The Olympic Games is a powerful way for audiences to learn about a sport. Its global reach, inspirational stories, national pride and increased accessibility create a fertile ground for promotion.

Reality check: does this really happen?

Data from Redtorch’s SportOnSocial League Table 2024 confirms that sports do grow their social media audiences when included in the Games, thus indicating interest in their sport. However, the growth rate varies significantly from sport to sport.

Brand strength – i.e. a sport’s prominence and relative dominance among all the others on show in the Olympics – directly impacts its ability to use the event as a way to drive growth.

  • Bigger sports: Athletics, for example, already has a large potential media audience (a broad audience likely to be interested in the sport). The Games therefore helps World Athletics find and connect with more of these people.
  • Smaller sports: sports that are more niche, like Canoeing, do not have a large potential audience out there so rely on attracting new audiences to drive growth.

The importance of 'meaningful difference'

Competition for attention in sports is fierce, with the bigger sports often coming out on top because their pockets are deeper. Nevertheless, growth is possible for smaller sports as well.

Key to success: meaningful difference & communication

Successful sports are decisive about who they want to serve – and that can’t be everyone. They know what makes them meaningfully different to their target audience:

  • meaningful: meeting relevant functional, emotional and social needs
  • different: a combination of leading the way and being seen as unique

The meaningful difference of a sport is not its elite level competition. Rather, it’s a unique value proposition that focuses on the specific qualities or attributes that make a sport stand out in the minds of target audiences, making it relevant and compelling.

My favourite sport is rugby. The meaningful difference in rugby is captured by the phrase ‘rugby builds character’. This is brought to life through various values that (i) resonate with me and many other parents at a functional, emotional and social level and (ii) contributes to the physical, emotional and social development of our children.

The message: in the battle for attention during the Olympic Games, niche sports should proactively position themselves versus other Olympic sports by communicating the specific qualities or attributes that set them apart.

Effective Strategies

  1. Emotional connection: sports that link their meaningful difference to the Olympics (enabling a bigger reach) create stronger emotional connections with audiences to drive loyalty and audience growth throughout the Games.
  2. Post-Games engagement: well-communicated information about meaningful difference enhances the potential for audiences to remember a sport post-Games and continue to engage with it. This will in turn lead to sustainable growth.

Most Olympic sports are relatively small brands competing in a well-established sport and entertainment market. To make progress, each sport needs to start from a high point of difference it can own and grow, thus providing the best chance to capture new audiences through the appeal of their meaningful difference.

Sponsorship boost

Leaning into meaningful difference not only helps achieve audience growth but also improves sponsorship potential and leads to more sustainable income streams (reducing reliance on Olympic revenues).

Niche sports can’t compete on audience numbers alone for their events in the sponsorship market.

But by emphasising their meaningful difference they can attract brands that seek partnerships which align with their values and resonate with their target audience. By consistently communicating their unique attributes, and what makes them meaningfully different, alongside a compelling event time narrative, niche sports can build an engaged audience. This is attractive to brands willing to invest in long-term partnerships that benefit from brand affinity as well as audience reach.

Example: Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI)

Olympics

FEI effectively communicates its meaningful difference – the unique relationship between horse & human – all year round. This grows the brand by appealing to audiences that engage with equestrian sports as a lifestyle. It also attracts sponsorship from Longines that shares brand affinity with the sport’s target audience.

FEI amplifies this meaningful difference at key moments in their calendar – e.g. the Paris 2024 Olympic & Paralympic Games – through campaigns such as ‘A Bond Like No Other’, created by Redtorch.

See how the launch video for A Bond Like No Other explores the functional, emotional and social positioning of equestrian sports by creating new category entry points that grow audiences, participants, commercial potential and lasting success for FEI and equestrian sport.

Is your sport meaningfully different?

To find out how Redtorch can help – just get in touch with Jonny.