The Battle of a Marginal Sport: Rhythmic Gymnastics

After digging deeper and deeper into Marketing I was wondering why the Big 5, Soccer, Basketball,American Football, Cricket and Rugby are so much more present in media and our public life and why they seem so much more popular. There are so many other interesting sports and perhaps even more beautiful sports. With my last post about Social Branding, mainly in Soccer, I realized that other sports are often underrepresented. As I am a Rhythmic Gymnast the marketing inferiority or publicity struck me the hardest.

The beautiful gymnast in the video above is russian Evgeniya Kanaeva, the current number one in the world when it comes to Rhythmic Gymnastics. Young, beautiful ladies with amazing skills, breath-taking flexibility and an amazing expression….isn’t this beautiful to look at? So why do most people seem to prefer to look at sweaty men chasing the ball instead of graceful women mastering astonishing skills with the ball?

History

Rhythmic gymnastics is a women-only event in which gymnasts perform on a floor with a rope, hoop, ball, clubs or ribbon accompanied by music, in individual or group events.

According to Olympic.org altered forms of the modern Rhythmic Gymnastics came to existence in the 1800s and was a simple group event with the goal of expressing a choreography. It grew slowly until the first small competitions were held in eastern Europe in the 1930s, when its newfound complexity began to draw a wider audience.

Rhythmic gymnastics incorporates elements of classical ballet, as well as the German system of emphasizing apparatus work for muscle development and the Swedish method of using free exercise to develop rhythm.

The FIG recognized rhythmic gymnastics as an official discipline in 1963. In 1964 the first official Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships were held in Budapest.

The number of athletes grew as interest spread to other parts of the world and rhythmic gymnastics slowly emerged from the shadow of the long-established artistic discipline to enter the Olympic program in 1984.

The Battle of a Marginal Sports

Rhythmic Gymnastics is hardly broadcasted on western TV programs and have a very small media coverage. Important competitions, like the World Championships, for example, are often only broadcasted 3 months after the real event. Live broadcasting is very rare. But I have made the experience that everyone who falls over a Rhythmic Gymnastics competition on TV, were astonished and immediately drawn to the sport.

In Rhythmic Gymnastics there is not as much sponsoring as in other sports. While in Soccer we have huge companies sponsoring whole soccer teams, RG has small assorted sponsors often consisting of Gymnastics retailers like Sasaki or Chacott. Some Sponsors like Longines are well assorted and seem to fit the sport, but are still quite rare.

"Elegance is Attitude"

Overall, there is not as much money in circulation as in Soccer, for example. Top Gymnasts earn a living but not a fortune and are not immediately “celebrities” or as well publicized when achieving something…there is no hype.

Another difference is the number of spectators at an event. On saturdays it is almost impossible for me to get home, because of thousands of people streaming towards the Olympia Stadion to see Hertha BSC Berlin play, in gymnastic events there are perhaps   a few hundred present.

What to strive for?

A very important improvement is to just market the sport better and increase the public interest. A higher media coverage would perhaps result in more people coming to the events, a broader fan base and the sport growing because of a better financial basis. This would also lead to a higher public recognition for the gymnasts and their amazing achievements.

An example for the chances of improvement are linked to my last post about Social Branding. As I said in that post, many sponsors, looking for a face for their brand, ask the athletes on how many fans or followers they have. In case of Evgeniya Kanaeva, I could not find an official Facebook fan page and the in-official fan-page with the most members had 769 likes and she has 356 followers on twitter. In contrast Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona has 427,393 likes on his Facebook page and 88,810 on his in-official twitter page. So there is still lots of room for improvement for Rhythmic Gymnastics…

Why is RG so underrepresented?

One reason has already been touched by my fellow blogger Anne who spoke about gender issues in sport…and yes Rhythmic Gymnastics is a women-only sport. The blog Sport, Gender and Media states it very simple; “Women’s sport in appealing and interesting, and just as good as men’s sporting performances, but women are not given the chance to demonstrate their athleticism, strength and skill because the media mostly ignore them.” Sport is still under the prejudice of being a men-only field and women seem to be somehow “abnormal” in that field, although gymnastics can be seen as perfectly integrating the female attributes such as elegance.

