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DECEMBER 7, 2016

The 2016 Olympic Sports Ranking

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To say that social media is a challenge for the international sports world in general is an understatement.

On the one hand, the explosion of social networks and livestreaming apps has given the Olympic Movement headaches in an environment traditionally dominated by official sponsors and exclusive host broadcasters. On the other hand, social media platforms have become indispensable communication channels for the Olympic Movement including international sports federations.

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recorded more than 5 billion social media impressions and now counts 50 million followers across all of its social media channels. The IOC is active on the key social media platforms in eight languages and the 35 International Olympic Summer and Winter Sports Federations also all have an active presence on these platforms. While international sports federations have been using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube primarily to engage with their fans and reach new audiences for their disciplines, their engagement on social media also has a commercial dimension as it is one measure that is used by the IOC when it comes to allocate Olympic funds to each sport.


Incidentally, the Olympic Games were first mentioned on Twitter a decade ago, on December 7, 2006 when social media consultant Kris Krüg (@kk on Twitter) was “talking to the Vancouver Olympic Committee about the internets.” The #Olympic hashtag appeared a year later in a Twitter discussion about the #Beijing #Olympics.

Burson-Marsteller and TSE Consulting have analysed the social media footprint of the IOC and its 35 international sports federations, as well as of their presidents and leading executives. This includes 62 institutional Twitter accounts, 50 Facebook pages, 40 Instagram accounts and 43 YouTube channels, as well as 14 personal Twitter accounts of the heads of international sports federations. The analysis, conducted in November 2016, shows which sports have the largest social media fan base, namely football and basketball, as well as those sports which have a small fan base, but enjoy a strong social media presence, namely judo, triathlon and table tennis.

Our analysis also looked at the effectiveness of the social media engagement, in particular which organisations garner the most shares per post. By reviewing the data, we hope this study can help these organisations make the most of their social media presence in the future.

Data for each social media account was collected on 1 November 2016 using Burson-Marsteller’s proprietary Burson Tools. For the purpose of this study, we only provide the top 10 results in each category, but the complete rankings and full data set are available on demand.

Executive Summary

In the statistics gathered, it is not surprising that the IOC is in a league of its own and tops the rankings on Facebook and YouTube. However, FIFA, the International Football Association, is ahead of the Olympic body on Twitter and Instagram. The Olympics Facebook page is the most liked page of any international organisation with twice as many likes as UNICEF. However, on Twitter the Olympics ranks third behind the UN and UNICEF, although it probably has more engaging content to share.

The Olympic Games – and International sports federations in general – would probably do even better on social media if they were able to share more video footage from the Olympics Games and other sporting events. However, their hands are tied by extremely restrictive social media rules and guidelines that apply during the Olympic Games themselves, as well as by traditional broadcasting agreements with host broadcasters.

A selected number of sports federations share live broadcasts on their YouTube channels and Facebook pages, such as the curling, canoe and volleyball federations. It is fair to say that in the near future more federations will live-stream their sporting events on their social media channels while still monetising the broadcasts through their official sponsors and partners. Today’s sports viewers expect to watch live and semi-live broadcast highlights on social media channels in addition to traditional TV channels.

Our analysis has shown that international sports federations communicate mainly in English. The Equestrian Federation (FEI) once had a French language Twitter account but it has since been discontinued. A small number of international sports federations, namely those for fencing, skating and wwimming, also communicate on Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo, Youku and Wechat.

The Olympics, the Paralympics and the Youth Olympics are also active on Snapchat as are 10 other sports federations. Some do not have a Snapchat avatar, and only the Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) uses its Snapcode as the avatar on its Twitter channel to drive more followers to the platform.


The Olympic Games also have an interesting Vine channel, where the IOC shares six-second heavily-edited snippets of sporting action and athletes screams from past Olympic Games.

