• Catching Up With: Fred Popp, longtime SME executive, London resident

    Longtime sports business executive Fred Popp
    Longtime SME executive Fred Popp moved to Great Britain four years ago to launch a new, European consultancy for brands and properties called TeamUp. He currently works with a handful of soccer clubs, including Arsenal and Celtic. SportsBusiness Journal Olympics reporter Tripp Mickle sat down with him to get his perspective, as an American resident of Great Britain, on the Olympics.

    There’s been a tremendous amount of consternation here about the ticket process. How have you been able to buy tickets?

    POPP: The ticket process was really easy. I, like a lot of people, got frustrated by the early ballot and lottery. I put in what I wanted for tickets and didn’t get it. A lot of the complaining you hear from the general public are people who took one shot at (the lottery) and didn’t try to figure out what was it about the system that was challenging and how do I beat it.

    I’ve got a two-and-a-half-year-old who wakes up every night. That’s how I found success. One morning she woke me up at 2:30, so I got online, had a go and got every (ticket) I wanted.

    What did you want?

    POPP: I wanted to spread my tickets out. I wanted Olympic Park tickets for the experience. I wanted to see Earl’s Court (volleyball). I wanted to see football. I wanted to get down to Weymouth for sailing. There’s a lot of stuff to do outside London and I was able to picture and choose everything. The only thing I couldn’t get was basketball because I specifically wanted American men’s basketball. I didn’t want anything else, and I couldn’t get that. But everything else was easy.

    They started releasing tickets again last week. Were they easy to get?

    POPP: I haven’t been back up. I’ll probably go for it tonight or tomorrow night.

    An example of McDonald's advertising on the tube
    What brand is doing the best job of marketing around the Games?


    POPP: There’s one great success story that crosses over a couple of areas. That’s McDonald’s. It shouldn’t be tainted by the fact that Matt Biespiel (senior director, global brand strategy for McDonald’s) is a friend of mine.

    The branding of McDonald’s is fantastic. There’s a branding campaign in all the transportation venues about being a “Stand up and cheerer” or “Being a red in the facer” or being a “Brought my iPader.” They’ve made every person a natural Olympic customer because their ads depict everyday people doing everyday things in sport as a cheerer. It has nothing to do with McDonald’s or consumption. It’s brilliant.

    On top of it, they trained all the volunteer greeters so when you come across one of the (70,000) volunteers and ask for something and get the I-don’t-know-the-answer-but-I’ll-get-it-for-you reaction, that very American answer rather than the English “No” or “I don’t know” that you get at football and rugby and cricket here.

    What have the organizers done poorly?

    POPP: The only thing they’ve done poorly is determine who will be the tenant of the Olympic stadium. The fact that it wasn’t pre-planned to be a football tenant, the fact that it had an anti-football slant, is the biggest foul of the Games. This is a football country, it’s a football city. The only reason to have a 40,000-seat stadium is for football. They made a pig’s ear out of it.

    What have they done well?

    POPP: They’ve done a great job with way signage. The city is littered with easy way signage. It’s throughout the tube, greeters are at every tube point when you come out, they’ve pedestrianized the streets. They’ve done a really simple job of getting people to and from the Games by mass transport.

    What will these Games be remembered for?

    POPP: I hope it’s the world’s Olympics. It’s a very difficult thing to do. Every host city tries but fails. Beijing was the Chinese Olympics. Sydney was the Australian Olympics. Atlanta was the American Olympics. This is not the British Olympics. This is a very for-everyone experience. You look around, these aren’t all British. The British are gone. They’re away on vacation because they didn’t get the lottery tickets. Everyone who has some effort — North Americans, South Americans, Europeans, Africans — is here, so it’s a very, very world Games. Beyond anything I’ve seen in 12 years of going to Olympics.

  • IOC courts Google, Facebook as it eyes social/digital space

    The International Olympic Committee is looking to become the first sports property to land a marketing deal with Google or Facebook.

    The organization hosted Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt last week during the London Games and has worked closely with the company since it launched a YouTube, video-on-demand channel in 2008. It worked with Facebook ahead of the London Games on a dedicated page for athletes to post personal updates during the Olympics.

    The work with both outlets, and the explosion of Twitter’s popularity, has prompted the IOC to consider turning social and digital media into a new category of The Olympic Partner program, which includes brands such as Visa and Coca-Cola, and had a price tag of $100 million for the 2009-12 quadrennium.

    One concern, though, could be in how much a social or digital media category overlaps with a traditional broadcast agreement.