Due to the hard training with long training hours and lots of self-discipline, Rhythmic Gymnastics is not mass-consumable either and it is an individual sport, so the social perspective is “lost” as well. Many gymnasts tend to stop in their teens due to a lack of motivation and in search of that social perspective of just grabbing a ball and playing some soccer with a few friends on the beach. Gymnastics is still a young sport, with only becoming an olympic discipline in 1984, and still has a lots of room for development.

What can be done?

The solution to most problems today: Marketing. The Féderation Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) has already done a great job in finding sponsors that fit to the sport, but it will have to be expanded. They already started using Social Media and now have a YouTube channel, a Facebook account as well as a Twitter account. Gymnastics has to become more known and better publicized..

Another way would be to make the sport more accessible and create a broader base of hobby athletes or amateurs who pay fees.

Great Chances…

The upcoming Olympic Games 2012 in London are a great chance to market the sport and use the hype of the second largest sporting event to shift Rhythmic Gymnastics into the focus of the world. Ironically, the largest sporting event is the soccer world cup. But the Olympic games are still a great opportunity to publicize the sport, show the world how beautiful the sport is and maybe attract sponsors.

Positive Tendencies…

During my research I was actually surprised on how much articles I found, especially by the british media, which might already be the hype of the Olympic Games with all the Pre- and Qualification events having taken place recently. This can further improve…

In Russia, Rhythmic Gymnastics is very popular already being the motherland of the sport. An equal hype in the western countries will still have a long way to go.

I have the feeling that especially in Germany, Rhythmic Gymnastics is very underrepresented although a german gild called Jana Berezko-Marggrander has recently qualified for the Olympics…who knew? Nobody…

Here is a Video of Jana Berezko-Marggrander doing her ball routine at the Olympic Pre-Event.

Conclusion

Marketing wise there is still a lot that can be done, but I also believe that Rhythmic Gymnastics is heading in the right direction and are already pretty present in the Social Networks at least. Only a broader fan base is needed and more awareness for such a beautiful sport.

Personally I must admit that this blog was very hard to write for me. I just can’t seem to understand why Rhythmic Gymnastics is so underrepresented and there is very little information on the web. I also wanted to be objective (although I have a very subjective opinion) but still pay respect to the sport. This post has definitely been a challenge for my recently gained research skills, although I made a step backwards when it comes to the length…I apologize.

My personal explanation would be that Rhythmic Gymnastics is just out of this world…

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3 Comments

  1. That is a very nice post, Mirja!

    I would agree with you that RG is not as popular as it could be. In my opinion the main reason is that for an average person it’s hard to see the mistakes the sportsmen do, they don’t get the evaluation system, it’s complicated. Like in the figure skating. Before when the biggest note was 6.0 everyone could make their own judgements, but then they changed the system, and it’s hard for the audience to follow the competition. And when you watch RG it seems that noone makes mistakes. That’s why it’s not so spectacular, even though it’s very beautiful. Soccer or basketball have the simpliest rules ever, at the same time very exciting. And i suppose it makes this sports so spectacular.

    And in Russia it was Alina Kabaeva, that made the whole sport popular among the audience. Her performances were technically perfect and at the same very emotional. She in a way reanimated this kind of sport. After her a lot of girls started attending RG schools and sponsors invested money in this sport.

    Reply
  2. Lilian

     /  2012/02/11

    Very interesting post, Mirja!

    In your conclusion you said that it was hard for you to stay objective while writing the post. Indeed I could basically feel the fire in your eyes and your emotions while I read your post! I think it is a good thing in this case, because as you are so devoted to the topic you managed to write your post very passionate and interesting!

    I was astonished by the videos. It’s amazing what those athletes do, I didn’t know that these kind of things are possible with the human body. Crazy! I’ve been doing RG in high school, because we could chose the kind of sports we wanted to do voluntarily and I always enjoyed dancing and gymnastics and thought that RG could be fun. Of course not a single boy attended these classes and some of my classmates made fun of that class and said this hopping around wouldn’t even deserve to be called a sport. And in fact the class was not very professional and what we did was of course not even close to the things the professional RG athletes do … But at this point I experienced your point, that RG is not really accepted and valued in society properly, myself. Also I never saw it in TV and besides from that sports-class haven’t been confronted with it.

    Anastasia might be true in saying that the rules of RG are harder for the populace to understand, but I think that is not the main problem and the gender aspect plays a bigger role concerning the underrepresentation of this sport.

    Reply
  1. Footnotes – Top Student Blogging — WS 2011-12

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