SBJ/August 6 - 12, 2007/SBJ In Depth

NGBs expand Trials marketing, Web sites

In the critical year preceding the 2008 Olympic Games, the three premier national governing bodies for summer sports plan to unveil their most ambitious Olympic Trials events and comprehensive Web sites to date.

USA Gymnastics plans to offer
an interactive fan zone during its
Olympic Trials.

USA Swimming, USA Track & Field and USA Gymnastics plan to significantly expand their experiential marketing areas at their Olympic Trials during the summer of 2008. Swimming and track will nearly double the areas where sponsors can activate and fans can spend time, while gymnastics will offer its first fan activity area at an Olympic Trials event.

The Olympic Trials are owned by the U.S. Olympic Committee but run and managed by its NGBs. Because of the events’ proximity to the games and their significance, determining which athletes will compete in the Olympics, the trials are the most valuable property in most NGBs’ portfolios.

By adding fan activity areas, executives from all three NGBs hope that sponsors have the opportunity to connect with attendees more and that attendees are inclined to spend more time at the events.

“I don’t see it as being new and unique but as a maturation of who we are as organizations,” said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics. “From the NBA to the NFL, any sporting event has this now. People expect more for their money when they come to events these days.”

USA Swimming, which will host its trials at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb., beginning June 29, will use an adjacent convention center to create its largest interactive fan zone. The 194,300-square-foot facility is more than double the size of the interactive area offered at the 2004 Olympic Trials in Long Beach, Calif.

Executives plan to install a swimming pool in the convention center where they will have competitions for kids who can test themselves by holding their breath under water. Nearby, they hope to have a Styrofoam pit where kids can see how far they can dive off a starting block.

“We’re going to the next level,” said Chuck Wielgus, USA Swimming’s executive director. “It will be like the Final Four or an NBA All Star Game. It will have that festive environment.”

Because the convention center is outside of the competition ring, the area also offers NGB partners who are not sponsors of the USOC the chance to have a presence near the event. Additionally, USA Swimming and USOC partners alike will be treated to more hospitality than in previous years, as the Qwest Center offers 32 suites, double the number available in 2004.

Though the organization has given up ticket sales to local hosts, Wielgus puts the value of the Olympic Trials at more than $3 million directly to the organization’s bottom line.

“This has gone from a very nice event held in Indianapolis every four years to a significant sporting event,” Wielgus said.

Holding its trials in track-crazy Oregon, USA
Track & Field plans to hold a street festival
around Eugene’s Hayward Field.

USA Track & Field takes its signature trials event to Eugene, Ore., in late June. The organization plans to shut down the two main streets surrounding Hayward Field, where the event will be held. The streets will become festival areas where fans can visit expo booths and sponsors can activate. Nearby soccer fields will feature an entertainment stage where local and national musicians will perform.

Though USA Track & Field had an expo area at its trials in Sacramento in 2004, this area will be nearly double the size, according to Ivan Cropper, the governing body’s marketing director. It will be the first time the NGB has had live music at the event.

“Fan interaction always works well and really adds to the excitement in and around the event,” Cropper said. “That’s what we’re trying to build out, and our partnerships with sponsors are allowing us to do that.”

USA Gymnastics’ plans for its trials June 19-22 in Philadelphia are still being developed, but the organization plans to offer an interactive fan zone similar to what it features during its Visa Championship Series events. Those events typically feature a Tyson Fitness Zone, where kids can learn about fitness fundamentals and can visit a plaza where gymnastics legends such as coach Bela Karolyi and Olympic medalist Shannon Miller make appearances.

Though all three NGBs will focus on their respective trials over the next year, they will also devote considerable time to developing new Web sites with Wasserman Media Group.

All three NGBs entered into a partnership with WMG in April that will see the agency launch a new Web site for each sport this fall. The three sites are expected to include social networking, video content and live-event coverage. They will be featured on WMG’s online network, sportnet.com.

“It’s not coincidental that we’re launching this year,” said Luke McDonough, CEO of Sportnet. “The interest [in the Olympics] provides fertile ground for launching something like this and getting people’s attention.”

WMG, which also got the NGBs’ marketing rights as part of the deal, plans to sell sponsorships across all three NGBs and the Web sites. It has not set goals for how many new partners it hopes to add before or after Beijing, McDonough said, but expects to do better than the NGBs did individually in the past.

Executives at the NGBs and at WMG said it’s critical they succeed in driving traffic across those sites this year while the spotlight of Beijing shines.

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