The Olympics

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Olympic Games: Cultural trends

Three US cultural trends that tend to occur during or after the Olympics are increased interest in sports apparel, increased discussions about race and gender, and increased interest in alternative sports and health products.

Sports Apparel

  • The Olympics tend to drive an increase in sportswear purchases and sportswear trends.
  • This is because fans see what athletes are wearing and get energized about sports in general.
  • For example, the London 2012 Olympics boosted the trend of sports luxe clothing.
  • The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio helped solidify the athleisure trend.

Race and Gender

  • The Olympic Games tend to highlight and further cultural discussions of race and gender.
  • This is due to athletes being seen by consumers as advocates and heroes, and brands highlighting that in their marketing partnerships.
  • For example, American Apparel used the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics as an opportunity to launch their gender neutral clothing line and campaign against gender discrimination, which the events at the Olympics had thrust into the global debate.
  • At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, the diversity of the US Women's teams brought about heated debate around race.

Sports Health Products

  • This is driven by fans seeing the Olympic athletes use the product, or hearing interviews with the athletes stating that they believe these products are effective.
  • The use of Kinesio tape by many athletes during the 2012 Olympics spurred an increase in the interest in and use of Kinesio tape by fans.
  • After Michael Phelps won a Gold metal in the 2016 Rio Olympics and fans saw dark purple circles all over his back from cupping, interest in cupping vastly increased.

Research Strategy

Trends were chosen based on their mention by multiple expert and on the availability of concrete examples of the link between the Olympics and the trend.
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Olympic Games: Statistics

The number of Americans who watch the Olympics has declined from an average of 30.3 million in 2012 to an average of 19.8 million in 2018. Americans typically watch the Olympics on television, but many of them use a second screen to engage on social media or do other things. Favorite Summer Olympics events include swimming and artistic gymnastics, while favorite Winter Olympics events include figure skating and ice hockey.

Number of Viewers

  • The average number of Americans who watch the Olympics appears to be on a downward trend, based on the following average viewership figures:
  • The average viewership declined by 7% between the Sochi 2014 and Pyeongchang 2018 despite the fact that Pyeongchang was the first time the Olympics was “available simultaneously on broadcast, cable, and streaming.”
  • The decline in television viewership is reportedly due to the rise of social viewing.

Preferred Viewing Channels

  • Despite the decline in television viewership, broadcast television remains the Americans’ media channel of choice for watching the Olympics.
  • Nearly 90% or 17.8 million of the 19.8-million average viewership of Pyeongchang 2018 can be attributed to NBC alone, while the rest can be attributed to cable channel NBC Sports Network and streaming service NBC Sports Digital.
  • A Gallup survey that polled 2,228 American adults in time for Pyeongchang 2018 revealed that most Americans planned to watch the Olympics on broadcast television.
  • Of those who intended to watch Pyeongchang 2018, 50% planned to watch only on broadcast television, while 30% planned to watch mostly on broadcast television.
  • Only 12% planned to watch equally on broadcast television and online, while just 8% planned to watch only or mostly through the internet.
  • Compared to older adults, young adults were more open to watching the Olympics online. Online viewing was most popular among young adults aged 18-29, with 25% of them planning to watch the games only or mostly through the internet.
  • Ninety-seven percent of older adults and 84% of women planned to rely mostly on their television.

Social Viewing

  • According to Paul Vivant, chief executive officer of social media monitoring company Digimind, Americans watch the Olympic games on television but use a second screen to watch recaps, share posts and engage with others on social media, and look up athlete stats.
  • Over a thousand internet users in the United States who identify as Olympics followers were polled in 2016 in time for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The poll revealed that when watching sports on television, Olympics fans occasionally turn to their second screen to browse the internet (50%), check email (47%), and use social media (33%).

