SBJ/July 30-August 5, 2012/Opinion

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  • Beyond London: Building on Olympic fan, sponsor interest

    As the London 2012 Games get under way, the thoughts of most fans are likely on the athletes and the competition. However, many working in sports were already thinking beyond London.

    We know staffs at Olympic committees around the world are revising their plans for Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 for both existing elite athletes and for the development of new Olympians.

    In Canada, Christopher Overholt, CEO and secretary general of the Canadian Olympic Committee, has a number of things on his plate. First, he is dealing with the post-Olympic reality that accompanied Vancouver’s hosting of the 2010 Winter Games. Second, he has to ensure Canada continues to perform in the medal count like it did in British Columbia. And finally, but not solely, Overholt must play a role in determining whether Canada should bid again to host the Olympics either in Toronto (summer) or Quebec City (winter).

    Overholt, whose career in professional sports has included senior positions with the Miami Dolphins, Florida Panthers and Toronto Raptors, began his work with the COC about a year ago. We asked him about the challenge of leading a national organization at such a crossroads.

    Overholt
    “When we all arrived here together, I saw it as a very unique opportunity, where Vancouver was the platform from which we could build a new and different architecture for Canada’s Olympic future that perhaps didn’t exist before,” Overholt said. “We could focus our attention on our athletes and their stories due to the heightened profile they’d built in Vancouver. Most importantly, though, we wanted to construct a platform that brought attention to our Olympic athletes 365 days a year, not just in the immediate vicinity of the Games.”

    Among the COC’s first moves was to adopt a professional sports view of the world. Although some in the Canadian press believed this was too slick for
    Olympic sports, Overholt’s core executive team did not.

    “Our focus needed to be different,” he said. “We immediately began to focus on how we are known to Canadians, the emotional connection they have with the COC. We did research and observed, learning that this emotional connection was through the athletes. Our brand is the Canadian Olympic team, and the heart of our brand is the athletes. But following the Vancouver Games, we started to look at this new brand, and we moved to a Canadian team [trade] mark that was a mosaic of our athletes. This was a tactical decision to change how we portrayed ourselves to Canadians, to consumers and to our partners.”

    We asked what specific tactics were undertaken to implement this shift.

    “We looked at the connection points to people through the Games and looked for ways to remove the times between Games where we have little or no impact,” he said. “We do this in two ways. First, with help from partners, you have to identify platforms that your partners can attach to. Based on our research, we started to focus on things like innovation and the
    ‘higher, stronger, faster’ motto. We also started to talk about health and wellness and how sport and Olympics can aid that. We also focused on aspects of sustainability. Vancouver set the standard for a carbon-neutral Games, which we knew was important to consumers and, more importantly, to our athletes.”

    The COCs recently launched “Give Your Everything” campaign focuses specifically on athletes.

    “Second,” Overholt said, “we looked at our event schedule. I drew on my experience with the NFL, which used to be about just the schedule and the Super Bowl, but now they’ve built it
    out to include ongoing interest and properties like the spring combine and the draft. We followed this model and are seeking to build our own platforms outside of the Games. ”

    The key, as Overholt’s previous experiences have shown, is to fill the calendar and make the COC a platform that holds
    constant interest.

    The current marketing and branding efforts are built around the athletes and provide knowledge about them by telling their stories. Overholt describes the effort as “showing Canadians what it means to be an Olympian” by communicating the time,
    Overholt says the COC’s campaign tells athlete stories by “showing Canadians what it means to be an Olympian.”
    effort and support needed be athlete. He also described the implementation strategy, which includes a filmmaker, video and social media experts, a vastly enhanced interactive website, and direct athlete involvement. He spoke of the COC’s desire to maintain a professional sport acumen and build strength and relevance.

    Is it working?

    Overholt pointed to an aggressive promotion at a subway station in Toronto that recently generated 8 million impressions, at a rate of 1 million per week. The COC’s Hall of Fame Gala in 2011 raised $2.1 million and, in the past year, its YouTube viewership has gone from less than 2,000 to more than 130,000. The current athlete-based marketing campaign has generated a 96 percent increase in Web traffic, nearly 300 million impressions, a Twitter reach of more than 11 million, and nearly 200,000 Facebook likes.

    Overholt was quiet on the COC’s future plans on Olympic bids but he did note Canada’s solid reputation in the Olympic movement to deliver great Games. Our view is that the COC would be mistaken to not bid aggressively on future Summer and Winter Games given this reputation, his strategy, and the obvious benefits that have resulted.

    Overholt would say his work is far from finished. Regardless of Canada’s performance in London and the outcome of Olympic host bidding, his squad is determined to change the dynamic of the “every four years” mentality.

    Rick Burton (rhburton@syr.edu) is the David B. Falk Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University and was chief marketing officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Norm O’Reilly (norman.oreilly@uottawa.ca) is an associate professor of sport business at the University of Ottawa and was a volunteer board member of the Canadian Olympic Committee from 1998-2004.