The IOC, as well as a number of international sports federations including basketball, football, fencing, rugby, skating, hockey and ice hockey, liven up their tweets and social media posts with emojis. Most Olympic sports have their own internationally recognised pictographs. The Boxing Association (AIBA) uses the fisted-hand sign and the flexed biceps and the Equestrian Federation can choose from three different horse emojis. It makes sense to use these visuals in all social media communications since these icons are now searchable on Instagram. The Basketball Federation (FIBA) probably makes the best use of these emojis, using a small visual icon in almost every tweet.

International Olympic Organisations on Facebook


Facebook is the best social media channel for sports federations to mobilise and engage with a large fan base and all of the Olympic Sports Federations have a presence on the social network with a combined total fan count of 33 million people.

The Olympics has by far the largest Facebook page, with more than 15 million likes. FIBA’s page is a distant second with 3.3 million likes, just ahead of FIFA with 3.1 million likes. The IOC’s Olympic Channel places fourth with 1.7 million likes and the Hockey Federation (FIH) completes the top five list with one million likes.

The Skiing Federation (FIS) has created separate Facebook pages for each of its disciplines (alpine, cross country, freestyle, Nordic combined sand snowboarding) as does the Skating Union (ISU) with separate Facebook pages for figure skating, short track and speed skating. The Cycling Union (UCI) also makes it into the Top 10 combining its fans on the mountain biking and BMX Super-Cross Facebook pages.

Eleven of the 50 Facebook pages analysed are ‘place pages,’ allowing fans to ‘check-in’ at their location, regardless of whether they are fans of the page or not. The Olympic Museum in Lausanne boasts a respectable 25,000 check-ins by Facebook users at the Quai d’Ouchy in Lausanne, who then share photos and videos from the museum with their connections.

In general, international sports federations don’t see very much foot traffic at their various head offices. However, 2,600 people have checked-in at the headquarters of the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) in Seoul and more than 1,000 Facebook users checked in at the offices of the Swimming Federation (FINA) in Lausanne. The FINA page is also listed in the category ‘Swimming Pool’, and the Skating Union (ISU) as ‘Ice Skating Rink’ although neither organization has a pool or an ice skating rink available to the general public.

Nevertheless, adding an address and a check-in option for corporate Facebook pages is a great way to spread the page to a larger audience and international sports federations would be well advised to add their street address to their pages.

Ten pages also allow users to rate their pages. The Curling (WCF) and Rowing (FISA) Federations score a 4.8 out of 5, based on 41 and 79 reviews, respectively. The Taekwondo Federation (WTF) is in third place with a score of 4.7 based on 2,100 reviews. The page of the Skating Union (ISU) on the other hand only scores 1.4 out of 5 as it has been hit by a wave of negative ratings during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics with 1,200 one-star ratings.

Fifteen pages also allow user posts on their respective Facebook pages, including the pages of the Skating Union (ISU), the Skiing Federation (FIS) and the UCI Mountain Bike and BMXSupercross pages. The drawback of allowing visitors’ posts on Facebook pages is that they are generally unmoderated and so often prone to spam.

The FIS pages are also interesting in that they feature the main winter sports sponsors, Audi and Viessmann, in the avatars of their pages, which is the most visible item of any Facebook page. Most other pages avoid overt branding in their Facebook identikit and simply show the official logo of the respective federation.


The Facebook cover pictures are changed regularly to promote upcoming sports events, often including the official hashtag of the event. In October 2016, the Olympic page changed its cover to the wintery landscape of PyeongChang in South Korea, home of the next Winter Olympics in 2018, and the page of the Youth Olympic Games has a cityscape of Buenos Aires, which hosts the next Youth Olympic Games in 2018. The Modern Pentathlon Federation (UIPM) Facebook page stands out for promoting its paraphernalia with a link to its merchandising platform and a call to action to ‘Shop Now.’

International Olympic Organisations on Twitter

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Twitter is an indispensable social media channel for Olympic Sports Federations because it links sports influencers with other stakeholders.  All 35 Winter and Summer Sports governing bodies have an active presence on the platform, with a combined total audience of 17.3 million followers. The Cycling Union (UCI), the Skiing Federation (FIS) and the Skating Union (ISU) have also set up bespoke Twitter accounts for each of their disciplines. Most organisations tweet in English, the lingua franca of Twitter, however the Equestrian Federation did once have a French account which has since closed.

