The Olympic Games: losing money on social, but not for the reason you think

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The Olympic Games, to be held in London from 27 July, are being heralded as the first social media games, where the ubiquity of platforms like Twitter and Facebook will enable competitors, attendees and viewers around the world to share their experience in ways never dreamed of even a decade ago.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has reacted to this by putting together a set of draconian rules governing what entrants and attendees can and cannot do when sharing this once in a lifetime experience.

Rules for athletes, for example, prohibit reporting of results, or saying anything about the competition, or making any comments that could be construed as being for commercial purposes or as advertising. Athletes may only record first-person, diary-style experiences. So no digitally congratulating other athletes on their performance, for example. No videos taken in official Olympic venues may be posted anywhere, although athletes may take them ‘for personal use’. Similar restrictions apply to audio. And athletes may not promote either IOC or personal sponsors. An athlete posting a pic of themselves with their sponsors’ logos visible could be in contravention of the rules, and potentially be removed from the competition as a result.

Attendees are also suitably constrained. Tickets to the games boast the following rules:

Images, video and sound recordings of the Games taken by a Ticket Holder cannot be used for any purpose other than for private and domestic purposes and a Ticket Holder may not license, broadcast or publish video and/or sound recordings, including on social networking websites and the Internet more generally.

Ostensibly, the restrictions are there to prevent ambush marketing, and aren’t that unlike the restrictions Fifa puts on its events, or the Internet ban implemented for the Beijing Olympics.

What the IOC hasn’t realised yet is on how much it’s losing out. The combined social media power of the estimated 10 500 athletes alone could deliver stunning value to sponsors, if managed appropriately. Furthermore, the IOC could charge for it.

Traditional means of disseminating information — linear and broadcast — made it easy to control coverage and ensure that sponsors got value while preventing non-sponsoring companies from jumping on the bandwagon.

Today’s media landscape is peer to peer and multicast. By taking advantage of that to ensure sponsors’ logos appear absolutely anywhere, anyone could be thinking about the Olympics, and the IOC could have made London 2012 a truly social Games. Not to mention making a mint in the process by extending its sponsorship packages to factor in vastly extended visibility.

Instead it has limited itself and its sponsors. It has limited the experience of the athletes involved, and it is preventing its audiences from sharing their experience, potentially widening interest and attendance at future Games.

While only time will tell how much control the IOC is really able to exert and how well its restrictions work, it would do well to consider a change of attitude for future Games — certainly social media will only proliferate, the IOC may as well profit from it.

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