The 2018 race on Twitter

DURBAN, South Africa -- On the eve of the International Olympic Committee's vote for the 2018 Winter Games, with all three candidate cities searching for votes and claiming momentum, clarity can seem often seen elusive and facts few and far between. Two years of campaigning come to a close with the vote Wednesday. Pyeongchang, Munich and Annecy, France, will get 45 minutes to make presentations before the IOC members; 15 minutes of follow-on Q&A are allotted for each city.

The only thing that can ever be said about an IOC election is that it is wholly unpredictable. Anyone who predicted two years ago that Chicago would be booted in the first round of voting for the 2016 Summer Games with just 18 votes -- raise your hand, please.

Pyeongchang comes into the 2018 vote as the front-runner -- this the third Korean bid after coming up short for 2014 and 2010.

It increasingly appeared Tuesday that a majority of only 48 votes would be enough to win. The IOC roster numbers 110. Excused absences and other procedural rules have dropped the number of likely voters to 95, perhaps only 94.

In the 2003 vote for 2010, Pyeongchang led after the first round with 51 votes, followed by Vancouver with 40, and Salzburg with 16. In the next round, Vancouver won, 56-53.

In the 2007 vote for 2014, Pyeongchang led again in the first round, with 36 votes, followed by 34 for Sochi, and 25 for Salzburg. Sochi won, 51-47.

For emphasis, it must be stressed that the only votes that count are the ones that will be cast Wednesday; even so, with everyone looking for a way to assess momentum, here's a new prism:


If the election were on Twitter, statistics suggest, the Koreans would be runaway winners.

The statistics indicate that the Korean Twitter feed, which goes by the name "@2018PyeongChang," will have 5,452 followers by Wednesday, July 6, according to Twitter Counter. The Korean feed will be up an additional 136 followers Wednesday from Tuesday; 92 Tuesday from Monday; 260 Monday from Sunday; 841 Sunday from Saturday.

That's momentum -- a graph-line trending upward.

By comparison, the Annecy and Munich lines trend relatively flat.

Munich's account, "@Muenchen2018org," will be up two followers Wednesday, to 1,246.

Annecy's, "@annecy2018twitt," will be up three, to 360.

In an effort to compare apples to apples, "@Muenchen2018org" is the official German-language Munich 2018 account; the official English-language account, "@Munich2018bid," has 293 followers as of Wednesday.

The Annecy account, "@annecy2018twitt," is the official French-language account. It counts 363 followers, according to Twitter Counter.

There are, it must be noted, slight discrepancies in the numbers. Twitter Counter says "@Muenchen2018" has 1,246 followers; if you go to the "@Muenchen2018" page itself, however, it plainly says "@Muenchen2018org" has 1,273 followers.

It's not clear what accounts for the distinction, and whether in this instance 27 followers makes a difference.

Those who closely study social media will surely note that, as these things go, 5,452 followers is not all that many. Twitter Counter says Yuna Kim, the 2010 Vancouver figure skating gold medalist, will have 357,878 followers on Wednesday, when she is part of the Pyeongchang presentation to the IOC.

Even so, it's intriguing to see how the Pyeongchang account has moved upward over the past six months. It's a progression guaranteed to make for a case study in bids for 2020 and beyond.

Such statistically oriented study revolutionized American baseball, as the publication of the Michael Lewis book, "Moneyball," and the forthcoming movie of the same name starring Brad Pitt, have made clear. Similar stats-based work is now moving into Premier League soccer. Is the IOC bid game next?

A corollary question about the IOC bid process and its susceptibility to such metrics: The IOC now measures support for the Games in a bidding country by conducting public polling. Could Twitter supplement or one day supplant such polling?

Clearly, such Twitter-based analysis, at least in regards to the IOC, is in its very earliest days. It's not at all clear how statistically significant a sample 5,452 adds up to be.

That said -- it's a start.

As of Feb. 15, the day before the 2018 IOC evaluation commission arrived in Korea, the Pyeongchang Twitter feed had a mere 223 followers.

By the 19th, the day the commission left, it had jumped to 375.

The Pyeongchang feed continued to show a steady increase and then took a big leap at the so-called technical presentation in May, when the three bid cities showed off for the IOC members at a meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The meeting was held May 18.

The count right before the start of the meeting, on May 16: 1,248.

By May 19, the count: 2,918, up 134 percent in just three days.

Now -- 5,452.

Even if that's not 357,878, it's the case that 5,452 is a 2,445 percent increase from 223 in about six months.

Who wouldn't want that?