With its global appeal, the IOC maintains 13 Twitter accounts, including specific accounts for the @YouthOlympics, as well as Twitter accounts in Arabic, French, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. Its flagship account is the @Olympics Twitter account with 4.4 million followers. The IOC also has the @OlympicChannel, a Twitter account ‘where the Games never end,’ as well as a specific @IOCMedia account to promote the activities of its President Thomas Bach, with a respectable 94,000 followers. The IOC Twitter accounts add up to a combined total of 5.6 million followers. This impressive total is, however, dwarfed by @FIFAcom which boasts 9.3 million followers, more than twice as many as the IOC. FIFA is the most-followed sports federation on Twitter, followed by the Basketball Federation (FIBA) with 327,000 followers and the Rugby Union (WR) with 267.000 followers.

Almost all international sports federations have been verified by Twitter and feature the blue verification mark. The @Gymnastics and @Wrestling Federations have also secured the name of their discipline on Twitter. Having the name of the sport as the Twitter handle is more than simply a vanity URL; through their Twitter handle, they literally “own” every @mention and hashtags about their sport on Twitter and they therefore become part of every discussion making them leaders in their field. Most sports federations use their acronym as the Twitter handle, a practice which risks not being understood by outsiders to their sport. The Twitter handles of most sport disciplines have been registered, and a number of them have been suspended by Twitter for various infringements of its terms of service. The @Archery@Rugby and @Biathlon federations would be well advised to contact Twitter to reactivate their sports handles, which are currently suspended.


Twitter is an indispensable social media channel for Olympic Sports Federations because it links sports influencers with other stakeholders.  All 35 Winter and Summer Sports governing bodies have an active presence on the platform, with a combined total audience of 17.3 million followers. The Cycling Union (UCI), the Skiing Federation (FIS) and the Skating Union (ISU) have also set up bespoke Twitter accounts for each of their disciplines. Most organisations tweet in English, the lingua franca of Twitter, however the Equestrian Federation did once have a French account which has since closed.

The Olympics’ most retweeted post to date features a video clip from the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, posted on the day of the Rio 2016 closing ceremony. The stringent, self-imposed social media guidelines prevent the IOC, sports federations and athletes from sharing any moving images from the Games themselves. The Olympics channels would surely become stratospheric if short-form video content were allowed to be shared on social media.

Case in point: the most watched video of the Triathlon Federation (ITU) is a dramatic video of Alistair Brownlee helping his brother Jonathan finish the Triathlon World Series in Mexico in September 2016.

The IOC’s social media team has found other ways to engage its followers, despite not been able to share video footage from the Rio Games. Its second most popular tweet is a GIF of the Olympic Gold Medal which it asked its followers to retweet for luck.


Twitter is also a useful tool to make connections with influencers, journalists, the media and other sports federations. Not surprisingly the IOC Twitter accounts are central knowledge hubs, given that the Olympics are mutually following most other international sports federations and the IOC accounts occupy the first six places of the best connected sports organisations. The @Olympics and @IOCMedia accounts are mutually following 45 and 43 sports federations respectively. Mutually following each other means that the social media teams can use Twitter’s direct message facility to send messages longer than 140 characters to their counterparts.


The Volleyball Federation (@FIVBVolleyball) is the most prolific Twitter channel, posting on average 39 tweets per day followed by the Basketball Association (@FIBA) and the Equestrian Federation (@FEI_Global), with 31 and 27 tweets per day respectively. Not surprisingly, the Twitter streams of sports federations are highly active during sporting events. During the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, @FIVBVolleyball posted 220 tweets on a single day and @FEI_Global and @WorldTriathlon had a record activity spikes of 231 tweets. During the remainder of the year, these federations use Twitter as the official newswire of their respective sports, with tweets sent around the clock, 24/7.

