Social media provided a major lift for the World’s Strongest Man competition amid a severely disrupted 2020. With a trio of new online shows, WSM became one of the top five fastest-growing sports league or organization accounts on both Facebook and Instagram this year, according to data from social monitoring platform Crowdtangle, and the social analytics company Tubular Labs said it was among the top 10 sports publishers by viewership on Facebook.
CBS is the event’s television partner, but when the annual international competition was postponed from May to November, WSM needed to fill the content void for fans in the interim. The WSM team first flirted with social media shows on Snapchat, creating a contest called Home Edition within a month of the pandemic shutting down regularly scheduled programming.
Home Edition was a hit, getting the attention off almost 7 million unique viewers and totaling 141 million video views to become one of Snapchat’s best-performing “non-traditional sports shows.” The debut came as the photos sharing platform itself saw spikes in usage, up 17% year-over-year with an average of 238 million people using Snapchat each day in June. That success spurred the launch of a second show, Shredded, in July. Focused more on strongman history, Shredded accumulated another 7.3 million unique viewers and 143 million video views.
The numbers were solid for Snapchat, which faces increasing competition. Instagram and Facebook launched their own Snap-esque story features in 2016 and 2017, respectively, and all are also competing with the viral video app TikTok. TikTok’s most popular video of 2020, for example, earned more than 43 million likes alone. Though not nearly as viral as that, the Snapchat partnership did allow WSM to reach an entirely new audience.
“Given everything that was going on in quarantine, pivoting to digital was a good option for us,” said Rebecca Levin, director of media partnerships at IMG, which manages the WSM competitions. “World’s Strongest Man’s demo is typically like 25 to 30. Snapchat had a younger demo than we’d normally interacted with, and they loved it. Social really allowed us to reach beyond our typical demo, and deliver content to younger audiences where they’re consuming it.”
Next, WSM tapped into Facebook’s new paid live online events feature, launched in August in response to the spikes Facebook saw with live events on its platform over the summer. In June, live broadcasts from Pages—official accounts for businesses and organizations—doubled year-over-year.
The third strongman show of 2020, Live from Bradenton, captured a behind-the-scenes look in real time during each day of competition in November. Even as Hurricane Eta hammered Florida’s west coast, the competition continued to draw viewers on Facebook, enticing 1.67 million unique WSM fans, with peak concurrent live viewership breaking the 1,700 mark, high for a non-gaming event.
While the event’s television broadcasts wouldn’t air until December, weeks after competition concluded, on either CBS Network or the UK’s Channel 5, Facebook allowed WSM to give fans immediate live access to more content than a broadcast could capture, such as Q&A’s and behind-the-scenes videos. The show generated additional revenue, and WSM’s enhanced usage of the platform netted an 89% increase in engagement on the World’s Strongest Man’s page from January through November of 2020—making it the fastest growing sports publisher on Facebook. UFC followed at just under 11% growth, according to Crowdtangle.
With plans to continue to tap its potential across additional social media platforms, World’s Strongest Man, though decades old, feels like it’s just getting started.
“We’re just excited to see that we have such a rabid fan base, and we can engage on these platforms,” Levin said. “Not only that, but meet new fans and engage with them. We’re working across all platforms. We’ve got content on Twitter, and YouTube and Instagram. We’re sort of everywhere our fans are now. Anywhere people are consuming content, we really want to make sure that we’ve got some form of content that’s serving them.”