Favorite or Most Watched Events

  • Based on YouGov’s survey of Summer Olympics fans and Winter Olympics fans in the United States, swimming, artistic gymnastics, beach volleyball, and fencing are the favorite events in the Summer Olympics, while figure skating, ice hockey, snowboarding, bobsled, and ski jumping are the favorite events in the Winter Olympics.
  • Swimming, artistic gymnastics, and beach volleyball are the Rio de Janeiro 2016 events that emerged as favorites among Summer Olympics fans, with 19%, 7%, and 7% of these fans choosing these events, respectively.
  • Swimming, fencing, and artistic gymnastics are the Rio de Janeiro 2016 events that emerged as favorites among Winter Olympics fans, with 19%, 9%, and 9% of these fans choosing these events, respectively.
  • Figure skating, ice hockey, and snowboarding are the Pyeongchang 2018 events that emerged as favorites among Winter Olympics fans, with 23%, 10%, and 7% of these fans choosing these events, respectively.
  • Figure skating, bobsled, and ski jumping are the Pyeongchang 2018 events that emerged as favorites among Summer Olympics fans, with 28%, 7%, and 5% of these fans choosing these events, respectively.
  • A separate survey conducted by Harris Poll revealed that the Winter Olympic events that Americans tend to watch are figure skating (58%), ski jumping (49%), bobsledding (48%), speed skating (47%), and snowboarding (43%).
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Olympic Games: Statistics (2)

While Americans previously engaged with the Olympic game primarily through TV viewership, the 2016 and 2018 games have shown an increasing shift towards engaging in these athletic events through online media.

2018 Olympic Games

  • According to the US Olympic Committee, American fans engaged with Team USA in "record numbers" during the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang.
  • Notably, Americans set records for media consumption through platforms by the United States Olympic Committee, National Governing Bodies, NBCUniversal and US athletes.
  • Specifically, Team USA ranked twelfth among the top US sports franchises for digital engagement during the 2018 games, following NBC Olympics (second), the Olympic Channel (fourth), NBC Sports (fifth) and the Olympics (tenth).
  • Additionally, Team USA ranked eighteenth among the 316 sports franchises worldwide and forty-seventh among 891 major consumer brands during the 2018 games.
  • Overall, Team USA accumulated 16.4 million video views during the games and accounted for almost 217 million impressions.
  • Additionally, Team USA's over 10 million social content engagements outpaced the 2014 Sochi Games by 38%, leveraging the brand's over two million Twitter followers.
  • This social media content primarily took the form of supporting comments by American fans, but also included creative imagery as well as videos and GIFs.
  • However, Americans' social engagement during the event was offset by a significant decline in US TV viewership, with ratings during the PyeongChang Olympics falling to 17% lower than the 2014 Sochi Games.
  • The switch in American engagement from TV viewership to social media was further corroborated by a Gallup survey, which revealed that American interest in watching a good portion of the 2018 Olympic games fell to its lowest level on record (39%), compared with the 2014 games (46%), 2006 games (53%) and 2002 games (58%).

2016 Olympic Games

  • Similar to the 2018 Olympic Games, the 2016 Games in Rio set new records for US media consumption and engagement across social, digital and broadcast platforms.
  • According to the latest data from the US Olympic Committee, Team USA channels reached a record of approximately one billion impressions on social media, 33.5 million digital engagements and over 69.3 million video views.
  • During the games, Team USA also ranked third among the top US sports franchises for digital engagement, following NBC Olympics (first) and the Olympics (second).
  • Additionally, Team USA ranked sixth among the over 300 global sports franchises and eleventh among 800 major consumer brands during the period.
  • Overall, social media content by US fans primarily took the form of supportive comments and photo messages, but also trended towards advertisements and discussion of branded clothing and other goods.
  • Meanwhile, the Rio games somewhat avoided the trend of declining US TV viewership of Olympics, with 78% of US homes engaging in NBC Olympic's Rio Games coverage.
  • According to NBC, the Rio Olympics was their "most successful media event in history," with an average total audience delivery of 27.5 million viewers.

