What do Donald Trump, Katy Perry, and the Olympic movement have in common? They are all in love with social media. Pop stars who embrace digital platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as sports’ governing bodies and the leader of the free world see a robust social media footprint as a direct line to their fan bases.

And staying connected pays off. He may be the least favourable first-term president since polling began, but Trump is as popular as ever with his core supporters. His Twitter account has 38.3 million followers, considerably less than Katy Perry with 104m, but considerably more than athletics (IAAF), gymnastics (FIG) and swimming (FINA), the three highest revenue earners for the International Olympic Committee on the summer Olympic Program.

Believe it or not, the FEI beats all three of those international federations (IFs) for overall engagement on social media, according to analysts. The annual REDTORCH Sport on Social reports analyze the presence and performance of 35 international sports federations on the four most popular channels over 12 months. Rankings are based not only on official followers or subscribers, but also on individual interaction and activity rates: likes, posts, shares, etc.

In their report released February 2017, the FEI ranks fourth overall in the Engagement League and number one on Facebook. Skiing owes its first place in the Engagement League to its number-one and number-two rankings on Twitter and Instagram, respectively. World rugby wins on YouTube to rank second overall and basketball had the highest numbers on Instagram for third. Although the IAAF Twitter account grew 62.5%, more than any other (new followers were prolific during the Games), athletics managed only ninth place overall while its fellow A-rated sports, swimming and gymnastics, figured only 17th and 22nd on the Engagement League table. Football FIFA (soccer) which would appear to rank above every other sport in numbers of fans, followers and subscribers (see Table A) places fifth on the REDTORCH league based primarily on its YouTube activity.

FEI Engages New Fans

The FEI reports record numbers of interactions for their off-the-field-of-play “in the moment” content produced during the Rio Games. In five targeted territories – China, US, Brazil, Japan, and Russia, chosen purposefully for their large internet populations and as Games and future Games hosts – there were over 8 million interactions across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, VK, OK and Weibo, with over 5,000 press articles (online and print) and more than 1,000 broadcast pieces. Overall this created 19.5 billion opportunities to see non-competition footage across broadcast, print, online and mobile. In addition, there were also almost 3,000 press articles published across the rest of the world.

Over the course of the year, internet searches on equestrian doubled from over 1.5m in 2012 to over 3.1m in 2016, according to the FEI whose multi-lingual, multi-territory #TwoHearts global social media campaign contributed extensively to the spike.

“We launched our #TwoHearts campaign for Rio with this in mind – a simple concept for people to understand, yet such a powerful message, and this helped us to heighten our profile significantly at these Games,” said FEI president Ingmar de Vos.

Billy to Rio, the FEI’s social media project, focused on engaging new fans via an endearing horse with Olympic dreams, won two bronze Lovie awards in the Internet Video and Social categories. The Lovie Awards are recognized as the only truly pan-European awards honouring online excellence. Billy to Rio was also the winner of Equestrian Commercial at the International at the Equus Film Festival 2016 in New York City.

Rio Consumed

According to the International Olympic Committee, half the world’s population followed the Rio Games, with 356,924 hours of linear and online coverage and seven billion video views on social media. That’s more television and digital coverage than ever before. Factor in that engagement on social media and the Olympic Games in Rio were the most consumed Olympic Games in history.

While total broadcasting coverage for Rio went up 96.7% from London’s Games in 2012, it was the soaring digital coverage that made the headlines. Hours of linear TV coverage was a mere 113,455 hours (a climb of 13.5% from 2012) compared to 243,469 hours watched online – a gold medal-winning leap of 198.6%. According to

TheMediaBriefing.com, an intelligence platform for the global media industry, older age groups remain the most wedded to linear TV while 16- to 24-year-olds are most devoted to watching online.
The IOC confirmed the following viewer numbers for equestrian:

Jumping – 70,090,000 (up 12.98% over 2012);

Eventing – 62,893,000 (up 96.1%);

Dressage – 38,580,000 (up 50.2%);
for a total of 181,563,000 hours, up half a million on London 2012.

Although the IOC conducts extensive surveys after each Summer and Winter Olympics, the data collected is for the benefit of the International Federations (IFs), and is not for public consumption, says IOC press officer Rachel Rominger. “Using metrics from broadcast, digital media, press, ticketing and general public surveys, data was collected during and after the Games, and reports were then provided to each of the 28 IFs with information on their specific sport so that they may better evaluate and analyze their own sports,” says Rominger. Based on the analysis of this data, IFs were able to submit modifications to athlete quotas, competition formats, and events, as the FEI did in November last year reducing teams to three, discarding the drop score, etc. The whole process led to the finalization of the Tokyo 2020 event program that was announced in June.

