SBJ/July 30 - August 5, 2001/Olympics

Timing's everything in Allstate's 3-year sponsor package

Just as corporate America was casting a frequently indifferent eye on the Olympics, along comes Allstate Insurance Co. with a major financial commitment to the U.S. Olympic team through 2004 and to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

By signing a three-year package as a U.S. sponsor — now available well below its former price of about $20 million — in the automobile and home insurance category, the Northbrook, Ill.-based company is in just ahead of next year's Winter Games in Utah. But in this tepid economy, few sponsors, global or domestic, have yet leveraged pre-Salt Lake Olympic ties, and some never will if discretionary funds remain tight. Allstate had the luxury of staying on the sidelines.

In fact, despite the multimillion-dollar cost to secure a category, sponsors are scaling back Olympics-related promotion, advertising and hospitality. Home Depot killed its hospitality plans and returned all its Salt Lake hotel rooms. Xerox is reducing customer trips to the Games.

Spokeswoman Emily Day declined to confirm whether Allstate will weave hospitality into its Salt Lake plans.

Financial details of the Allstate deal were not available.

Allstate's announcement was accompanied by news that its Chicago-based ad agency, Leo Burnett Co., has been instructed to roll out a print advertising campaign, establishing a connection between Allstate and legendary U.S. gold medalists Bonnie Blair, Brian Boitano, Dan Jansen, Picabo Street and Kristi Yamaguchi.

Extracting value from an Olympics sponsorship "revolves around the ability of companies to tap into the spirit of the Games before they happen," University of Oregon professor Robert Madrigal said, discussing Olympic sponsorship in general. Madrigal, a faculty member with Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, observed that "so few companies do a good job of leveraging sponsorship, it is hard to say why they do it, other than to keep competitors out."

The Allstate Olympic deal was shepherded by Robert Apatoff, the insurer's first chief marketing officer. Apatoff previously was a marketer with U.S. Olympic sponsor Anheuser-Busch Cos. and with Reebok, a former Olympic sponsor.

  HOUSE CALL: Newly elected International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge is bound for North America. After dropping in on the track and field world championships in Edmonton, Rogge is making his maiden U.S. voyage Aug. 6-8, first to Salt Lake City, then to U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Clicking with Rogge is a priority for America's Olympics brass. Although U.S. corporations and NBC are the major sources of IOC revenue, American political influence within the global sports scene is marginal. The four-year vice presidential term of Anita DeFrantz recently concluded, making this one of the few times in the past half-century the United States has had no member on the IOC's executive board.

A further source of concern is that smaller nations such as Australia, Canada and Spain have the same number of IOC voting members (four) as the United States. By comparison, Italy and Switzerland each has five members.

"The United States does not have presence within the IOC proportional to our participation," said USOC acting CEO Scott Blackmun, noting U.S. teams are typically the largest at the Games and among the most prolific medal winners. "It is incumbent on the USOC to become a more active participant [internationally]. We have not made enough of an effort."

Rogge has said the United States needs to host more world championships in a broader range of Olympic sports, including those less lucrative than, say, figure skating.

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