Olympic Traffic Spikes on Disputes

Web traffic to Olympic-related sites had its ups and down during the games, but one thing seems certain: nothing sends Olympic fans to the Web more than a good controversy.

NBC’s sponsorship and Web tie-ins appeared to have paid off for the network televising the games in the United States. Its NBCOlympics.com site drew more than 500,000 visitors on Feb. 8 and Feb. 9, 2002, the first two days of the Winter Olympics, according to comScore. NBC’s Olympic traffic originated mostly from within the United States, but other Olympic-related sites, such as Olympic.org, NHL.com and SaltLake2002.com, saw the majority of their traffic come from visitors outside the United States.

A closer look at the performance of Olympic-related Web sites by Keynote found there were periods of poor performance and unavailability, especially at times when controversy made news at the Games. Both the sites of the United States Olympic Committee (usoc.org) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC, at Olympic.org) experienced poor performance and periods of unavailability for users worldwide on Feb. 21, following Apolo Ohno’s disqualification from the 1500m short track skating finals. For the USOC site, the prior period of poor performance followed the short track wipeout involving Ohno on Feb. 16. The IOC site had problems followed the figure skating scandal involving the Russians and Canadians on the evening of Feb. 11.

Keynote found that Olympics.com and SaltLake2002.com performed well throughout the Games with no observable problems. The online ticketing page for the Olympics at tickets.com became largely unavailable on Jan. 29, and delivered variable availability in the days prior to opening of Games.

Data compiled by webHancer Corp. found that three of the top four Olympic-related sites peaked on Feb. 12, the day after the pairs skating finals that ended in controversy. SaltLake2002.com’s volume increased by 37 percent, while NBCOlympics.com increased by 70 percent. Public interest in the skating controversy was seen on sports media sites as well, webHancer found. The Sports Illustrated Olympic site saw its traffic rise 106 percent over its daily average.

WebHancer’s examination of the paths Web users took to get to the sites found that visitors to saltlake2002.com tended to arrive from search engines and portals and left the site to visit Yahoo, MSNBC and the official Salt Lake 2002 online store. During its peak time (3 to 4 p.m. EST), visitors spent, on average, 3:19 (min:sec) on the site, visiting 11 pages.

Visitors to NBCOlympics.com tended to arrive from other NBC sites and affiliates, such as MSNBC and MSN. These visitors in turn returned to those sites, making MSNBC, Yahoo and MSN their top destinations. Unlike SaltLake2002.com, peak time for NBCOlympics.com was 6 to 7 a.m. EST, and its visitors on average spent less time (2:38) on its site, while visiting 15 pages.

A look at search terms related to the Olympics found that broad terms were the most popular. ComScore found that “Winter Olympics” and “2002 Winter Olympics” both appeared in the top 30 search terms for the week ending Feb. 17. The only specific athlete or sport comScore found in the top 1,000 search terms was Canadian figure skater Jamie Sale.

The Lycos Top 50 searches for the week ending Feb. 23 had a more Olympic flavor. “The Olympics” was top Lycos search term for the week, while Apolo Anton Ohno finishing at No. 15 with Web users, making him the most searched Olympic athlete, and behind only Anna Kournikova (No. 11) as the most popular athlete overall with Lycos searchers. Figure skaters Michelle Kwan (No. 41) and Jamie Sale (No. 48) also made the Lycos list, but gold medal figure skater Sarah Hughes did not. The most popular Olympic sports searched for on Lycos were hockey (No. 26), snowboarding (No. 54) and curling (No. 56).

Traffic to Olympic-Related Web Sites
Week Ending 2/17/02
Unique visitors (000)
Web Site Non-US US Worldwide Percent
msnbc.com 2,235 3,781 6,016 37%
nbcolympics.com 442 1,271 1,713 26%
Sportsline.com 335 998 1,333 25%
saltlake2002.com 551 439 990 56%
nhl.com 518 324 842 62%
olympics.org 335 461 796 42%
olympic.org 129 59 188 69%
usolympicteam.com 13 74 87 15%
Source: comScore

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