    “We’re interested in that space,” said Timo Lumme, IOC managing director of TV and marketing services. “Does that mean it will translate into a broadcast rights deal or that it translates into a marketing agreement? It’s a little too early to say, but it’s something in general we’re looking at, absolutely.”

    Lumme declined to say whether the IOC had held conversations with Google’s Schmidt or other companies about a deal.

    The IOC played host to Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt in London last week.
    AP IMAGES
    Google has been considered by some properties to be a potential bidder for broadcast rights in the future, but the company has said repeatedly it’s not interested in pursuing rights deals.

    The idea of signing a sponsorship deal with Google or Facebook comes as the IOC begins to re-evaluate the TOP program. The organization has not changed its worldwide sponsorships or the rights that come with it since creating TOP in 1985.

    Lumme said the organization will sit down after the London Games and look at ways the program could change after 2020. It will look at the way it prices deals, what assets sponsors get and how it defines categories.

    Sponsors already are asking to be included in the discussion. Scott McCune, Coca-Cola’s worldwide vice president of sports and entertainment marketing, says that as brands have begun developing their own video content to promote products, they need additional rights from the IOC, including the ability to integrate their brand into swimming highlights or have access to the Athletes Village so they can film interviews with Olympians.

    “The business model has to change,” McCune said. “We have to have access to content consumers are interested in.”

    The IOC also has to look at the way it prices sponsorships. Deals with local organizing committees have soared in recent years. For example, Nissan reportedly spent more than $250 million to sponsor the Rio Games. By comparison, Coca-Cola and Visa will spend $100 million to sponsor both the Sochi and Rio Games.

    Lumme hypothesized that the local deals were rising fast because of the markets hosting the Games. Beijing, London, Sochi and Rio are all in markets that are highly valuable to local and international companies.

    “These [TOP sponsors] are getting an incredible deal,” said Michael Payne, a sports marketing executive who used to head the IOC’s marketing program. “The biggest challenge facing TOP is price disparity between global and local numbers.”

    The IOC also has to decide what it plans to do with the electronics category. Acer is leaving TOP after this year, but both Samsung and Panasonic have deals that end in 2016. With both companies making tablets, the IOC has to decide how to redraw the category so that either both sponsors stay or the IOC moves to a single electronics partner.

    Lumme said all of that will be done in the early part of 2013. He hopes to have a proposal developed by next summer when the IOC will elect a new president.

    “We will lay our wares there [before the new president] and have a strategic discussion based on what the new president’s political mandate is,” Lumme said. “I expect an evolution, not a revolution, there.”

  • Revamped sales strategy helps IOC boost media rights fees

    For years, the International Olympic Committee filled its coffers with U.S. broadcast money, but a new sales strategy is bringing global balance to its revenue haul.

    For the first time, Olympic TV rights revenue from the U.S. will fall below 50 percent of total IOC television money during the next quadrennium, said Timo Lumme, the IOC’s managing director of TV and marketing services.

    The move comes four years after the IOC overhauled its media sales strategy by ending a decades-old practice of selling TV rights to broadcasting unions, which traditionally covered large regions of continents. Instead, it has sold rights on a country-by-country basis — a move that Lumme said has allowed it to drive significant revenue increases in markets around the world.

    With the 2012 Games in full swing, the IOC has already secured $3.7 billion for the 2014 and 2016 Games globally.
    GETTY IMAGES
    The IOC already has secured $3.7 billion for the 2014 and 2016 Games globally, $2 billion of which will come from NBC’s deal signed last summer. The IOC last week announced a deal with CBC in Canada, and it expects to pass the $4 billion mark after it closes additional deals in Latin America and other markets, bringing NBC’s contribution below 50 percent for the first time.

    By comparison, NBC’s $2 billion rights fee accounted for more than 51 percent of the IOC’s $4 billion in TV revenue for the 2010 and 2012 Games.

    In 2009, Brazilian broadcasters reportedly paid $8 million to $9 million for Olympic TV rights as part of a Latin American broadcasting union known as OTI. The IOC broke Brazil out of the union two years ago, before Rio was awarded the 2016 Games, and sold the rights for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics to three media companies in a deal worth an estimated $170 million, representing a roughly twentyfold increase from its individual deal with OTI.

    The success in Brazil came on the heels of a similar sales strategy in China. The IOC in 2008 broke China out of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, which paid $17.5 million for the rights to the 2006 and 2008 Games across the continent, and sold the rights to CCTV for the 2010 and 2012 Olympics for a sizable $100 million. On top of that, it recently closed a $160 million deal for the 2014 and 2016 Games with the state-owned broadcaster.