Of all the international federations contacted by Horse Sport, only half a dozen responded and the information they released was not salient to drawing any significant comparisons to equestrian for the purposes of this article. However, a review carried out four years ago by the IOC Programme Commission following the London Games is in the public domain and it illustrates each sport’s “contribution” to the Olympic Games (see comparisons at left). Equestrian came sixth out of the nine sports in Group D in terms of the number of viewer hours and was fourth most costly to produce. This review was then used to determine which sports reap what proportion of the money the IOC makes from the Olympic Games.

Revenue Distribution

The IOC is the owner of the global broadcast rights for the Olympic Games – including broadcasts on television, radio, mobile and internet platforms. Every four years following each Olympic Games the IOC divvies up all those 100s of millions of dollars generated by TV rights, marketing and sponsorships. The beneficiaries of this fiscal largesse are the international federations for the sports on the Olympic Programme. Being one of the gang is a lifeline for many of the non-mainstream sports. And here’s why.

The stakes keep rising. Revenue generated by London’s Games was $520 million, a 75% hike from the sums generated by the Beijing Games. Rio 2016 revenue distribution to IFs more than doubled compared to Athens 2004.

What sum each IF receives depends on which distribution group it belongs to. The formula for distributing the revenues was first introduced in 1992 and has evolved over several Olympiads. It is based on the notion of rewarding IFs according to their contribution to the Games.

Following the London review, the 28 sports were re-ranked into five groups, reflecting the magnitude of their respective contributions to the Games. Swimming (aquatics), athletics and gymnastics, sports which accumulate billions of viewer hours, sell massive numbers of tickets and thus generate most revenue over the 16 days of the Games, are in Group A. Modern pentathlon, which has similar production costs to swimming but gets a fraction of its coverage and takes place over just two days, is in Group E.

The 2012 review repositioned a number of sports, including equestrian. Archery, badminton, boxing, judo, shooting, table tennis and weightlifting moved up while equestrian, handball and hockey went down a tier. Rowing was the only sport in equestrian’s former group to maintain its equilibrium.

Canoeing, fencing, sailing, taekwondo, triathlon and wrestling join equestrian, handball and hockey in Group D. Members of Group D received $15,144,048 (USD) from the IOC following Rio 2016, less than half of what swimming received and a cut of about 14% from its allocation in the previous quadrennial. Modern pentathlon, which has been bracketed with the two newcomers, golf and rugby sevens, received $13 million.

According to IOC Communications manager Rachel Rominger, the decision to position equestrian in Group D was made “using a range of indicators including figures on broadcast coverage, media coverage, ticketing demand and other factors.” In the Olympic Games, she said, “there is no demotion or promotion system in place.”

The methodology which forms a basis for the revenue distribution has been focused on a set of criteria, prioritizing TV ratings or audience figures, under which each IF can obtain a score contributing to a final rating. However, while broadcasting numbers carry the greatest weight, they are not 100% reliable, as TV audience figures can be impacted in numerous ways: last-minute changes in scheduling, weather, scheduling clashes between sports and prime time and between sports that compete for the same audience, data distortions, and a whole slew of other reasons. Therefore, the IOC also took into account each sport’s:

• history and tradition (the sport’s record in the OG)

• added value (equestrian brings to the Games gender equality, no age barriers, nature-based)

• universality (no. of NFs and their activity)

• global spread (continental distribution of medals at OGs and WCs)

• popularity (media platforms, youth programs, rule innovation)

• ticket sales, number of media accreditations, and press coverage

• governance structure (including use of CAS to resolve disputes)

• athletes (anti-doping rule violations that led to sanctions, out of competition testing)

• development (strategic planning, coaching, courses)

• technical evolution (venues, equipment, clothing, safety)

• transparency (appeal process, training and evaluation of judges) and finally

• financial costs of both venue and operations at Olympic Games.

The FEI didn’t come out badly in the post-2012 review; one could argue that its positioning is appropriate and proportionate to its size and popularity as a sport and its measurable contribution to the Olympic Games. It may be the only sport on the program in which men and women compete on equal terms – but it’s also the only one in which an animal features throughout competition.

Roads to run and pools to swim will always be far more accessible and less costly than ponies to ride. Nevertheless, one of the greatest strengths of the Olympic program and the wider Olympic movement is its diversity. And the way the IOC see it, equestrian certainly contributes to this diversity.

It never hurts to increase your base, though. The FEI has a permanent digital and social team looking after video production, social and fan site content, a media team, a communications team, and a broadcasting arm. The FEI’s investment in focusing on making the sport attractive to fans, especially younger fans, and adapting it for TV, online media, and social and digital media is ongoing.

As de Vos noted last June, the International Olympic Committee approved the FEI’s new formats for Tokyo 2020 and confirmed equestrian is on the Olympic program for the 2024 Games. “This work to increase the universality of our sport and appeal to global fans has been extremely worthwhile,” he concluded.