NBC Has New Olympic Sport: Helping Athletes Gain Social-Media Traction Before Paris Games

Noah Lyles might be one of the nation’s fastest athletes, but there’s one thing he was falling behind on: managing his social-media profile.

The Olympic runner knows how important it is for fans to see clips of him in action, particularly with the Paris Games about a year or so away. But securing rights to video footage and putting it up in an intelligent way across different digital venues can be difficult, he says. “That can be very stressful, and take away from the ability to perform.”

NBCUniversal wants to offer athletes some assistance. The media company is launching a new production effort called Fortius that aims to help Olympic athletes burnish their brands in the months leading up to the next Games. The company has many reasons to do so. NBCU and its parent, Comcast have invested heavily in U.S. rights to the Olympics broadcasts, having agreed to pay $7.75 billion for broadcast rights to the events between 2021 and 2032. That programming, especially the hours that air in primetime, rely heavily on in-depth features on the athletes that often require NBC Sports crews to meet with them several times over the course of their training.

“People are more invested when they know the stories and background of these Olympians,” says Jenny Storms, NBCU’s chief marketing officer of entertainment and sports. “That is a fact.”

NBCU’s Fortius aims to work with between 15 and 20 Olympic or Paralympic hopefuls, pairing them with company experts from Bravo, NBC Sports and other parts of the company’s portfolio. These staffers can help the athletes think about the cadence of releasing clips and posts on various social-media outlets and how to understand how those releases perform. NBCU is providing the service at no cost to the athletes, says Storms, and Fortius is part of a larger studio effort underway at Team USA and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

“Fans want to know more, for the athletes to show up more frequently,” says Katie Bynum, the USOPC’s chief strategy and growth officer. She expects the program to become more robust in 2024, and believes it will help the athletes to be better able to discern good promotional opportunities and brand alliances for themselves. Retired athletes may take part, she adds, and help to mentor their younger counterparts.

Lyles used advice he has received on content and data to create a post that has won as much engagement as one he created in 2021 about winning a medal in Tokyo. Brooke Raboutou combined video and photos from her travels to create one of the most engaging post in the life of her Instagram account. Among the athletes expected to make use of Fortius are volleyball player Jordan Thompson; surfer Carissa Moore; and Chuck Aoki, who takes part in Paralympic wheelchair rugby.

For some would-be Olympians , the assistance may come as a relief. Sunny Choi, who will make history in 2024 by helping to launch breaking in its first time being featured at the Olympics, says she can use assistance in many aspects of social promotion, including knowing what moments are authentic and worth capturing for fans. “I’m just now starting to figure out what kind of content I like to create, what my voice is, what people like to see,” she says.

As for the name of the effort? Fortius comes from the Olympic motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius” which is Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger.”

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