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Jan 11th


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Lord of the Five Rings

Exploring the Pro’s and Con’s of Olympic Sponsorship

With a little more than one month to go before the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Cauldron is lit (by whom, we’re still not sure…but I’ve got my hunches) in front of thousands of spectators in BC Place Stadium plus millions of television and online viewers, I’m reminded that we’re witnessing history in the making.

And with all the glitz, glamour, and long-awaited celebration just around the corner, it’s easy to get caught up in the sizzle of an Olympic sponsorship.

But it’s not all parties, face-paint, and high-fives. I’m also reminded of the fact that the Olympic Games, from a sponsorship perspective, is certainly not without its own baggage and limitations.

With that in mind, I’m going to share my perspective on a few pro’s and con’s related to Olympic sponsorship.

The Pro’s

  1. People pay attention to the five rings.  Without argument, the Olympic rings are one of the most recognized brands in the world and are, for the most part, held in exceptionally high regard. For marketers, this of course is a very good thing.
  2. Desirable attributes.  In addition to global awareness and recognition noted above, Olympic brand research indicates that the five rings conjure up a wide range of positive attributes – including excellence, leadership, passion, determination, emotion, and fair play – elements that a sponsor’s brand should be thrilled to be associated with.
  3. The Games extend beyond sport.  Sure, the Olympic and Paralympic Games are a gathering of the planet’s top athletes, and the pure sport platform can be leveraged in multiple ways by sponsors.  But strategic marketers will also derive value from the Olympics as a celebration of the Arts and Cultural sector, a patriotic nation-building spectacle, a catalyst for health and well-being, sustainability, or an inspiration for youth.
  4. Once-in-a-lifetime.  Unlike almost all other sponsorship properties, the opportunity to align with the Olympic Games within a host nation is a relatively rare occasion (and for this reason, is inherently exclusive and unique.)  This rare occurrence can become a springboard for smart sponsors to deploy unique ways to help achieve their business objectives.
  5. Great tool to reach business goals.  An Olympic sponsorship can be use to achieve a number of business objectives, including the ones that are most common to sponsorship leveraging:
  • Brand/Awareness – raise awareness and realign/reinforce brand positioning
  • Sales – consumer/client engagement, event-related promotions, etc.
  • Employee Engagement – behavior-changing rewards, incentives, participation opportunitie

The Con’s

  1. Marketplace clutter.  In order to achieve revenue targets, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Local Organizing Committees need to sell plenty of sponsorship packages (VANOC has 60+ sponsors at various levels).  Add to these the noise made by non-Olympic sponsors that are trying to indirectly bask in the glow of the Games (Pepsi and Esso, for example, both have campaigns in-market that might be confused by the consumer as an Olympic spot).  Every one of these brands will be trying very hard to garner its ‘share of voice’ in an already noisy environment.  The reality is that only the loudest and/or most innovative voices will be heard.
  2. Short attention span.  Although a sponsor can leverage its rights months and even years before the 17 days of the Olympic Games, the domestic consumer market doesn’t start paying attention until much closer to the actual competition dates.  Relevance and tune-in timing is also diluted as we move geographically farther from the host location.  Luckily, experiences such as the Olympic Torch Relay, which start a few months before the Games, temporarily kick-start things a little – extending the window for sponsors.
  3. High leveraging cost.  A running joke within the Olympic sponsorship sphere is that sponsors really don’t get anything in the form of rights and benefits other than the right to spend more money.  Seriously though,, sponsors get access to very highly-valued intellectual property (e.g. use of Olympic marks and imagery) and tangible assets (event tickets, accommodations, etc.) – but leveraging both of these benefits to their full extent is usually accompanied by a lofty price tag. Fees/leveraging budget ratios differ for each sponsor, but the bare minimum we would ever suggest is 1:2.
  4. Once shot wonder.  Before you scold me for the contradiction to Pro #4 listed above, let me explain.  Typically, it’s the third year of a sponsorship before sponsors finally iron out the kinks of their program and start to see real equity.  Olympic sponsors don’t have the luxury of observing, making adjustments and improvements year after year. So if bumps are encountered on this relatively short one-way street (think of budget cuts, a change in leadership or marketing philosophy, or the impacts of a recession), sponsorship effectiveness can be compromised. Olympic sponsors get one shot to get it right.  There are no do-over’s.
  5. Rules, and more rules.  Once a sponsor joins the Olympic family, they quickly discover that the rulebook for what they ‘can’t do’ is volumes thick.  All (okay, most) are for good reason – protection of the Olympic brand and sponsorship tier values, anti-ambush marketing, etc. – but certainly frustrating and even downright discouraging for sponsors that perhaps didn’t fully realize what they were getting into.  The stringent regulations can make even the most entrenched Olympic sponsor wonder on occasion if they’d have had more latitude and creative freedom if they actually weren’t a sponsor. (Akin to the old expression “it’s more fun to be a pirate than to be in the navy”).

Looking at the whole picture, it’s difficult to pronounce that an Olympic sponsorship is either good or bad.  Like all other sponsorships, at the end of the day, it’s a tool in the marketer’s tool-box – very effective to realize some business goals, but not perfect for every one.

For more on this topic and others, please follow me on twitter at @scoregarnet.


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