Brand Strategy

USA Swimming wants the sport to float on far beyond the Olympics

In a new multiyear marketing effort, swimming's governing body in the US aims to generate long-lasting fandom.
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Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

· 4 min read

When the Summer Olympics roll around every four years, lots of people suddenly really care about swimming.

To get more Americans thinking about the sport—or thinking about athletes like Katie Ledecky just as often as they’re probably thinking about Caitlin Clark—USA Swimming is rolling out a new multiyear, multi-channel campaign encouraging people to get in the pool.

“We like to say that swimming becomes the most popular sport in America for nine days every four years,” Jake Grosser, senior director of marketing and communications for USA Swimming, the sport’s governing body in the US, told Marketing Brew. “The idea is to bring people in during the summer when we’ve got more eyes on the sport, and then keep them engaged with the sport over the next few years to try and bridge that gap.”

Dive in

The campaign, called “Goggles On,” kicked off on May 8 with its first phase, which includes a video ad featuring shots of kids wearing goggles and smiling as they jump in the pool. It’s running on USA Swimming’s owned digital channels such as its Instagram, website, and OTT platform USA Swimming Network, and it’s focused on driving traffic to pools as they begin to open for the summer, according to Grosser.

“Hurling CTAs at people to say, ‘join a USA Swimming club,’ when maybe they’re not the right demographic for that, isn’t the best use of our dollars,” he said. “A lot of the campaign, specifically in the spring, is targeted around just getting people to go to the pool as a family, getting kids to have fun in the water.”

As part of the campaign, USA Swimming also created a marketing tool kit with assets like downloadable lawn signs, bumper stickers, and posters with the Goggles On logo that local swimming organizations can add their own branding to in order to help “amplify and localize the messaging,” Grosser said.

Changing of the seasons

The campaign will really start heating up over the summer, when the focus will shift to the highest levels of swimming, Olympics included, with more “intense, professional sports photography” replacing stills and videos of smiling kids, according to Grosser.

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“That’s where we want to be showcasing our national team athletes, our stars, and providing that aspirational imagery for some of the youth swimmers to look up to,” he said, though he declined to share exactly who those stars will be.

Come fall, the organization will focus on converting casual interest in swimming to new USA Swimming club members, Grosser said. That might take years to come to fruition given the target audience includes families with kids who are still learning the basics, he acknowledged, which is why the campaign is a multi-year effort.

All the phases of the campaign will have one thing in common: Whether it’s about Olympians or novice swimmers, the creative and messaging incorporates the “shared moment” of putting their goggles on, Grosser said.

Different strokes

In addition to content on USA Swimming’s owned channels, the campaign will also include in-person activations at major swimming events like the Olympic team trials in June, as well as paid and earned media efforts, Grosser said.

Grosser hopes the effort will lead to an increase in USA Swimming memberships and retention rates, he said, plus swimming fandom in general, as evidenced by meet attendance, broadcast viewership, and OTT and social media engagement. Those stats naturally jump following the Olympics, he said, but the goal is to keep them from falling when the excitement from the games wears off.

“We’ve spent a lot of the last couple of years preparing for this summer and trying to create the platforms and the opportunities…to continue to deliver the content and athlete storytelling that keeps [fans] engaged in the sport,” Grosser said. “We’re very hopeful that the tools that are put in place will help create more of a plateau versus a spike.”

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