SBJ/January 9-15, 2012/Opinion

2012 shaping up as bright Olympic year

It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were marveling at the pageantry and power of the Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing. Strong audience numbers for NBC (211 million viewers over 16 days) and strong competitive numbers for the U.S. team (110 medals, overall No. 1) coupled with the unique backdrop of China made the 2008 Games one of the most successful on record.

With the 2012 Games in London ahead, I contend that they are on track for even greater success. Here are the four elements to watch for in the build-up and delivery of these Games:

Sponsor activation: Since the closing ceremony in 2008, the U.S. Olympic Committee has been on a strong campaign to add new sponsors in new categories. Activating around their first Summer Games of a new contract will be: Dow, Deloitte, Procter & Gamble, BMW, BP, DeVry, Citi and TD Ameritrade. I cannot think of another sports organization in the U.S. that has added such a solid group of blue-chip sponsors in the last three years. The combined impact of these companies turning on the Olympic marketing spigot will be greater awareness, greater engagement and greater promotion, driving consumers to watch these Games.

Television viewership: The numbers from China were impressive (the 2008 Games represent the most-viewed event in U.S. TV history, according to Nielsen). In a fragmented television viewing market, we still tuned in en masse to get the latest scoop from Bob Costas and the rest of the NBC Universal team. The average nightly rating was a 16.2, the best since Barcelona in 1992. You could contend that the TV market has become only more fragmented since 2008, and that should suggest NBC will be faced with its toughest challenge yet. Despite that, NBC recommitted to the broadcast rights, at an even higher investment level. It is the network’s belief, with a greater ability to schedule live broadcasts (with a better overall time difference than China) and a greater investment in the NBC Sports Network (previously Versus), coupled with increased ability to use social media and the Web to drive viewership, London will become “must-watch television” and show that live sports and compelling Olympic drama will continue to deliver big audiences.

London: China was unique. We wanted to get a peek at a society that few truly understood, and a place even fewer Americans had ever seen. London is the opposite. The backdrops of Buckingham Palace and Big Ben will feel comfortable to the American audience. And for the most part they even speak the language. Throw in a couple Royal celebrity sightings (“Is that Pippa wearing Ralph Lauren?”) and you have the makings of some fantastic pageantry leading to great daily water cooler conversation.

The strength of the USOC: In 2008, the USOC was globally accepted to be in conflict with the International Olympic Committee. Baseball and softball had been taken off the Olympic sport list, and U.S. membership was conspicuously absent on all IOC commissions and the IOC executive board. Add to that Chicago’s failed bid to host for 2016, a contentious debate about revenue sharing, and instability in USOC leadership and it becomes clear that the relationship was in disrepair. Now there is stability in leadership — Scott Blackmun and Larry Probst have steadied the boat. They chose not to bid for 2020, deciding instead to use that time to strengthen ties without the pressure of winning votes. They were immediately rewarded by the appointment of four U.S. members to the 2018 evaluation commission, Probst has been placed on the international relations commission, Blackmun on the marketing commission, and there is open positive discussion about the future of revenue sharing.

Each of these factors is setting up 2012 to be a very big Olympic year.

Gordon Kane (victorysm@comcast.net) is the founder of Victory Sports Marketing and consults for companies such as Deloitte on Olympic sponsorship maximization.

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