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How UK Sport is encouraging more young people from diverse backgrounds to become Olympians

True won the ‘Best Responsible Digital Engagement with Kids’ category at The Drum Awards for Digital Industries 2021. Here, the team behind the winning entry reveals the secrets of this successful project….

The challenge

TeamGB has a diversity problem. Where elite football has icons like Marcus Rashford demonstrating to kids across the country that anyone – no matter their race or background – can make it to the top, many Olympic and Paralympic sports have struggled with representation.

31% of TeamGB athletes at the Rio games went to private school (compared to 7% of the general population), just 6% grew up in a city and, outside of boxing and athletics, only 5% were non-white. Not only is this a terrible look for an organization that’s supposed to represent the whole of the UK, it means there are many talented young people across the country whose sporting potential remains untapped.

It’s the job of UK Sport to identify the country’s best young athletes and recruit them on to a performance pathway that gives them access to the support, coaching and facilities to become the next generation of Olympic and Paralympic stars.

Traditionally, UK Sport’s Talent ID program has involved in-person assessments at events across the country that test participant’s physical abilities. In 2021, social distancing restrictions meant that the process had to move online, requiring new digital solutions that would allow sporty young people to register their interest and submit their own physical test results online.

True partnered with UK Sport, the English Institute of Sport (EIS), TeamGB, ParalympicsGB and a range of national sporting bodies to deliver a new digital-only Talent ID campaign that could start to engage a more diverse group of young sportspeople. We had three objectives:

  • Build a digital platform to enable sporty young people and children around the UK to register their interest and submit their application for participating in UK Sport’s Talent ID program

  • Deliver a digital communications campaign to drive registrations through the platform, including creative concept, asset production, media planning and management

  • Reach audiences that are underrepresented in elite Olympic and Paralympic sport, particularly young people from urban areas, ethnically diverse young people and young people from working class backgrounds

The strategy

We surveyed physically active young people across the UK to understand their thoughts on achieving their athletic potential. When we asked what barriers were preventing them from reaching the top of their sport, the most popular answers were ‘lack of equipment’ (44%) and ‘lack of money’ (43%). There was a perception that you needed to be wealthy to become the best. For many young people, Olympic and Paralympic sports are simply ‘not for them’.

Our strategy was to lift the elite curtain – to make Olympic and Paralympic success feel achievable by showing the journeys that athletes take from sporty kids in the playground to world-beating medal winners. By showing the challenges that champions overcome on their path to success, we wanted to inspire the next generation of sporting talent to take their own first step and apply for the Talent ID program.

We created a new youth-facing brand – FromHome2TheGames – around that idea and developed a visual identity designed to appeal to a much wider audience than traditional UK Sport communications. We used a lo-fi style usually associated with zines and self-made posters and a color palette that applied a bold and youthful twist to the Olympic/Paralympic colors. Intentionally unpolished, we wanted the campaign’s look-and-feel to reflect the kind of cut-and-paste style that young people might use to promote their own events.

In order to make Olympic and Paralympic success feel achievable, we needed campaign ambassadors that our audience could relate to, who didn’t fit the TeamGB stereotype and who hadn’t had a straightforward journey to the top. We reached out to athletes and established a team that represented different backgrounds, sports and regions of the UK: BMX rider Kye Whyte; para-weightlifter Ali Jawad; breaststroke gold medalist Adam Peaty; para-equestrian Teagan-Vincent Cooke; Taekwondo champion Bianca Walkden; and Kadeena Cox, a parasport athlete in both cycling and athletics.

The campaign

For each of our ambassadors we created a suite of creative assets that would tell their story FromHome2TheGames. We created long-form interview videos, short social media clips featuring training footage and a range of photography captured throughout their sporting journey. We applied our new brand look-and-feel and added subtitles to ensure they were accessible to as much of our audience as possible. Paired with aspirational call-to-actions, these assets would form the backbone of our website content and communications campaign.

To reach older kids (13+) we focused our modest media budget on video advertising, choosing those online channels our research revealed that teenagers used the most: TikTok, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. As well as creating some larger audiences of sporty young people, we uploaded government postcode data relating to indices of multiple deprivation to build more targeted audiences from poorer areas of the country. This ensured our message reached groups that have historically been badly represented by TeamGB.

To reach younger children, we built out a ‘nominators’ audience, which we used to promote the campaign to parents, teachers and coaches, asking them to put forward kids who showed real athletic potential. We also created downloadable campaign packs designed to be printed and stuck up around schools and sports clubs to make it easy for nominators to spread the word.

We leveraged our ambassadors and partners to generate awareness around FromHome2TheGames and registrations for the Talent ID program throughout summer 2021. Campaign teaser posts from our athletes were followed by an official campaign launch from TeamGB that was picked up across BBC Breakfast and ITV News. As the games approached, we co-ordinated a program of organic posts from our ambassadors using #ThrowbackThursday and the ‘How it started/How it’s going’ meme format. We are finishing with a focus on Facebook advertising that is allowing us to drive and track registrations through our platform.

We built a simple website – www.fromhome2thegames.com – to house our athlete stories, FAQs and, most importantly, the registration process. Along with our standard registration form for those aged 16+, we created a ‘guardian-led’ entry process for under-16s, meaning that we did not have to store or manage their personal data. Once registered, we implemented an eCRM program that shared inspirational stories and training tips that captured the excitement of the Tokyo games and kept them motivated for the rest of the Talent ID process.

The results

At time of writing, the campaign is still ongoing and the Paralympic Games are yet to take place. But there are already signs that we’ve helped to engage new audiences with the idea of pursuing elite Olympic and Paralympic sport:

  • Over 1,700 registrations through our campaign platform, on track to smash UK Sport’s previous record

  • An 80% uplift in registrations from under-16-year-olds compared to previous Talent ID campaigns

  • A 50% uplift in applications from young people that live in the most deprived areas of the UK

This project was a winner at The Drum Awards for Digital Industries 2021. Find out which of The Drum Awards are currently open for entry.

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