SBJ/December 3 - 9, 2001/Olympics

GM ponders which sponsorship course to steer after Athens Games

With about 60 days until the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games begin and two years to go under its Olympic sponsorship deal, General Motors continues to weigh the value of its association with the U.S. Olympic team against the price of owning the domestic automotive category in a shifting economy.

GM marketing executive Steve Tihanyi said the scale of the company's presence and expenditures in Salt Lake is, by design, about one-third of what it was during the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.

Whether GM plans to renew or walk away, Tihanyi is not prepared to say. He acknowledges that a review of the company's sponsor status — as one of six "partners" of Olympic Properties of the United States — and whether it should be extended beyond 2004 will come "as we get closer" to the end of the current Olympic cycle. That cycle continues through the Athens Summer Games, 21¼2 years away.

"But we've been evaluating for the last eight years," said Tihanyi, director of marketing alliances and regional operations. "It is a continuous evolution."

Like GM, about 15 domestic Olympic sponsors face a looming crossroads leading to Athens. As sports marketing dollars are more deliberately allocated, especially a minimum $20 million commitment to what amounts to a "nonvoting seat" at the Olympic table, sponsors are raising the return-on-investment bar.

This is a reality certain to define the environment awaiting new U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Lloyd Ward, an ex-branding strategist from Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo. whose arrival has been accompanied by a wave of media attention. Tihanyi said the USOC marketing division under former Nike exec Matt Mannelly, who arrived two years ago, has done a good job and "is attuned to what is important to a company like ours. Budgets get tighter; conditions change."

"If he ever asked my advice," Tihanyi said of Ward, "I would advise him to be focused on what we're looking for [in a sponsor deal]. It can't be the same old business as usual. I think he realizes that, but I haven't talked to him."

OLYMPIANS, START YOUR ENGINES: GM's Olympic platform is almost entirely geared to its Chevrolet division, Tihanyi said. About 5,000 GM vehicles, mostly truck-based Chevys, will be on the ground during the Salt Lake Games to transport officials and athletes.

In addition to vehicle presence, GM's Salt Lake activation plan revolves around four components: advertising category exclusivity on NBC during the network's Olympic telecasts in February; a dealer incentive program tied to on-site hospitality packages, which will bring about 300 dealers and their guests to the Games; The Team Behind the Team campaign, donating Chevy vehicles to 40 U.S. Olympians-in-training; and vehicle support during the Olympic torch relay beginning Tuesday.

A VIEW ON ATHENS: The Olympic project director of U.S. design firm Ellerbe Becket said the cost of facility construction for the 2004 Athens Olympics has potential to be three times higher than early projections.

"They didn't have a strategy in place to get the [request-for-proposal] tenders out quick enough," said Ellerbe Becket's Jim Pieper, who was a member of Sydney's design advisory board leading to the 2000 Games. "When that happens, builders can hold you at ransom because they'll say you didn't give [them] enough time to do this [under a normal budget]."

He laments what might have been. "Athens hasn't met a deadline yet," Pieper said. "Will [the 2004 Games] happen? Yes. Will it be as glorious as it could have been? No."

TORCHBEARER EXPRESS: In these gloomy days of layoffs and schedule cutbacks within the airline industry, Delta Air Lines soon will find whether its investment in Olympic sponsorship — official airline of Salt Lake 2002 — gives it any measurable upturn in fortunes.

With an artist's rendering of legendary Olympic speed skater Bonnie Blair stretched over the jumbo jet's skin, one of Delta's Boeing 777s arrives in Greece today with a delegation led by Salt Lake Games chief Mitt Romney and Blair.

The group will be presented the Olympic flame in accordance with traditional Greek rituals before flying it (in the passenger cabin) to Atlanta, where the torch relay begins in the 1996 Olympic host city. Atlanta and Salt Lake are major Delta hubs.

Steve Woodward can be reached at SteveWoodwardHere@hotmail.com.

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Related Topics:

Ellerbe Becket, NBC, Olympics, PepsiCo

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