@FIFAcom is in fourth place of the most active sports federations, with 23 tweets per day and fifth is the Hockey Federation (@FIH_Hockey) with 22 tweets per day. By comparison, the @Olympics tweets 10 times less frequently, with an average of just two tweets per day. Given the success of the Olympic tweets in terms of retweets, it remains to be seen whether the strategy of posting less is more effective than flooding the Twitter stream.

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Only a third of the presidents and chief executives of the 35 international sports federations have personal Twitter profiles – and only 12 of these are active. Sebastian Coe, the President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), is the most followed president with 110,000 followers, ahead of Brian Cookson, UCI President (@BrianCooksonUCI) and Brett Gosper, CEO of World Rugby. The Olympic gold medallist Coe joined Twitter in 2009 as President of the London 2012 Organising Committee, which he used to build his international profile.

These sports leaders are all dwarfed, however, by Joseph Blatter (@SeppBlatter), the former head of FIFA, who has more than 2.5 million followers on his Twitter account. Gianni Infantino, his successor, does not yet have an official Twitter presence, but there are at least 10 fake and parody accounts in his name. Having an official personal presence on Twitter would immediately avoid unnecessary confusion. Presidents don’t need to be active on a daily basis, but their presence helps to amplify their sport on social media, as the example of Sepp Blatter has shown.


During the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, sports delegations used Twitter and Facebook to promote their athletes. Team USA is the most followed Olympic team by sports federations, ahead of Team Canada and the Australian Olympic Team. The newly-created Refugees Team, comprising 10 athletes who competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics under the Olympic flag and received worldwide media coverage, also makes it into the top 10.

Sports trade media on Twitter


Sport and media have always had a symbiotic relationship; one does not exist without the other. And now with the impact of social media outlets, especially Twitter, specialist sports media have an even greater impact as their stories are seen by readers and viewers almost instantaneously.

The Olympic sports news website is the most followed media organisation ahead of its rival Around the Rings, followed by 34 and 30 international sports federations, respectively. The NBC Olympics Twitter feed is in third position.


Based on these rankings, the BBC’s sports reporter Ollie Williams is the most followed journalist by sports federations, ahead of Ed Hula, founder of Around the Rings and sports writer Alan Abrahamson from 3 Wire News.

International Olympic Organisations on Instagram


All but two sports federations have Instagram accounts, where they share snapshots and videos of athletes and iconic sporting moments. FIFA has the most followed Instagram account with 3.8 million followers, more than twice as many as the Olympics with 1.5 million followers. World Rugby is a distant third with 690,000 followers ahead of the basketball and volleyball federations.

The Olympics account regularly shares short and entertaining videos from past Olympic Games. These short videos are edited to fit the format of the platform and six-second extracts were also posted on the Olympic Vine channel where the IOC has clocked up 28 million loops. Clips of sporting action tend to perform very well on the platform. They usually don’t need any voice over and work perfectly when played mute on users’ mobile devices.

International Olympic Organisations on YouTube

All but one international sports federation have a YouTube channel to host their long-form video content. However, only 16 of these channels have been verified by YouTube and even the Olympic Channel, the official TV channel of the IOC, doesn’t have the precious tick mark.


The Olympic Channel is the most watched YouTube channel, with more than 689 million video views and 1.6 million subscribers. Each video receives on average 106,000 views and its most watched video, with more than 20 million views, is the 13-minute long footage of the Men’s 100m Final at the 2012 London Olympics. The other most watched Olympic videos are highlights from the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, including the Spice Girls, comedian Rowan Atkins and


Queen Elizabeth with Daniel Craig playing James Bond.

The Olympic channel has twice as many views as the FIFA TV channel, in second place with 375 million views. The basketball, rugby, and table tennis federations complete the top five list of the most watched channels with more than 100 million views.


The International Table Tennis Federation scored a viral hit with the 16-minute long video of the “funniest table tennis match in history” which was viewed 11 million times. The video of the performance of Russian Gymnast Daria Kondakova at the World Championships in Montpellier in 2011 has been watched eight million times and the impressive Haka of the New Zealand basketball team at the 2014 Basketball World Cup is the most watched video on the FIBA YouTube channel but far cry from the “Greatest haka ever” on the World Rugby channel with more than 12.3 million views.


