Rio Olympics the most social games ever, sport marketing prof says

Laurentian University's Ann Pegoraro has been studying how social media plays a part in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Athletes use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts to connect with their fans and audiences

Canada's Ghislaine Landry and Kayla Moleschi celebrate in the womens rugby sevens quarter-final match between Canada and France during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on Aug. 7. "Every time there's a large mega-event like the Olympics, we see an amazing spike in usage of social media," a Sudbury university professor says. "Great stories are put together. And any time something strange or odd happens, it's usually breaking on social media first."

The Rio 2016 Olympics will be the most social games ever, according to Laurentian University's Ann Pegoraro. 

The director of Laurentian's Institute for Sport Marketing has been researching the top social media topics and stories during the Olympics. When the games are over, Pegoraro plans to use her findings to help other sports organizations on their social media presence. 

"Every time there's a large mega-event like the Olympics, we see an amazing spike in usage of social media," she said. 

"Great stories are put together. And any time something strange or odd happens, it's usually breaking on social media first." 

She has been paying close attention to elite athletes like American swimmer Michael Phelps and the Canadian women's rugby team. 

She says the Olympics allow athletes to take advantage of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to connect with their fans and audiences. 

"Now we can follow all these accounts and really see what they're doing themselves and get a flavour for how they're enjoying their games — from a veteran who's been to several games to a rookie," she said. 

"I think that helps all of us feel closer to them as athletes and feel like we're cheering and making a difference." 

Here are some of the moments Pegoraro has been taking a look at: 

Swimmer Penny Oleksiak's first two medals for Canada

After 16-year-old swimmer Penny Oleksiak won Canada's second medal of the games on Sunday's 100-metre butterfly final, Pegoraro says the teen predicts the fan will have more fans and sponsorship deals. 

"I'm sure her Twitter followers have gone crazy. She will now have a lot of people following her on social than she ever did before," Pegoraro said. 

"We'll probably see a scrambling of people following her and [wanting] talk to her. And once the games are over, we'll probably see companies pick her up and sponsor her because of her success." 

New sports at the Olympics

Pegoraro says people will also be paying close attention to new sports added to the Olympics this year, such as women's rugby. 

"It's the first time that that sport is competing in the Olympics," she said. "So, those athletes are getting a lot more attention on social." 

One athlete Pegoraro has been watching on social media is Canadian rugby player Jen Kish. 

"She's putting videos of the behind the scenes as they get ready for their big match. She's definitely an interesting one." 

Media portrayal of female athletes 

Pegoraro says there has been much social media chatter over how the press covers female athletes. 

Over the weekend, the Chicago-Tribune tweeted a headline labelling American trap shooter Corey Cogdell as the "wife of a Bears' lineman." 

NBC, also came under fire on social  media after commentators credited Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu's husband for her efforts. Hosszu, broke the world record for the 400-meter individual medley. 

"We see this around female athletes where they're usually categorized by who they're married to and other aspects of their life as opposed to being categorized as an athlete first," Pegoraro said. 

"We hope that social media counteracts it. What we're seeing with social media is a lot of policing of that traditional narrative around female athletes." 

Team Refugee

Compelling stories from Olympic athletes also make for great social content, says Pegoraro. 

One team she will be following during the course of the games is Team Refugee. She says the team has even captured the attention of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He gave the team a shout-out on his official Twitter account. 

"Athletes like them can actually create media and attention for themselves. Team Refugee has their own Twitter handle and hashtag. It's building people's knowledge of them as an athlete group, and what they've been through, before they got to the games," Pegoraro said.