Remember back in the 1960’s and 1970’s during the height of the Cold War? While we knew a little bit about the top American stars such as Mark Spitz and Dorothy Hamill, there was really no way of knowing anything about the Eastern European athletes. Secrecy, and to a certain extent, government-mandated rules prevented the Eastern Block athletes from being exposed to the West.
But oh how things have changed. Or should I say technology has changed. Sure, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe has, for the most part, eliminated the East vs. West mentality. But now, thanks to social media, fans and athletes can communicate in a free and open environment. The upcoming London Olympics has jumped on the social media bandwagon and has launched The Hub. This social media portal gives fans a way to connect with their favorite sports and athletes. And it gives the Olympians themselves a way to build their social profiles in the months before the event.
Communicating directly with world-class athletes on The Hub, via Facebook and Twitter, as well as getting event results, will make fans very happy. But think about what this technological advancement will mean for building a personal brand. Back in the 1970’s Bruce Jenner appeared on the iconic Wheaties box following his gold medal win in the decathlon. In the 1980’s Carl Lewis seemed to be on advertisements everywhere following his multiple gold medal performances in track & field. Advertisement dollars were about the only thing available for athletes back then. And those dollars were only limited to a few select athletes.
How great it is that today’s Olympic athletes have the opportunity to develop their own brand, engage fans, and drive their own marketing activities. And what if they don’t win any medals? They still can use The Hub (as well as many other social media tools) as a way to market themselves to the world.
I think this is a great way for fans to get an inside look at what it’s like to be an Olympic athlete, but I’m more than a little concerned about the blurring lines between athlete and celebrity. Have we gone so far that the athletes and fans will lose sight of the games themselves? Will the winners be the athletes with the best social media profile not the ones with the most medals? Shouldn’t the Olympics be about competition first? How will social media impact the games this summer in London? What’s your opinion?