As I sit here watching swimming at the Olympic Games on TV, typing on my laptop, while I have fencing on my iPad and checking Twitter on my phone I had two questions come to mind:
- Do I need some professional help?
- How is this different than any Olympic experience before it?
The short version is that mobile device video consumption is up more than 5x over the same period at the London Olympic Games in 2012.
This caused a reflection on the last decade in the sport and other big game-changing shifts on the business side that will define the sport going forward.
State of TV & Digital
NBC Sports is the constant and has been the mothership for decades for swimming coverage in particular, but otherwise there has been a carousel of TV networks including Outdoor Life, Versus, WCSN, Universal Sports and now NBCSN, the NBC Sports app and NBC Sports. This fall we will see a new expansion with the digital channel of the Olympic Network, recently announced by the International Olympic Committee to launch August 21. USA Swimming is investing more in the next quad to build digital programming also.
Big Media Meets Youth Sports
NBC Sports recently acquired Minneapolis-based Sports Engine and Sports Engine acquired TeamUnify, the top provider for swim team web sites. Sports Illustrated created a division called SI Play that focuses on youth sports leagues and teams. Why would major media companies want to own local swimming, soccer and ice hockey web sites? Distribution of content is changing, appointment viewing in the living room is declining and going local is the next frontier to win over long term fans and viewers. The basic logic is if media companies become partners in building the sport at the grassroots level, they will earn loyal viewers on any and all devices in the future.
Changes in Swim Suit Brands
Speedo, Arena and TYR have been constant players in the swim suit and equipment industry with so many others changing drastically. Nike is the 800-pound gorilla in global shoes and apparel and they also worked to develop elite racing swim suits team apparel. Eventually they pulled out of competitive swimming in 2015, as they did in golf in the last week. Anytime a brand of that stature leaves a sport, it creates news and impacts retail, especially at sporting goods stores. During that time, major brand Adidas entered the sport and Michael Phelps created his own line with the “MP” brand. Other swimmers in history have created signature suit lines through existing suit companies, but no one with the marketing star power and household name recognition of Michael Phelps. He will wear the brand he created in Rio to mark a critical milestone for the relatively new brand.
Evolution of Swimming Media
While Swimming World has been a constant on the print scene, they have also evolved to grow on digital and social. They have been joined by new outlets like SwimSwam and SwimVortex. FloSwimming was another site that drew swimming community acclaim for a short period and then closed up shop. While a digital trend is clear in all these outlets, SwimSwam bucked the trend with starting a print version of its own in 2016. All these sites stay grounded in “who touched the wall first” content, they are all expanding into swimming lifestyle content as well as being aggressive on social media to draw eyeballs and subscriptions.
State of Swimming Retail
It’s hard to think of a segment of the swimming industry that has undergone as drastic changes quite like the swimming retail industry. Local team dealers have evolved from predominantly servicing pool decks to a combination of on-deck/online dealers and some have gone out of business or consolidated with other team dealers. SwimOutlet.com exploded on Ecommerce and had a major influence on how brands sell product. Suit brands like Arena, Speedo and TYR also went direct to consumers from their own sites. Then big box sporting goods Sports Authority closed doors this year, which will have a trickle down impact on our industry that remains to be seen. Retail continues to change quicker than any other part of the industry.
The next decade brings more challenges for the industry, but that is countered with far more excitement about the prospect of the future.
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Matt Farrell is the Chief Marketing Officer of USA Swimming. Follow and share your #SwimTrends using the hashtag or tagging @MattFarrell_ on Twitter. This blog was originally posted on USASwimming.org.