Feb 20, 2022 - Sports

Winter Olympians go under the radar

Data: CrowdTangle; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios
Data: CrowdTangle; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

Team USA athletes generated far less interest on social media during the Winter Olympics than those who competed in the Summer Games, according to data from CrowdTangle.

Why it matters: The numbers suggest a broader branding problem for the Winter Olympics, which saw declining ratings and fewer marketable stars.

  • It didn't help that the U.S. is fifth in the medal count in Beijing after coming in first in Tokyo.

By the numbers: Simone Biles alone garnered three times as many interactions on her Instagram account over a 14-day span in the Tokyo Olympics as the top ten Winter Olympians combined.

  • Snowboarder Shaun White dominated Team USA's Instagram presence during his fifth and final Games at 2.74 million interactions — more than the next nine Americans combined. But it was a far cry from Biles' 16 million.
  • White registered the four biggest Instagram posts among U.S. athletes, by interactions, with his "Thank you, snowboarding" farewell getting the top spot.

The big picture: While the Beijing games drew fewer TV viewers than Tokyo in 2021, the ratings gulf is not as big as the gap in social engagement among the event's stars.

Between the lines: The summer Olympics boast more events that double as the world's most popular sports, including soccer and basketball.

  • However, the most popular summer athletes competed in sports that many fans only pay attention to once every four years — swimming, gymnastics and track.
  • 15-year old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva, who became the most polarizing figure of the games after being reinstated following a positive drug test, hasn't posted to her account since January.

Zoom out: Looking beyond Instagram, younger Olympians have built brands on TikTok. White has 1.5 million followers, snowboarder Maddie Mastro has 608k and figure skater Karen Chen has 588k.

  • Facebook was a less important platform for Team USA, as many of the younger athletes do not maintain a page.
  • Shaun White had 11x more engagement on Instagram than on Facebook.

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