It’s important for International Federations to have a coherent digital strategy. The more popular a sport, the more it generates commercial interest and the faster it will grow. To be popular, a sport needs an audience, and that audience (these days) is frequently located in the digital space.
FINA, the governing body of aquatics and the largest Olympic Federation in the world, has the task of keeping millions of people interested in its sport. We spoke with Yann Miehlbradt, FINA’s Head of Digital, to discover how FINA navigates the digital space, what challenges it faces, and what advice it can give to other Federations trying to grow their sport.
Yann was made FINA’s Operating Webmaster in 2005 before becoming Head of Digital in June 2015.  His operational background has ensured FINA’s digital strategy focuses on efficiency and on building a solid foundation for the development of future projects.  “I started on the operational side,” he says, “and quickly found myself impassioned by the diversity of digital technologies available in the sports industry and how these can help people communicate and learn.”
One of FINA’s current major projects is the building of a Digital Broadcasting Asset Management System that “allows efficient storage, usage and distribution of our broadcasting material.” It is not always easy to create engaging content, but maximising its potential through effective distribution is a major challenge and one which FINA is tackling via this system.
FINA recognises six disciplines in aquatics sports: swimmingdivingsynchronised swimmingwater polo, open water swimming, and high diving. Due to their popularity, FINA benefits from a digitally diverse audience few other Federations can reach.
The importance Yann and his team have placed on reaching this audience is reflected by FINA’s investment in digital platforms over the past few years – their web platforms, their social channels (with a particular emphasis on YouTube) and their data systems. Investment in digital is the sign of a Federation that recognises the value of adapting to the modern digital world. “You must be able to adapt,” says Yann. “You must always analyse your environment and listen to your audience.”
FINA has evolved to be familiar with change, and standing still in the digital space is not a strategy either FINA or Yann are willing to entertain. “The world is moving so fast,” Yann observes. “When you find out about new possibilities today, you know that other opportunities will emerge tomorrow. The hard part, at this pace, is being able to adjust to your environment and make efficient use of the technology.”
The rate of change in sport is what makes it such a challenging and exciting industry in which to work. Arguably, the most important challenge now facing sports rights holders is broadcasting. “The business model is changing,” reflects Yann. “Previously, broadcasting was dominant, but now digital has simplified the technology and provided numerous alternative methods.” Exactly how best to broadcast sport involves decisions all major rights holders must deliberate over, but ensuring your organisation is ready to encompass new technology is a good place to start.
As Head of Digital for an organisation as far-reaching as FINA, Yann needs to have one eye on any future trends that might impact his sport. He feels that collaborative and user-generated content – and Virtual Reality – are going to be an essential part of digital communication in years to come. “VR is changing the game,” he says, “and we are not far off bringing the pool to our fans at home.”
However, when contemplating what advice to give to those trying to grow their sport, Yann stresses that, despite changing technologies, what is important is always to go back to the basics of what drives organisations like FINA forward.  “There are so many assets involved in digital. What has been essential for me is to surround myself with the right people.”