Interestingly, more than half of the International Federations’ YouTube channels, including the Paralympic channel, monetise their YouTube videos with Google pre-roll and in-video ads. Nevertheless, very little love goes into the design of the YouTube channels themselves, which actually offer a number of useful features for content creators. Only half of the channels have added a branding watermark over their videos and only six channels use YouTube cards, video overlays, which point viewers to other related videos or to their own website. No sports channel has added closed captions or subtitles to its videos, which are both useful for search engine optimisation. In addition, very few channels feature the YouTube channels of their national federations. The Olympic channel prominently features the YouTube channels of the National Olympic Committees, as well as the main Olympic sponsors.

Improve your Ranking

Having a good, or great, social media presence is key for international sports organisations. For many federations, these social media accounts already exist – it is simply a matter of activating them in the right way. Here are 10 tips from the Burson-Marsteller / TSE consulting team to improve your social media presence:

Ten Social Media Tips for Sports Federations

Secure your discipline

Only the @Gymnastics and @Wrestling federations have registered their sports as their Twitter user name. Through their Twitter handle, they literally “own” every @mention about their sport on Twitter.

Get Verified

Most international sports federations are verified on Twitter, but some don’t yet have the blue icon. It also pays to be verified on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

Improve your bio

Optimise your bio by adding relevant hashtags. This will ensure you a higher ranking in searches on these platforms.

Promote your Snapchat

Snapchat accounts are notoriously difficult to find and there is no public list of the Snapchat accounts of international sports federations. Instead, promote your Snapchat channel on your other social media channels as the Hockey Federation does.

Be visual

Everyone knows that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” So using videos and images is critical to communicating with impact; the more visual the post, the more interaction it will have.

Use Emojis

Most Olympic sports disciplines have their own internationally recognised emojis. The trophy emoji and the clapping hands symbol should be part of any post about sporting results.

Engage your audience

Know your audience intimately – and always ask yourself ‘is my post interesting and engaging for my followers?’

Go Live

Live streaming platforms such as Facebook Live and Periscope are not only useful for broadcasting live sporting action, but both are also platforms that can be used to run live Q&A sessions with athletes, or your senior executives.

Encourage your Executives to be on Social Media

Only a handful of sports federation presidents have personal Twitter accounts. Since personal accounts tend to have better engagement than institutional accounts, it is worth creating official Twitter accounts and Facebook pages for the sports leaders whose mere presence will enhance the image of the sport.

Organise a Social Media Takeover

Some athletes have a massive social media following. Think about a social media takeover and let the athletes run your Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat account for a day, or during an event.

For more information

If you want to know more about the 2016 Social Media and Olympic Sport Ranking or about how Burson-Marsteller and TSE Consulting can assist your organisation in improving your social media presence with effective strategy and communications, please contact us.

Matthias Lüfkens

Burson Marsteller:

Tanya Heimlich-Ng Yuen

TSE Consulting:


Burson-Marsteller, established in 1953, is a leading global strategic communications and public relations firm. It provides clients with strategic thinking and program execution across a full range of public relations, public affairs, reputation and crisis management, advertising and digital strategies. The firm’s seamless worldwide network consists of 74 offices and 84 affiliate offices, together operating in 110 countries across six continents. Burson-Marsteller is a part of Young & Rubicam Group, a subsidiary of WPP (NASDAQ: WPPGY), the world’s leader in communications services. For more information, please visit

TSE Consulting

TSE Consulting, a Burson-Marsteller company, is an international consulting firm specialised in the world of sport. Headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland – home of international sport and known as ‘The Olympic Capital’ – TSE provides services to the public sector as well as international and national sports organisations. Over the years, we have developed strong expertise in all aspects of event bidding & hosting for public sector clients and in the development of long term strategy for sports organisations. We use our international experience combined with our extensive worldwide resources to be successful leaders in our mission to optimize the relationship between the public sector and the sports world.

Lausanne, December 7, 2016

This content is not being updated and may contain out of date information

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