SBJ/Jan. 17-23, 2011/Olympics

USOC reaches out to NGBs with marketing, development plans

The U.S. Olympic Committee is following in the footsteps of several major leagues, setting up a small version of what many leagues call a club services division.

The organization last July reassigned three members of its marketing team to manage national governing body marketing and business development. That group, led by longtime USOC marketing executive Chester Wheeler, began to visit each national governing body late last year. They have visited with 23 of 46 national governing bodies to date and developed a customized plan with each for how the USOC can assist with marketing and business development efforts in 2011. Those goals range from finding new sponsors to helping national governing bodies rewrite membership marketing plans.

The marketing assistance efforts are part of the USOC’s overall strategy to improve communication with and lend more support to national governing bodies, which were priorities set by USOC Chief Executive Officer Scott Blackmun when he joined the organization a year ago.

While the USOC and NGBs worked together in the past to sign sponsors and market the Olympics, the relationship between them oftentimes was marked by suspicion and tension. National governing body leaders historically believed that their rights, which include rights to annual events like national championships in their respective sports, were superior to the USOC’s rights, which NGB leaders considered to be limited to the USA five-ring logo. The result was an environment in which the parties often worked against each other rather than together to secure marketing dollars and strengthen the Olympic movement.

Both sides are optimistic that the USOC’s marketing initiative allows them to move past that and begin working together.

“NGBs have historically felt we spent a lot of time supervising them, rightly or wrongly,” Blackmun said. “We want to be supporting them.”

NGB leaders who have met with the USOC say the organization appears to be committed to working with NGBs in a new way.

“You can tell a difference between lip service and whether or not they’re genuine,” said USA Bobsled & Skeleton CEO Darrin Steele. “They’re definitely genuine.”

Steele pointed to a meeting he had with Wheeler and USOC representatives earlier this month. He was explaining that USA Bobsled planned to begin branding sleds with sponsor paint schemes in the same way NASCAR brands cars and that he was looking for a partner. The USOC offered to put him in touch with a company that wasn’t part of the Olympic movement.

USA Wrestling Executive Director Rich Bender met with Wheeler and USOC Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Baird in late 2010. It was the first time since Bender became executive director in 2000 that the USOC had reached out in that fashion.

“It’s a tough task to come up with a strategy for all NGBs, and they’re coming up with a solution that can help for a number of NGBs,” Bender said.

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