2014 Olympic Games

  • In contrast to the 2016 and 2018 Olympic Games, US engagement during the 2014 London games was primarily through TV viewership, with online engagement just beginning to take off.
  • Despite the fact that US TV viewership was impacted by Team USA's "general absence" from many events and medal ceremonies during the 2014 games, the latest available data from NBC demonstrates that the Olympics remained a "strong draw" for Americans, with an average of 21.4 million viewers watching during primetime.
  • This viewership represented a 6% improvement from the 2006 Torino games, but a 12% decline compared with the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
  • Meanwhile, social media engagement by Americans began to take off during the 2014 Olympic Games.
  • Notably, the most recent data from the International Olympic Committee demonstrated a surge in new followers on its social accounts across Facebook (over 2 million new fans), Twitter (approximately 170,000 new followers) and Instagram (over 150,000 new fans), primarily driven by activity related to the United States.
  • In particular, the US was the "most active team" on social media during the 2014 games, logging 22,598 posts across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
  • Additionally, US athletes such as US skeleton racer John Daly and US bobsledded Steve Holcomb also received relatively high levels of engagement for the time.
  • Specifically, Mr. Daly amassed over 400,000 followers on Twitter and over 3,000 fans on Facebook during the games, while Mr. Holcomb reached over 32,000 followers on Twitter and almost 40,000 fans on Facebook.
  • Meanwhile, US fans generally responded with more basic text/photo commentary and sharing of relevant news stories.

2012 Olympic Games

  • Similar to the 2014 games, Americans engaged with the 2012 Olympic Games primarily through TV viewing, with some notable participation in social media conversation.
  • According to the latest data from NBC, the 2012 games represented the "most-watched television event" in the history of the US at that time.
  • Notably, over 217 million Americans viewed the London Olympic Games on NBC's networks, surpassing the 2008 Beijing Olympic's TV viewership of 215 million viewers.
  • Additionally, NBC averaged 31.1 million viewers per night in primetime, making the games the most-watched non-US Summer Olympics since the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
  • In parallel, US social media engagement with the Olympics began to take off in 2012, with prominent media outlets including The New York Times calling the London games the "first Social Media Olympics" or "Socialympics."
  • The performances by US basketball player Kobe Bryant and American soccer player Hope Solo drew particularly high American engagement on social media, and significantly contributed to the over 150 million Twitter posts during the course of the games.
  • Additionally, US gymnast Gabrille Douglas saw her fan base on Facebook increase 3,960% to almost 600,000 followers over the course of the London Olympics.
  • Meanwhile, US fans generally responded on social with more basic text/photo commentary and sharing of relevant news stories.
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2012 and 2014 Olympic Games: Impact

Just like any other part of the world, the 2012 and 2014 Olympics impacted the U.S. population in various ways, such as media consumption, culture, and social trends, as well as national impact.

Media Consumption

  • According to a Washington Post article, the NBC prime time sports coverage reached a greater audience, averaging 22.5 million U.S viewers every night during the Sochi Olympics. While this may seem like an impressive number, there was a 9% decline in viewership from previous years as the Olympics were recorded and aired in prime time.
  • The decline justification was based on the distant time zone. Knowing the end result in advance, however, caused a disinterest among a small percent of the viewers. Most viewers, however, still enjoyed watching the recorded games during primetime.
  • As opposed to the previous years, broadcasting stations such as NBC avoided incorporating geopolitics while covering the 2014 Winter Olympics, which provided more time for sports analysis and coverage.
  • According to the New Republic, the U.S viewer median age for Olympics rose to 48% in the 2012 London Olympics and rose to 55% in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
  • These numbers are mainly for TV viewership, which is believed to be for the older generation, a proof that the younger generation needed to be reeled into this viewership. To achieve this, NBC, which holds special rights to Olympic coverage in the U.S, decided to create a social media presence.
  • According to ‘Variety’, NBC hired digital influencers to reach at least 120 million young U.S viewers on social media platforms, such as SnapChat and BuzzFeed.

