then, sports would be well-advised to take all reasonable steps to make sure that their digital footprint is as big as possible.

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.

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