SBJ/February 6-12, 2017/Olympics

With USOC deal over, BMW turns to swimming

BMW is not done with Olympic sports, even if it has lost the rights to Team USA.

The automaker has extended its partnership with USA Swimming through the 2020 Tokyo Games, following an earlier extension with USA Bobsled & Skeleton through the 2022 Winter Games.

While preparing for both London and Rio, BMW contributed software and expertise to help analyze swimmers’ dolphin kicks under water.
Photo by: COURTESY OF USA SWIMMING
That might seem fairly routine, but renewing with individual sports’ governing bodies is notable considering BMW’s sponsorship of the U.S. Olympic Committee expired Dec. 31. Toyota signed a blockbuster worldwide rights deal with the International Olympic Committee in 2015, supplanting all national-level auto deals after 2016.

“We felt there was still something left to be said, and we definitely want to continue the impact we’ve had on the athletes,” said Gina Koutros, experiential marketing
manager for BMW.

In 2010, BMW signed a six-year deal with the USOC worth $4 million annually, and became an aggressive user of those rights. BMW gained extensive media coverage of its work helping design and build a new racing wheelchair for the U.S. Paralympic team in 2016, as well as a bobsled in 2014. It also spent more than $54 million to buy ad time on NBC during the Rio Games. In 2012, it credited its Olympic sponsorship for selling 6,000 additional cars that year.

The individual sport governing body deals are far cheaper but don’t allow BMW to call itself an Olympics sponsor or use the rings. Also, it would have to seek a waiver to use Olympic athletes during the Games under its more limited rights. But BMW can still reach an upscale fan and participant demographic through grassroots events owned by USA Swimming, and bask in some reflected Olympic glory through the team-level sponsorships.

Terms were not disclosed, but governing body sponsorships usually peak in the mid six figures annually.

BMW once had relationships with USA Track & Field, USA Golf and US Speedskating, too. Koutros said the company sought to extend with swimming and bobsled because those were the best match for the brand and the areas where engineers were eager to continue the technology collaboration.

BMW will continue to use USA Swimming events, like the 2020 Olympic trials and smaller meets, to entertain customers and generate sales leads, Koutros said. Since NBC does not necessarily require Olympic advertisers to be sponsors, BMW still could have a commercial presence during future Games if Toyota does not buy exclusivity.

The extension also envisions more jointly created digital content with USA Swimming to tell the story of BMW’s technical contribution to the team. While preparing for both London and Rio, BMW contributed software and expertise to help analyze swimmers’ dolphin kicks under water, work that will continue under the deal.

It’s not necessarily unusual for governing bodies to have different, or competing, sponsors with the USOC. But the conventional playbook is for USOC sponsors to see the teams as extensions of their rights, not ends unto themselves.

“Historically speaking, it would be the case that we’re joined at the hip with the USOC on those type of renewals,” said USA Swimming CMO Matt Farrell. “But we were able to show the ROI of swimming as a standalone that doesn’t always have to be linked to an overall Olympic partnership to make sense.”

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