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  • Cartoon: Replacement refs

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  • Social media at Olympics creates new ‘time zone’ for marketers

    Twenty-six sports. 205 countries. 10,500 elite athletes. 20,000 media and broadcasters. 7.6 million tickets. The numbers alone speak volumes about the potential impact the London Olympic Games will have on marketers seeking to leverage this unique global sports platform.

    London 2012 promises to be the first true “social media games,” where fans will have unprecedented access and unlimited options to experience and share the event on their own terms. Social and digital media platforms have radically transformed the way we “watch” events like the Olympics, giving way to a hyperconnected digital experience that links fans (and marketers) across multiple screens and time zones.

    Multiple screens mean multiple viewpoints when watching events like the Olympics. Everyone in the household — moms, dads, kids, family and friends — will have their own platforms to share their unique perspective. This not only creates a more personalized experience for fans, but it also demonstrates that the platforms a marketer chooses will shape the content they pull in and push out.

    Given how social media and digital technologies are increasingly affecting the consumer experience, especially with global sports and entertainment properties, our agency, Taylor, designed and commissioned a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers to fully understand how they will be viewing, sharing and interacting with the London 2012 Olympic Games. The study revealed the emergence of a new dynamic we call “Olympic Standard Time,” driven by the convergence of blurring time zones, positive consumer temperament and rapidly evolving technology.

    Survey responses showed not only distinct usage patterns for social media during major sporting events like the Olympics, but they also revealed a unique dynamic between the types of content created and shared across these platforms with the times they are likely to be shared. This interplay gives rise to the idea and importance of OST and how it will become the new default time zone when watching and engaging with the Olympic Games.

    OST demands instant, real-time gratification. Even with a five-hour (plus) time difference in the U.S., real-time access to content and conversations remains important to Olympic Games fans of all types. When it comes to accessing information and updates, OST is particularly important as fans look for information and updates on their favorite sports and athletes.

    While people are reaching for a variety of devices and using multiple platforms and sites throughout the day to stay informed and connected, some time frames offer interesting opportunities to capitalize on OST. Prime time can be any time when content and conversation are creating trending topics and breaking social and digital media records. In traditional speak, the fringe day parts like early morning and late night can take on more importance.

    Unprecedented access to information will create a dynamic where news travels fast, and people will look first to their social media platforms to stay informed. Given that platforms like Twitter often provide details and color commentary well in advance of traditional media channels (where there is often a 10- to 15-minute delay), consumers will know the results of the events before they are aired in prime time.

    Many make peace with the spoiler alert, so expect a large contingency to shun knowing too much about the results so they can enjoy watching competition unfold (in “plausible real time”) on their screen of choice. Marketers understand this behavioral byproduct of OST and plan to activate in ways to help consumers create spoiler-free zones that provide some context for the events without revealing the full story and
    results.

    Taylor client Coca-Cola, an Olympic sponsor for more than eight decades, is leveraging OST with its largest digital campaign yet. At the center is the Move to the Beat: My Beat Maker app, with which users can join a global musical movement. The app provides users access to event highlights and Olympic athlete updates, and it also allows them to create their own music beat through the motion of their phone. In more than 50 countries, users can activate the app through QR codes in-store, texts at live events, and specialized Olympic Coke packaging leveraging augmented reality — which includes having images that when scanned by a smartphone or tablet using an application produce a video without the use of QR codes or radio frequency identification tags. The global nature of the My Beat Maker app allows users to interact
    Coca-Cola’s My Beat Maker app offers access to event highlights and athlete updates, while allowing users to create their own music.
    across time zones and international borders with individuals who share the positive sentiment around the Games.

    As is the case with most sporting events, the Olympic athletes will become the point people for coveted, behind-the-scenes access on the events and related activities. However, we can also expect other personalities and celebrities, whether they’re on the ground in London or following the action elsewhere in the world, to be involved in the Olympic social media conversation.

    Social media influencers will become more important around this time, as those with substantial followings will be able to create and direct content and conversation around the Olympic Games. These social media influencers, as well as spokespeople for Olympic marketing partners, have the opportunity to amplify their reach outside of the traditional category conversation by participating in meaningful commentary that speaks to their personal pride and love for the events and athletes. Activating a content strategy for their athlete spokespeople will enable Olympic marketers to remain relevant and topical — and develop a unique voice to targeted demos — during the weeks dominated by the activities in London.

    Marketers must recognize that they must dial up their game to compete in this new global marketplace driven by 24-hour access and the expectation of co-created content. Leveraging OST and understanding the dynamics of the multiscreen social experience will help marketers amplify their efforts and budgets as they activate against global events like the Olympic Games.

