The Big Picture of the Olympic Committee’s Failure in Digital Leadership

How frustrated were you with the coverage of The Olympics? If you are like the many people discussing the Olympics online — very. A perfect illustration of a key predictor of who will survive and thrive and who will become obsolete. Think the Olympics can’t become possibly become obsolete?

Anything is possible. There are 3 major failures in the IOC’s model and practices that are leading down the path of irrelevance, to the detriment of their profitability.

The Olympics needs to be profitable. That is the only way it can continue. The problem is  the IOC is a pack of corrupt dinosaurs trying desperately to cling to outdated business models. That is unfortunate because The Olympics, with its global audience, thousands of events, powerfully emotional content is ideal for the digital marketplace. The potential for economic and business development is immense.

 Delivering Content in Ways People No Longer Consume Content

Prime time is so last century. Every day our consumption of content and communication about that content moves more and more to on demand online platforms.  We watch what we want, when we want, on the device we want. Fewer and fewer people are willing to sit down on the couch at an appointed time wade through the ads, ads, ads and more ads and the annoying commentator drivel to watch TV — even The Olympics — as this year’s ratings show.

 Although they don’t realize it yet, The Olympic Committee faces the same question every other industry that wants to survive is addressing — how to engage the upcoming generation of digital natives.

There is still a base that will sit through NBC’s obnoxious coverage. That base is aging out and some are even evolving to the new technology. The up and coming generations are not filling their seats on the couch.

The IOC knows that those Olympic moments are very valuable content. Their mistake is they are trying to keep it contained in an outdated business and distribution model.

A better question would be, “How can we engage the new marketplace and use these new technologies?”

Winning the Battle, But Losing The War for Relevance

The IOC is the creature from the Cretaceous Period of marketing, a greedy little T-rex  toddler trying to put its tiny, little arms around Olympics roaring “Mine! You can’t talk about the Olympics on social media because it’s mine, mine, mine! You can’t use my hashtag! You can’t post a picture of my Olympic rings!”

Silly committee, that’s not how the internet works!

They have kowtowed sponsors of athletes who are not also official Olympic sponsors into silence online. Imagine if instead of bullying the small companies whose sponsorship and support made it possible for athletes to make it to the Olympic arena, they had realized that the more people talking about their event, the better. Every one of those “unofficial” sponsors they silenced was potential collaborator in the business development of The Olympics.

They successfully suppressed gifs of Olympic moments, had “unauthorized” tweets removed. They have kept videos of those winning moments off the internets. They have in short made it nearly impossible for people to engage with talk about The Olympics in the way people engage with and talk about things.

As hard as the IOC is working to prevent people from talking about The Olympics they may very well find that people do just that.

Squandering Leadership Opportunity

The IOC has forgotten, that while yes they may own the trademarks they do not really own The Games. Those belong to the human race.

The Olympics are an important part of our geopolitical system. The Games play important roles in relationship building between nations. The friendly but stiff competitions between rival nations play an important role. They are a stage for cultural and racial prejudices to be challenged and reconfigured. It is important that every 4 years we get together to play games share in the thrill of triumph and the agony of defeat. To see and feel each other’s humanity.

Imagine if the IOC spent as much energy addressing the cyber bullying some of their athletes suffered as they spent suppressing gifs. The Pope’s social media guru summed up this facet of digital leadership well, leaders have a responsibility to make a stand against the online trolls and bullies.  Sadly there were many, many opportunities for the IOC to assert leadership in the divisive and hateful online discussion. Even sadder, they elected instead to be bullies themselves. 

photo of Olympic rings in ruins: Edward Sanderson