When the Olympic Games kick off next month, several athletes will inevitably break through to become household names throughout the U.S. One way to measure an athlete’s popularity is through social media. Michael Phelps’ amazing run in Beijing led to an explosion in followers online. Phelps now has 5.2 million “likes” on Facebook and nearly 180,000 followers on Twitter. Similarly, Alex Morgan’s performance on one of sports’ biggest stages (last summer’s Women’s World Cup) helped to propel her to online stardom. Today, Morgan has nearly 500,000 “likes” on Facebook and another 500,000 followers on Twitter. Morgan will no doubt gain many more fans through her social media platforms as the U.S. women’s soccer team competes in the Olympic Games.
It will be interesting to see which American athlete becomes the next big Olympic star, both on the playing field and in the marketing world. Social media will no doubt play a significant role for whichever athlete enjoys a meteoric rise to prominence.
Here are the athletes we will be following as our picks for the most likely to break out at the 2012 Olympic Games this summer in London:
Carmelita Jeter: Women’s Track & Field
Twitter Followers: 3,735
Facebook Likes: 4,658
Many Americans have not heard of Carmelita Jeter, despite her current title of “fastest woman in the World,” in large part because she failed to qualify for the 2008 Games in Beijing. At 32 years old, this will likely be Jeter’s last shot at gold, on and off the track. Look for her to make the most of her opportunity and create a legacy that will last a lifetime.
Jennifer Kessy & April Ross: Women’s Beach Volleyball
Twitter Followers: 1,539 (Jennifer) & 2,060 (April)
Facebook Likes: 3,272 (Jennifer) & 4,338 (April)
Considering beach volleyball is always one of the most popular Olympic events, it is a safe bet to assume this pair will have America’s attention. Whether they can unseat Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh as the sport’s darlings remains to be seen. A strong showing in London will go a long way in boosting their popularity online.
Jesse Williams: Men’s Track & Field
Twitter Followers: 1,692
Facebook Likes: 884
Williams won a gold medal in the high jump at the 2011 World Championships, becoming the first U.S. track & field athlete to win an international medal in the event since 1996. If he can come through again in London, he has the potential to become a star online as well.
Jordyn Wieber: Women’s Gymnastics
Twitter Followers: 15,034
Facebook Likes: 12,004
Gymnastics events are often some of the most popular among fans at the Olympics and this year will be no different. Wieber is a threat to win in almost any event and we will likely see a lot of her throughout the Games. Look for Jordyn to shine in London and her online following to grow exponentially as a result.
Missy Franklin: Women’s Swimming
Twitter Followers: 8,854
Facebook Likes: 2,184
The sixteen year old Franklin already has a world record and is a favorite to capture gold in London. As we’ve seen many times in the past, winning a gold doesn’t always translate to instant fame, popularity and commercial success. However, Franklin has the personality and charisma to capture the hearts of U.S. fans this summer. Expect to see her following among social media users to increase significantly, regardless of performance.
Ryan Lochte: Men’s Swimming
Twitter Followers: 64,777
Facebook Fans: 88,716
While considering Lochte isn’t much of a stretch given his success in the pool leading up the Games building on his performance in Beijing, it will be interesting to see if a run of gold medals will have the same impact on his status in the social media world as Phelps enjoyed.
Lolo Jones: Women’s Track
Twitter Followers: 79,725
Facebook Fans: 32,872
Like Lochte, suggesting Lolo Jones will become an American star isn’t exactly the boldest of predictions. Jones has already been featured in a documentary and made headlines after being linked to Tim Tebow (which she later joked about on Twitter). What WILL be interesting to see, however, is exactly how many new fans she picks up by September. Jones has the potential to become one of the Games’ biggest winners.
We will look back after the games to see how these athletes have fared in the social media world. We will also be featuring posts on our blog throughout the Olympics from a guest contributor who will be in attendance and sharing some observations from a sports marketing perspective. We look forward to Deb’s insight and the opportunity to share it with you…stay tuned!