The Olympics are the grandest international multi-sport event in the world. Every four years, the Summer Olympics are broadcasted across nations impacting millions of lives. This year, Tokyo received the honor of hosting the 2021 Summer Olympic Games, bringing together the best athletes to compete after a lifetime of training. To become an Olympian is one of the greatest accomplishments for an athlete, but what these Olympians do with the honor can change their career trajectory for years to come.
There is no event like the Olympics to truly show off athletes who compete in individual sports. Golf, combat sports, and Tennis are the only individual sports that are historically recognized on a large scale. The Olympics bring sports like surfing, swimming, and diving to the masses.
This year surfing made its debut and without a doubt was popular among the viewers. After a stellar performance in Tokyo, we watched Athelo Group athlete, Brisa Hennessy’s audience grow by the thousands hourly. Over the past week, the 20-year-old Costa Rican gained over 115 thousand followers on her social media platforms. On July 7th just days before the Olympic Rule 40 period began, Brisa totaled 90.6K followers across Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok. Today on July 29th, as she returns home from Tokyo, her total following has reached 208.4K and continues to increase by the minute.
Brisa is currently ranked #15 on the WSL Women’s Championship Tour and has worked with Athelo Group over the past few years to build her brand beyond just her athletic career. Her audience growth was the highest among all Olympic surfers so we gathered some insight on the subject from Athelo Group CEO, Andrew Stallings. Stallings was able to explain the effect the Olympics has on athletes like Brisa.
Stallings said, “As athletes from all over the world began boarding their flights to Tokyo, it was all about documenting the journey. Our client, Olympic Surfer Brisa Hennessy capitalized on documenting her journey with humor and humility the way many young women her age would. The result? She more than doubled her social media following in a week across all verticals and raised her engagement rate to double digits. I don’t think anyone could have anticipated how these games were going to be consumed through the specific channels of individual athletes during the games.”
This is exactly what the Olympics do for lesser known athletes. Consumers recognize the hard work of these athletes. Consumers get attached to these athletes through their stories and hard work, whereas traditionally consumers of sport get attached because of an affinity to a team.
In sports, there is a hierarchy. In America, four major sports control the industry. Baseball, football, basketball, and hockey are by far the most watched sports and the other sports do fall by the wayside. However, the Olympics give niche athletes a chance to earn global fame and show off their respective sport and hard work.
The Olympics can drive attention to smaller sports. We asked Stallings if he or Hennessy have noticed an uptick in excitement around surfing because of the games.
His response was, “From the athletes to individuals who could not tell you the difference between surf or snowboard - there is no doubt that surfing made a big splash in its first year in the Olympic games. The conditions proved to be a true challenge for even the world’s best athletes which is a catch 22 as we look forward to how / where the contests should be held moving forward. Some have argued that a man-made wave or wave pool would deem to be more exciting, but those who know surfing know that the excitement is the uncertainty of what mother nature could throw at you at any time.”
Surfing is perhaps the best example of these Olympic sports gaining recognition. Most sports fans do not even think about surfing when talking about sports in everyday conversation. However, because of the Olympics, viewers can gain a new appreciation and understanding of surfing. This kind of exposure is surely going to create a bigger buzz around the sport and ultimately provide more opportunities for these surfers.
Lastly, one of the things that the Olympics bring to these smaller sports is the potential to grow. Brisa and the world of surfing is a perfect example of a sport and athlete who are gaining more recognition following the games. So what’s next? We asked Stallings what the future may hold for surfing and Brisa.
According to Stallings, the future is “To be determined. I think if the expectation is one-dimensional (meaning - how many brand deals or sponsors can I get) I think they will be sorely disappointed. Brisa is extremely proud of her accomplishments and is going to be entirely focused on finishing out the 2021 WSL season on a high while also doing and learning how to stay true to her audience and ensure she actively welcomes and engages with her new audience members moving forward. Bottom line, it's business as usual.”
Even after an event like the Olympics, the future of niche sports like surfing is very uncertain. Unfortunately, it is going to take a lot more than one Olympic Games to solely drive viewership, overall revenue, and participation. However, the future looks bright due to the rising impact of social media and what this global platform has provided individual athletes.