After winning the 100m and achieving his re-coronation at the London Olympics as the fastest man in the world, it would seem things couldn’t get any better for Usain Bolt. Then the outspoken Jamaican won the 200m, thereby becoming the first person ever to repeat in both the 100m and 200m. In turn, he cemented his place in history as one of the greatest — and most well-known — Olympians of all-time. Now the Olympics are over, and still his popularity grows. How? Social media.
Social media isn’t new to the Olympics, having first gained traction four years ago. Other 2012 stars, like Michael Phelps and Gabby Douglas, are using social media as well. Their Twitter followers have jumped up to over 1.3 million and 650,000, respectively. However, Usain Bolt has taken to new media like no other, with nearly 1.7 million followers and a new game available in the App Store, Bolt!.
The Bolt Approach
Bolt rose to international fame in Beijing four years ago and is now a household name in much of the world. However, it wasn’t just his talent that made him so popular. Incredibly cocky and constantly clowning around, Bolt is a natural at self-promotion, as his charisma and confidence extend to the web. After his win in the 200m on August 9, for example, he tweeted:
It’s hard to argue with his records, but these days his record setting continues off the track. He is a one-man advertising firm that promotes his personal brand more successfully than any athlete since Muhammad Ali. Bolt stands to rake in $20 million from various sponsors this year. The most lucrative deal from Puma will amount to $9 million for the most famous Jamaican since Bob Marley. Other endorsers include Gatorade, Digicel, and Virgin Media, each of which is set to benefit from his social media approach.
In working with RockLive to produce Bolt!, which recently hit one million downloads, Bolt further cemented his online position, displaying an aptitude — partially guided by others, undoubtedly — to embrace a digital economy. According to this article by Mashable, Bolt was very involved in the making of the game. He was a beta tester for RockLive and is very proud of the final product, which he continues to push through direct interaction with his fans:
Bolt is one of the few athletes to approve the development of a cartoon caricature of himself. The app producer has reportedly also reached out to NFL’s Chad ‘Ochocinco’ Johnson and international soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo.
Cash for Gold
Bolt’s approach is at once innovative and particularly necessary, as Olympians face a unique problem among athletes. They generally do not receive a stable salary like their counterparts in the NFL, MLB, or other professional sports. So when the Olympics roll around, those athletes that are talented, successful, and charismatic land the big advertising deals. For the likes of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, these deals can bring in upwards of $20 million per year. But these offers are few and far between and reserved for top athletes in prominent sports. The social media popularity is much more egalitarian.
For example, Gabby Douglas surprised the world and took all around individual gold in gymnastics just days after helping the US to gold in the team competition. The 16-year-old from Virginia Beach won the hearts of millions of Americans with her performance in London, and, now her popularity is represented on her twitter account @gabrielledouglas, which recently boomed to over 600,000 followers. Not bad for a girl from humble beginnings who is still in high school.
While she doesn’t tweet with the same confidence as Bolt, Douglas has seen her Twitter blow up due to her incredible performance in the gym and that million dollar smile. How she utilizes that popularity will shine light on social media’s ability to step beyond traditional advertising spending to garner income for sports that operate largely outside of the public eye.
Although Michael Phelps has repeatedly said that he will not be in Rio in 2016, you can bet that social media will. Will we see Usain Bolt’s game app imitated by the likes of Gabby Douglas in the years between London and Rio? As more and more athletes take to new media, these promotional products, as well as Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, will grow in visibility, attracting, in time, more attention and more income.
Image: Los That Sports Blog