SBJ/March 26-April 1, 2012/Olympics

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  • New USOC website ‘driven by the story of the athletes’

    The U.S. Olympic Committee is poised to unveil a new website this week that is a radical departure from the traditional team and league sites that dominate sports.

    The site eschews text and headlines in favor of photos and videos that form a collage where visitors pick and choose what interests them. It hews closer to Pinterest and Flipboard than NFL.com or MLB.com.

    The USOC’s new site uses a collage of photos and videos that link to stories.
    “We wanted to create a new content strategy that makes Americans feel part of the team,” said John Pierce, the USOC’s managing director, brand management and research. “This new site is much warmer, more personable and more energetic. It is driven by the story of the athletes.”

    The USOC began working on the new site late last summer. Its board approved $1 million in spending on the effort. The organization last redesigned its site before the 2008 Beijing Games.

    VML, a full-service digital agency and division of Young & Rubicam, assisted with the effort. The agency previously designed sites for the English Premier League and Waste Management and regularly works on digital projects for Gatorade, Kellogg’s and others.

    The version of TeamUSA.org that launched in 2008 looked like many sports sites on the Web. A headline with a primary photo formed the main story, and four other stories rotated through that main window. Blog posts and athlete bios showcased the only other photos.

    The new site features a large, horizontal photo in the upper left corner and a series of smaller vertical and horizontal photos down the page. All of the photos connect to stories and slideshows that tell the stories of U.S. athletes.

    The format will make it easier for the USOC’s six-person digital staff to keep the site looking fresh and updated. It also allows visitors to organize the photos on the page by three options: most popular, most viewed and “inspire me,” a tab that puts the emphasis on the home page on inspiring stories of Olympians and Olympic moments.

    “The older version didn’t have the emotional connection we wanted to have for the new version,” said Mike Wente, VML’s managing director and executive creative director. “This is more of an unconventional approach that pushes the envelope and presents the brand differently.”

    In addition to remaking the USOC home page, the organization overhauled the sites of 17 national governing bodies. Those sites will look similar to the USOC’s home page.

    The imagery-rich site reserves space for banner and display advertising. Most of the advertising will be in the form of sponsor-branded content similar to the current video series called the “Road to London presented by Hilton HHonors.” The USOC plans to offer some of that branded-content inventory as part of its agreement with its existing sponsors. Other inventory will be sold as an added buy to sponsors.

    Applications for mobile phones and tablets will be available next month.
    Pierce said the USOC doesn’t plan to sell to advertisers outside the Olympic family.

    The USOC also plans to unveil its first mobile phone and tablet application next month. The app, which will be available on Android and Apple operating systems, features athlete bios, social media, photo galleries, Olympic trials dates and TV listings.

    Both the app and the USOC’s new website will highlight members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team as they are selected during Olympic trials events in the coming months.

    “The NFL and NBA have a draft,” Pierce said. “You know which athlete is on which team in one day or three days. For us, that process transpires over 100 days or so. We wanted to turn that into an advantage by encouraging fans to come back every day to see who has qualified to represent their country.”

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