When I look at the business side of the sport of swimming, I like the trends. Sponsors are renewing, membership is at an all-time high, there is more TV than ever, social media is growing, and swimming is the #1 sport in the U.S. Olympic Committee brand research. However, this is not a culture that is accepting of how things are today. Neither am I. We still have a long way to go.
But first, it’s fun to take a step back and look at some of the more creative marketing from 2013 (and a little bit of late 2012). On Jan., 1, I will post predictions for 2014. Follow on Twitter to get an alert.
Below are a few of my favorite marketing trends and moments in the sport:
Reality TV: One of the great measures of success for athletes is to transcend the sport and become marketable outside swimming. Swimmers showed their pop culture relevance more than ever.
• What Would Ryan Lochte Do?: There’s no denying Ryan Lochte’s star power reaches new audiences. This teenage-girl targeted show put a swimmer in the spotlight along with other top E! shows for the year.
• Pretty Little Liars: Missy Franklin made an appearance on PLL. She also made a cameo in the summer movie The Internship with Vince Vaughn, but her part was unfortunately left on the cutting room floor.
• The Haney Project: Michael Phelps was the star pupil of famed golf instructor Hank Haney and The Golf Channel hit. Phelps also earned a sponsor relationship with Ping golf clubs in the process, which is not the norm for Olympic sports athletes.
• Chopped: Natalie Coughlin went head-on against Serena Williams and Danica Patrick on the FOOD Network show with her culinary skills.
Vanity Fair: One of the hottest stars in Hollywood right now is Kerry Washington (Django Unchained, TV’s Scandal). She appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair in a pool in a swimsuit. While it wasn’t directly related to competitive swimming, images like these reinforce that swimming is a sport for all. In hindsight, we didn’t make as big of a deal on this as we should have as a sport.
Diana Nyad: No swimming human interest story captured America’s attention more than Diana Nyad’s Cuba-to-Florida swim. It brought a spotlight to open water swimming like nothing else in history and showed swimming is a sport for all ages.
Comeback: Whether a Michael Phelps comeback is for real or not, is to be seen. However, this story continues to be an international story beyond the sport. Ian Thorpe’s comeback created international headlines, but nothing like this. All the talk has kept Michael as relevant today as his last swim in London and his legend continues. Not to mention this has other swimmers (and marketers) sleeping with one eye open to see what he is going to do.
Duel in the Pool: The exciting finish in Glasgow for the Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool showed the magic of head-to-head competition and the excitement of swimming that many see at the high school and collegiate level. This was the lightning-in-a-bottle the franchise has been looking for.
Swimming Social Media Wars: The Twitter battle heated up on accounts that focus on the insider view of swimming. While many of these accounts that document the life of swimmers existed before 2013, this year many of them grew to culturally-relevant followings of tens of thousands. Of course, there are the usual outlets of Swimming World magazine and SwimSwam, however this was a breakout year for individual accounts. All of these accounts are jockeying, and sometimes bickering, to be the leader in showing they get the culture of swimmers better than anyone else. They show swimming has its own language and occasional gallows’ humor. A few of the highlights:
• @iSwimWithIssues (71,000+) – an occasionally irreverent “you don’t get it, unless you are one of us” insider view of the sport, its challenges and rewards
• @SwimmerProblems (58,000+) – they embrace the struggles swimmers face, creating an unofficial club and badge of honor
• @swimmerproblemz (29,000+) – a “misery loves company” approach to swimmers who wouldn’t want it any other way
• @Swimmers_Say (22,000+) – a “sh!t” swimmers say account that is often smart alecky with occasional pop culture references
• @swimmin101 (21,000+) – tips, facts, things not to do and pop culture memes
• @MikeLGustafson (18,000+) – inside the mind of a swimmer from a motivational and inspirational perspective that is always insightful, often witty
• @Swimmingisme (16,000+) – a look inside the culture of the sport, but with a touch more inspiration than the others
• @ShitSwimmerSay (10,800+) – a sarcastic and often irreverent take on swimming life
Have I missed any Twitter accounts? The ones above top 10,000 followers, so let me know if I missed any!
USA Swimming Sponsor Notes: This will seem like a shameless plug for sponsors, but there are two key milestones from 2013 worth mentioning:
• 40 Years: This year celebrated the 40th anniversary of Phillips 66’s sponsorship of the sport of swimming. It started as an idea on a cocktail napkin in the Indianapolis airport 40 years ago. Sponsors come and go with all sports, so this is a true milestone that is rarely seen.
• 1 Year: On the different end of the time spectrum, this was the first year of a new sponsor model that welcomed multiple suit manufacturers into USA Swimming – Arena, Speedo & TYR. While early results are positive and well received in member surveys, this one needs to endure the test of time.
Are there any key milestones that I missed? Please comment or send along ideas on Twitter. It was a great year for the sport, but we have to continue to press harder!
On Jan. 1, I will post some predictions for trends I see coming in 2014.
Happy New Year!