    Katina Scott is senior vice president/brand planning director at public relations agency Taylor, which has supported leading consumer brands at every Olympic Games since 1984.


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  • Premier League appears to be a victim of its own success

    Robert Kraft got it right. Again.

    In London for Wimbledon in June, Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots and the New England Revolution, was quoted by CNN as saying that he would never invest in an English Premier League team under current economic conditions. “Manchester City won the championship this year and I hear they’re going to lose $156 million. I would rather give that money to charity if I had it. I want every business to stand on its own.”

    This would appear to be a rather startling observation, given the glittering list of high-profile investors (including other NFL owners) who have taken controlling interests in EPL clubs. Yet Kraft, one of the NFL’s most powerful and influential figures, who took a moribund football franchise and turned it into the epitome of excellence both on the field and off, knows what he’s talking about.

    A little background on the EPL: It is by a wide margin the richest and most popular soccer league in the world, a sport that is by far the world’s most popular. Its domestic TV rights dwarf those of the NFL on a per capita basis — and international rights are enviably large. Six English clubs are among the world’s top dozen in terms of revenue. The EPL attracts the stars of world football, and its trajectory has been admirably steep.

    But beneath the surface, the EPL faces significant financial challenges. Specifically, it trails in the three economic underpinnings necessary to ensure the long-term health of any sports league:

    • Sufficient revenue sharing among clubs.

    • Some form of salary cap.

    • An auditable limitation on club debt.

    And the heart of the issue lies in the very fact of the incredible, unmatched popularity enjoyed by international football. Soccer is like water — a universal solvent. It reaches everywhere, and touches everything. As a result professional soccer can be thought of as an open system. Clubs playing under the auspices of dozens of different national associations compete with each other in the worldwide market for players, while any team’s popularity and revenue streams are directly correlated with its success on the field of play. Interest is compounded during the regular breaks in the season when players take leave of their clubs to play for their national teams, often against their own club teammates. Consider:

    • Kids from anywhere in the world — Brazil, Ghana, Japan, Australia, the U.S. — can, and do, end up playing in England and other European leagues.

    • Competition among clubs transcends national and continental boundaries. Even if you win your national league, there are always other champions to take on. Literally hundreds of clubs are in the annual chase to win the European Champions League, the most prestigious club title in the world.

    • Top-level soccer is a meritocracy. Poor performance on the field leads to relegation to lower divisions (and much lower revenue), while success leads to promotion and income.

    In contrast, American sports like the NFL are closed systems — essentially exhibition leagues where the exact same teams run through the exact same paces year in and year out. Further:

    • Their player pool is small, essentially domestic, and self-contained, with no rival employers.

    • One of the same 32 teams will always win the Super Bowl.

    • There is no “death penalty” for poor performance (i.e. relegation and sharply reduced revenue) — everyone is coming back next year, no matter what.

    • The whole operation is tightly controlled by just 32 owners.

    The beauty of closed-system sports is that they are much easier to manage as businesses. Critical issues can all be addressed by a fairly small group of people with reasonably well-aligned interests. (Note that the NBA, MLB, and NHL, despite their wider source of players, are so much more economically powerful than their competitors that they can be considered closed as well.)

    Top-flight pro soccer, on the other hand, plays out on a worldwide stage that precludes an NFL-style system. National federations vary in terms of wealth, size, and revenue distribution. (In Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid take home more than half the of all La Liga revenue.) European employment law governs player movement and limits collective bargaining. And wealthy owners who want to compete at the highest level, regardless of cost, are not interested in spending limits.

    All of this makes for a dangerous cocktail, with predictable results. Teams overspend wildly in their efforts to compete, and bankruptcies have become increasingly common. Storied names such as Leeds United and Glasgow Rangers have spent themselves into oblivion. Only the very wealthiest clubs — increasingly owned by international industrialists willing to buy championships regardless of cost — can thrive in such an environment. The usual suspects rise to the tops of their domestic leagues year after year.

    The European governing body, UEFA, is well aware of these problems and is doing what it can to mitigate them. It has instituted Financial Fair Play rules, essentially mandating that a team spend within its means or risk being banned from playing in the Champions League. But these rules are very difficult to implement and limited in their effect. (Over here, MLS has avoided many of the problems by organizing as a single business entity, but this model may be tough to sustain as the sport’s popularity continues to rise in the U.S.)

    As for the EPL, it has done an admirable job of growing revenue, and has transformed itself into a popular, family-friendly entertainment product. It has made significant advances in revenue sharing, and works hard to keep its clubs’ balance sheets stable. But as long as the usual suspects like Manchester United and Arsenal see as their real competition Bayern Munich, AC Milan, and Barcelona, they will have to spend, spend, spend. And no one should blame Robert Kraft for staying out of that game.

    Thomas E. Spock (tom@scalarmedia.com), a former NFL and NBC executive, is a founding partner of Scalar Media.

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