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Social Media: Will Winter IFs catch up with Summer IFs?March 25, 2022

A couple of weeks ago, we are BCW Sports released the latest edition of our yearly International Sports Federations Social Media Ranking. Among some of the key findings, one seems especially pertinent now, as the Winter Olympic Games draws to a close.

While summer sports represent a larger number of International Federations (IFs) in this year’s ranking, it is interesting to note that, speaking broadly, some of the strongest winter IFs have not been able garner the same social media presence (and growth) as summer IFs – including the bigger Federations such as football, athletics and cricket, but also some of the smaller ones such as teqball and cheerleading.

There are, of course, some obvious reasons that could explain this. Relatively to Summer sports, Winter sports have a smaller geographical footprint, which has a direct impact on their potential number of fans and followers. Winter sports also generally have somewhat shorter seasons – or at least shorter competitive seasons that don’t spread across different regions throughout the year the way many summer sports can. On these two points, there isn’t much that winter sports can do, and even less so their social media managers.

It is, however, undeniable that winter sports are mass participation sports in large, economically developed – and well-connected! – nations. Alpine and Nordic skiing or Ice Hockey are often cited as number one sports in countries in central Europe, Scandinavia, North America and, increasingly East Asia.

So what is it that prevents Winter IFs to see their social media numbers grow at the same percentage as Summer sports?

This probably deserves a more in-depth study, but fragmentation could be one of the issues. Winter sports are highly fragmented – with disciplines, events, national federations, athletes and stars each working to attract followers in a way that is maybe less centralised than summer sports, which seem to respond better – at least online – to one umbrella account or “handle”. There might be work to do for a better integration.

Another way to look at this might be more strategic. For a few decades now (even long before the birth of social media), IFs have debated on what exactly their communication should be focusing: on their organisation (e.g., “World Athletics”), on their sport (e.g. “Athletics” or “Long jump”), on their events (the “World Athletics Championships”) – or on all of the above? While it is probably not realistic to solely focus on one, not deciding at all (or trying to do everything at once) – might not be the optimal solution for consistency and engagement on social media.

The right answer will vary from IF to IF, depending on history and culture. But the key to social media success, like in any communication exercise is in making clear choices – and sticking to them.

I look forward to seeing this particular evolution over the coming year, ahead of our next Ranking in January 2023!