The Reigning Champion of the Olympics: Tik Tok

After coming out with an immense sponsorship effort at Euro 2020, TikTok stole the show at the Tokyo Olympics - only this time, fans and athletes took the initiative to make everything on their own.

2 weeks out from the end of the Games and what memories are you left with? Formal broadcasts of athletes on the podiums? Interviews?

Probably not.

We’re guessing that two things take up your memory: the intensely genuine “athlete golden moments” like Barshim and Tamberi sharing gold, and the quick video bites that took up TikTok (we’re all here for the final cardigan reveal). Many things were different about this year’s Olympics - no fans in the stands, difficult preparation (lockdowns worldwide) - but what stood out the most was the explosion of ways for fans to engage with Olympic content and their widespread adoption.

Forging Ahead

Digital engagement is not new to the Olympics - and in fact, the strength of digital engagement is what inspired the inception of Tradable Bits 11 years ago. Let me take you back through time to Vancouver, and what put our city on the map.

The year was 2010, Facebook and Twitter were gaining massive traction, and our CEO, Darshan, was working with the 2010 Winter Olympics. As he tells it, fan-driven content was exploding on these platforms, getting stories out faster and more personably than he’d ever seen before. While the committee was afraid that exclusive content would be ‘leaked’ outside the village, he hit his “aha” moment - personalizing experiences for the fan, through social connection.

Watching Tokyo 2020, those same sentiments bubbled up again. Owning the narrative and the content has always been paramount for international events to ensure that their sponsors get the full attention of all fans. However, as digital continues to grow and become embedded in our lives, it has become increasingly difficult to limit the virality of some content. Case and point this Olympics was the number of videos, both big and small, that were deleted off Twitter and Instagram by DMCA takedowns from the IOC.

Easing Tension: The TikTok Games

TikTok, aka the favoured child of social platforms over the last two years, found a middle-ground between the committee, broadcasters, fans and athletes - it found creator authenticity. And, it hit it big. Leaning into TikTok, the Olympics were able to propagate their message to reach billions of people and invited Gen Z into the fold.

As a simple measure of TikTok’s success at the games, a fast search for Tokyo Olympics on the platform shows a staggering 4.5B views around multiple hashtags.

So, what makes TikTok different?

It’s a completely different lens for fans to watch the Games through. Broadcasters may own the rights to the sporting action, and Twitter may own the “press-release” space, but TikTok gives fans the soul of the operations - the “behind the scenes”, quirky personalities and humanness of all competing athletes. Instead of the regular view of Olympians as superhuman, unrelatable athletes, they get to watch athletes as they are; real people.

TikTok also gave athletes a way to connect directly with their fan base on a platform that is meant for personality and fun. It’s no surprise that during a year where the stands were empty, athletes decided to reach out with simple 'vlog-style' clips to provide top-tier engagement for their international audiences, shed light on their life passions and build the profile of their sport. The most popular Olympic TikTokers were not necessarily the most famous, but they were the ones that played the most authentic characters:

@codymelphy Olympic Village insider edition 👀
@ilonamaher Testing out the cardboard beds at the Olympic Village

TikTok’s massive success as an alternative way for fans to engage with the Olympics is a clear sign that times are changing. Fans are looking for a more direct relationship with the people they consider their idols. Today, some platforms effectively make that happen. As we look to fan engagement opportunities in 2022, we can see that the attention of the public is shifting towards short-form content, humour, originality and accessibility. Finding ways for TikTok and other social platforms to fit into traditional media events in sports & entertainment doesn’t have to “run against the grain,” and in fact, when used properly, they amplify like no other tool.

Tokyo 2020 checked a new box for the athlete-fan relationship, and 11 years on from the 2010 Winter Olympics that inspired the launch of Tradable Bits, the amplification of fan voices is louder than ever: fans want connection. Come talk to our team to learn how to amplify fan engagement through tools like TikTok, and to help your business grow.


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