Sochi 2014 Fails To Deliver A Social Media Star
By Asher Feldman
Michael Phelps. Usain Bolt. Gabby Douglas. Missy Franklin. These names would mean very little if not for the once-every-four-year spectacle that is the Summer Olympics.Performances in the pool, in the gym and on the track propelled these four to stardom during the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing and London. And especially in 2012, Phelps, Bolt, Douglas and Franklin became social media darlings just as quickly as they racked up the gold medals. It made sense — 2012 was the first chance for a fully social summer games with the ubiquity of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr.
But now, with the 2014 Winter Games from Sochi, Russia having been put to rest with Sunday’s closing ceremonies, marketers, brand managers and even sports enthusiasts are left wondering — if these were the first fully social winter games, where are our winter fan favorites and social media darlings?
The stars just didn’t come out in Sochi, and social media analysis of volume and sentiment reveals just how lacking the star wattage was in 2014. Ranking the 2014 United States Olympic team during the games by impact media value, or the gained exposure from social media any athlete has earned through volume and sentiment, we can theoretically crown a social “winner” to these games.Not surprisingly, ice dancer Meryl Davis, who combined with partner Charlie White to grab gold in Sochi, comes out ahead. The duo was the lead story on many news programs and Davis herself enjoyed a huge spike in chatter, along with a long-lasting chatter presence on social media.
Hockey shootout star T.J. Oshie spent almost the entire hockey schedule in Sochi as the most talked about player on the ice, while skiing trio Ted Ligety, Mikaela Shiffrin and Julia Mancuso each had their moments in the spotlight in Russia. But was it really that bright of a spotlight? For comparison, during the 2012 games, Douglas, Franklin, Phelps, Bolt and even swimmer Ryan Lochte each earned more than $20 million in earned media output during the 2012 Summer Olympics:
Comparing Phelps’ $103 million to Davis’ now seemingly paltry $11.2 million illuminates just how lacking the star power was at the games. Even more telling might be this: Two storylines that had little to do with the competition on the rink, slopes or halfpipes seemed to take over the two-week news cycle — Bob Costas’s eye infection and Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir’s fantastic wardrobe and commentary.Costas’s earned media value during the Olympics would have ranked him fifth on our list, just behind Shiffrin at $9.2 million. Tara and Johnny, as they came to be known, would have ranked 12th
at $4.2 million — and Lipinski hasn’t competed at a Winter Games since 1998 in Nagano, Japan.
Sure, injuries to superstar-level talent like skier Lindsay Vonn and underperformances from recognizable names like snowboarder Shaun White and skier Bode Miller likely doomed any of the marketing potential the athletes of the Winter Games had, but when commentators rank consistently among the strongest social media presence of the games, it’s clear these games lacked a certain oomph. And perhaps lacked that Wheaties box potential we’ve all grown to love.