SBJ/Oct. 21-27, 2013/Olympics

USOC plans USA House sites in Sochi, at home

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The U.S. Olympic Committee next year will offer a series of first-time hospitality experiences during the Sochi Games.

The organization plans to host domestic events for sponsors for the first time in four U.S. cities. It also secured a location in Sochi’s Olympic Park for its hospitality experience, known as USA House, during the Winter Games, marking the first time USA House has ever been inside the Olympic Park.

USOC chief marketer Lisa Baird said the organization’s marketing department came up with the idea to create mini, one-night-only USA House events in the U.S. after the London Games because staff recognized that many sponsor employees and customers can’t attend the Olympics. The travel challenges with Sochi, which requires multiple flights and can take as long as 20 hours to reach from the East Coast, means that fewer guests from the U.S. are expected to attend this Olympics than previous Winter Games in Vancouver and Turin, Italy.

Between Feb. 7-23, the USOC will set up what it is calling Team USA Clubs for sponsors, donors and special guests in Los Angeles (Feb. 7); Vail, Colo. (Feb. 15); Chicago (Feb. 20 and 21); and New York City (Feb. 23). The invitation-only events are being held on the same days that the USOC’s experiential marketing program, the Road to Sochi tour, visits those cities.

The clubs will serve as NBC viewing parties with food and beverages and appearances by former Olympians. The events already are overbooked, and the USOC expects 300 to 400 guests at each gathering.

Baird said the costs of the clubs are covered by the incremental costs that 12 sponsors paid for the USOC’s Road to Sochi tour.

“It was really driven by the fact that there are sponsors that have [high-level] people that never go to a Games,” Baird said. “Our thinking was, ‘Try it for Winter because if it’s successful, we’ll expand it for Rio [in 2016]. Clearly, this is an element people are interested in.”

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Louder is providing the temporary facility in Sochi.
Photo by: USOC WITH LOUDER
The USOC has been searching for a USA House location in Sochi for more than a year. It was weighing whether to rent space in a restaurant, club or other location, or construct a temporary facility inside the Olympic Park. It struggled to find a permanent facility that met its needs and ultimately decided to go with a temporary facility in the Olympic Park because that’s where all of the medal ceremonies will be held during the Games.

The USA House serves as a gathering place for members of the USOC, Team USA, corporate partners, sponsors, suppliers and licensees. The Sochi facility will be 7,000 square feet, which is roughly the same size as the USA House in Vancouver in 2010. Last year’s USA House in London was more than 10,000 square feet.

The 2014 version will have wood interiors, televisions and multiple rooms. There will be a courtyard where guests can talk outside, and Olympic venues will be within walking distance. The temporary facility, which has been used previously, will be coming from Austria and is being provided by the Finland-based company Louder. After the Games, the facility will be dismantled and used as a hospitality venue for European ski events.

Choosing to put the USA House inside the Olympic Park carries some risk for the USOC. To enter the park, people need spectator passes that are linked to tickets. Unless arrangements are made, that will limit the number of visitors to USA House to people with tickets for events. That’s a change from years past when people without tickets could go to the venue to watch the Games with fellow fans of Team USA.

The site’s location means the organization also needs to use approved vendors for its food and beverage services, which could lead to increased prices and costs for the venue.

Baird said that the USOC expects fewer guests than years past and costs won’t be a problem. She said the USOC spoke with Sochi organizers about the spectator pass system and is confident it will be able to accommodate last-minute guests interested in visiting USA House during the Games.

“At the end of the day, we thought the [Olympic] Park would be the best location,” Baird said. “We know a lot of VIP guests love the medal ceremony and seeing our athletes. We don’t want it to get tired as a concept. We want to bring something new. The idea of being in the park next to the venues will make it a different type of house. People will go to two or maybe three events a day, and they will drop in between events. That’s a nice thing to do.”

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