Cultural and Social Trends

  • Through the years, the Olympics have been used to highlight various cultural and social issues, such as sexism. During the Olympics, women are accorded a coverage parity that raises a debate.
  • In the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, women sports were accorded fair coverage by sports channels in the U.S, such as Alabama’s sports communication program.
  • NBC spent almost approximately 48% covering men sports, and approximately 38% covering women’s sports. The remainder of the time was dedicated to pairing sports such as ice dancing.
  • Moving from 5% to 38% of airtime was indeed progress for women sports. Even though there was still a 10% difference between the men and women sports coverage, it was a bridged gap from previous Olympics coverage.
  • During the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, NBC’s prime time coverage was accused of sexism. This stemmed from how commentators and analysts reported news about female athletes
  • Plenty of NBC viewers criticized how the female ski athletes were referred to as “girls” as opposed to addressing these athletes as “women.”
  • This form of sexist criticism had a positive aspect as they helped to sensitize various social issues and trends in the U.S, such as feminism agenda and the need to accord female athletes the same respect as male athletes.
  • Previous Olympics games had sparked debates that needed to be heard and discussed among the U.S. population. These debates set a social trend that also brought to light that the U.S. media needs to spend more than just 5% of its time airing women in sports.

National Impact

  • There has been a debate that Olympic movements do not have a major national impact as they exalt individual achievement. Further, this debate argues that this can be proven by the lack of a medal table for nations, as the International Olympic Committee (IOC), does not keep count. However, there are many forms of national impact that are yielded during the Olympics, such as patriotism, showing off a nation’s cultural and historic achievements.
  • The national impact can also be felt during the opening ceremony when the host country’s national anthem is played and the flag flown. The medals won by participant countries have also helped to celebrate through flag-and-anthem, which is a clear indication of national pride on a global scale.
  • Through the years, Olympic games have always been a moment to show loyalty, togetherness and national support, which can yield national impact, in the U.S. and beyond. The Rio Olympic games, for instance, saw thousands of fans from different nationalities fly to Rio for the Olympics festivals
  • Even as alarmists continue to argue that the Olympics are a platform for tribalism among nations, and that the world should do away with these international sports contests, modern Olympics has proven to divert dangerous nationalism into a positive form of competition among nations.
  • Competitive sports among nations have boosted a sense of understanding, compelled respect, and created moral equality among nations, the United States included, even as fans support and cheer for their respective countries.
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2016 and 2018 Olympic Games: Impact

While the Olympics usually promote nationalism, peace, and international connection, Americans perceived the 2016 Rio de Janiero Summer Olympics as generally negative and it did not seem to have a major effect on the American public. Press offered depressing news from Rio leading up to the games and viewership was down by 25%. The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang hearkened back to the spirit of unity, admiration for other countries' athletic strengths, and international peace that has been prevalent in previous Olympic games, which has continued to impact Americans positively since the games.

2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro
  • The United States went into the 2016 Olympics already holding the most medals of any other country. Team USA had won 2,403 total medals before the Rio Olympics while runner-up for most medals was the Soviet Union with 1,010 total medals. Despite being the top team at the Olympics, viewership from 18-to-49-year-old Americans who watched the games dropped by 25 percent from the 2012 London games to 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
  • Since United States Olympic victory has become standard, the games offer less drama and excitement for American viewers.
  • Many United States' news articles followed up after the Rio Olympics to report about the heavy environmental impact of the games and the failing economy in Rio, painting a picture of post-Olympic Rio as corrupt, full of debt, and violent.
  • A Newsweek article suggests Americans' waning interest in the Rio Olympics was due to presidential campaigns occurring simultaneously as well as a flow of depressing news from Rio describing concerns of pollution, Zika virus, and poor conditions in the Olympic village.
2018 Olympics in PyeongChang
  • Americans brought a more diverse team to the PyeongChang Olympics than ever before, drawing attention to the importance of diversity in a political climate of exclusion.
  • In addition to bringing a more diverse team, the 2018 Olympics drew attention to the experiences of Asian-American immigrants competing in the Olympics and brought visibility to an under-appreciated American minority.
  • Team USA failed to meet their medal goals for the winter 2018 Olympics. In this case of the USA team performing more poorly than usual, Americans are looking to the success of the Norway team with admiration and optimism to find ways to improve.
  • The 2018 Olympics in South Korea initiated smoother relations between the United States and North Korea. After the Olympics, US President Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and discussed nuclear disarmament of North Korea's military.
Research Strategy
Through in-depth research of news articles, polls, and social media, we chose the most common or most shared articles to include as the most impactful data regarding both the 2016 Rio Olympics and the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. Data and articles published up to 2 months before, during and within the year after the Olympics were given preference.

From Part 03