SBJ/April 15-21, 2013/Olympics

NBC gathers Olympic athletes for Sochi promo

A Winter Olympics has a quarter as many sports and athletes as its summer counterpart, but NBC plans to roll out just as big a marketing program for the Sochi Games as it did for London in 2012.

The broadcaster and U.S. Olympic Committee next week will host nearly 100 athletes at Smashbox Studios in West Hollywood. It will spend five days interviewing and photographing the athletes on 15 stages, and the material it collects will be used in a yearlong promotional campaign and on outlets ranging from the “Today” show and “Access Hollywood” to E! and local affiliate stations.

Lindsey Vonn (top) and Shani Davis are among nearly 100 athletes taking part in a promotional shoot next week.
Photos by: GETTY IMAGES
It is the largest promotional shoot that the broadcaster and the USOC have undertaken for a Winter Olympics, and it’s comparable in size and scope to the West Hollywood shoot that preceded the London Games.

“It’s larger because the American team is quite good, and there are a lot of athletes we want to feature,” said John Miller, NBC Sports Group’s chief marketer. “The London model seemed worth following because we did well with that.”

During the London Games, NBC posted its highest ratings and viewership totals for a Summer Olympics since the 1996 Atlanta
Games. It averaged a 17.5 rating and 31.1 million viewers for its 17 nights of taped London Games coverage. Miller hopes to replicate that success during the Sochi Games.

The broadcaster plans to offer the same amount of promotion ahead of the Sochi Games as it did for the London Games. More than 75,000 tune-in spots will air on cable, satellite and telecommunications networks during the next year. Earlier this year, Miller estimated that every person in the U.S. will see a tune-in spot 25 times before the opening ceremony next February.

“We’ll begin showing them during high-profile sports events all summer long,” Miller said. “When we get into the fall and the fall season, it will ramp up a little bit and be more noticeable in ‘Sunday Night Football’ and ‘The Voice.’ Then other channels carrying the Games will do their own campaign, and when we head into Thanksgiving, that will be the start of it in force. We’ll head into promotional carpet bombing.”

Much of the footage for those promotions will be captured next week in California. Miller said that NBC plans to highlight several well-known Olympians in its national advertising campaign, including skier Lindsey Vonn; snowboarder Shaun White; speedskaters Shani Davis and J.R. Celski; snowboard cross competitor Seth Wescott; figure skaters Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner; and women’s snowboarding, which will likely feature a mix of Kelly Clark, Hannah Teter, Gretchen Bleiler, Elena Hight and others.

Vonn, whose public profile has risen since she announced she is dating Tiger Woods, injured her knee and broke her leg earlier this year, but Miller said she will still be one of the central figures in NBC’s promotions.

“She’s got the heart of a lion and work ethic of Adrian Peterson,” Miller said. “I have no doubt that she will be on skis in the late fall and competing.”

Among the other invitees who NBC and the USOC plan to highlight nationally and locally are several athletes expected to make their Olympic debuts, including teen skiing phenomenon Mikaela Shiffrin, freestyle skier Devin Logan, speedskater Heather Richardson and ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson.

“The Olympics are unlike other sports that are result oriented,” Miller said. “They are journey oriented, and a lot of these athletes have interesting stories about their journey.”

The USOC will have its own area in the studio next week where it will capture footage and interview time to use on its website, Facebook page and YouTube channel. It also will collect photographs for a lifestyle public relations campaign, and it will work with NBC to pitch the photographs and information on Olympians to publications such as GQ, People, Vanity Fair and others.

“It’s huge for us because it really gets the story of our athletes in the hands of people who wouldn’t come across them in a sports area,” said Patrick Sandusky, the USOC’s chief communications and public affairs officer. “It gets the athletes in front of people who watch the Olympics for the stories behind it. It drives viewership interest and people to the Web.”

The USOC and NBC last fall began working to put together the West Hollywood event. NBC tells the USOC what athletes it wants to highlight. The USOC recommends other athletes and then it requests that the athletes attend. The event isn’t required, and the USOC covers athlete travel costs.

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