The performative Olympics
20 September 2012
An explicit aim of the 2012 London Olympics was to boost sports participation levels in the UK. While it remains to be seen whether this lofty ambition is realised, the Future Foundation believes that one of its most immediate and pervasive effects will be to elevate the importance of performative leisure. This trend sees millions of global consumers using smart technology to broadcast real-time records of their leisure activities – whether from the stadiums or the comfort of their living rooms.
Between 2007 and 2011, the numbers agreeing that “the 2012 Olympics will positively impact on the level of sports participation in this country” dropped from 75% to 51%. And government figures reveal that a steady 50% of the UK never take part in moderate intensity activity, a figure that has not changed since 2005.
Since the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, many aspects of the typical consumer’s day-to-day life have been enriched by technology and now glow with a digital sheen. The numbers using the mobile internet have, for example, quadrupled. Social networkers have increased nearly threefold. HDTV penetration has crept towards the three quarter level. And, in 2012, around half of us have smartphones. Did this have any impact on the way we viewed the London Olympics? Absolutely.
We know, for example, that nearly half of young sports fans think HDTV is the best way to improve their viewing experience; nearly 40% say they access sports content via their mobile; 42% have shared something via an online service such as Twitter or reddit. And it is clear that, despite an official ban on social media activity at the London 2012 Olympics, thousands of spectators have uploaded images online. As London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) deputy chairman Sir Keith Mills says: “We live in an internet world... and there’s not much we can do about it.”
Indeed, research conducted by the Future Foundation reveals palpable interest in sharing Olympic experiences – more than one in 10 British citizens agreed they would use their social networks to post photos, updates and messages relating to London 2012.
The expectation of a digitally-enhanced Olympics has given a huge boost to brand innovation. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), for example, gave the go-ahead for a number of new features designed to boost the Games’ social presence and engagement with sports fans. These included Faces of Olympians, a collaboration between Instagram and the IOC, which saw photos of athletes’ game faces posted on Instagram and Tumblr; and Inside the Olympic Village and Olympic Challenge, where fans enjoyed live chats and prediction-based games. Mobile engagement was ubiquitous – FourSquare check-ins gave games-goers the chance to earn an ‘Olympic Ticket’ badge; sports social network PlayUp allowed fans worldwide to follow scores and connect with others in real-time.
And TV became synonymous with real-time content – NBC partnered with Twitter and Facebook to engage viewers around Olympics content – while the BBC hosted an unprecedented 24 live HD streams and 2,500 hours of coverage, mobile apps, red button services and simultaneous streaming.
While we can reasonably expect to see a short-term, modest boost in levels of sporting participation, many people will simply have enjoyed watching the Games without feeling the need to participate themselves. With Twitter records broken, updates frenetic and many millions of spectators capturing (and then sharing) their Olympic experiences in photographic form, London 2012 was the most networked, social and digitally enhanced set of Games so far. And so the trend for performative leisure matures from emerging to mainstream status.
Jason Mander, head of content, Future Foundation