    “Other markets are now starting to grow,” Lumme said. “The U.S. can’t grow because it contributed for this quad in effect a 50 percent increase [from 2005 to 2008]. Knowing the U.S. is flat, the increase will be contributed by other territories.”

    And the IOC is not done.

    Lumme says the organization may close another deal before the London Games end. And with the 2016 Games in Rio being billed as the first Latin American Olympics, Lumme is particularly optimistic that the organization will be able to increase TV rights revenue in Latin America, where it still has rights to sell in Mexico. It historically has sold pan-regional rights there to OTI and ESPN, but it may look to sell individual rights in Peru, Chile and other markets in hopes of increasing revenue.

    “We have a real opportunity to move the meter in terms of valuations [in Latin America] with the Rio Games,” Lumme said. “I believe we will have a very competitive landscape. I’m excited.”

    The IOC also has to sell rights in Asia for the 2014 and 2016 Games. Overall, it does not expect to generate the 50 percent increase in rights fees it got between the 2005-2008 quad and the 2009-2012 quad, but it does expect to pull in more than the $3.9 billion it got from 2009 to 2012.

  • Inside ‘new’ NBC’s Olympic Games: Hot start helps execs stay positive

    NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus (left) chats with on-air host Willie Geist.
    JOHN OURAND PHOTO
    Comcast CEO Brian Roberts was standing at a crowded party at the Battersea Power Station in southwest London last Monday night, making small talk with a cable operator executive who was attending the Olympics as a client of NBC, which Comcast bought last year.

    NBC Universal threw the party for a group of high-level clients, like the NFL’s Steve Bornstein and the PGA Tour’s Tim Finchem, who attended the first few days of the Olympics as guests of the network. Most of the group was leaving the next day, and NBC’s top brass was bidding them goodbye.

    The company’s CEO, Steve Burke, worked the room, as did NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus. Longtime Comcast executives Jeff Shell and Matt Bond, both of whom are now in key posts at NBC, also played hosts for the first of four waves of clients NBC is bringing over to the Games.

    Surveying the room, one thing was clearly evident. It’s a “new” NBC that is running the Olympics. One filled with longtime Comcast executives who are now managing one of the top global events as rights holders for the first time.

    They represent a changing of the guard in Olympic media.

    Longtime NBC executives, like Executive Producer Jim Bell, Coordinating Producer Molly Solomon and head of production Bucky Gunts, still control the pictures and tell the stories that came across TV screens, and are the continuing vestiges of previous leadership.

    But it’s now legacy Comcast executives running NBC’s Olympic business, along with Lazarus and Gary Zenkel, NBC Sports’ president of operations and strategy, that includes so much more than just television. There’s broadband, mobile and video-on-demand to consider, as well.

    For at least the first week of the London Games, the Comcast-NBC marriage worked as well as they could expect.

    “When we went over to Lausanne [in June 2011], our company made a big bet on the Olympics,” Burke said. “We can breathe a little easier now that we’ve seen the early ratings. The ratings help me feel confident that we’re going to see a return on that investment as we continue to produce the Olympic Games.”

    Television ratings for NBC’s prime-time block were, by far, the early story of the Games and exceeded the most optimistic expectations. NBC averaged 35.6 million viewers through the event’s first five nights, putting the London Games on pace to become the most-watched Olympics in history.

    But perhaps even more surprising were the business metrics around the Olympics. NBC sold more than $1 billion in ad sales — $1.02 billion to be exact — and started releasing new ad inventory into the market. During Comcast’s quarterly earnings call last week, Roberts said his company expects to break even on these Games — an about-face from a month ago when executives warned they were likely to lose money. The next day, Lazarus suggested the company may even make money on the event.

    “This has been a great beginning and it is all we could ever wish for in so many categories … the open ceremonies, ratings, live streaming, great content on so many networks,” Roberts said.

    New leadership, new style

    The “great beginning” that Roberts referenced was felt throughout NBC’s massive compound inside the International Broadcasting Center last week. Network executives clearly were energized from the early ratings reports, and the opening weekend’s TV numbers were among the first topics brought up by NBC Sports executives during a series of interviews last Monday.

    The strong ratings seemed to validate Comcast’s strategy to stream every event live, even events the broadcast network held back for its network in years past.

    The executive overseeing the implementation of that strategy is the unassuming and well-liked Lazarus, who took over for Dick Ebersol last spring (click here to read about Ebersol at the London Games).

    Unlike predecessor Dick Ebersol, Lazarus is leaving the International Broadcast Center to visit NBC's various sets.
    JOHN OURAND PHOTO
    Working his first Olympics as the head of NBC Sports, Lazarus’ presence was noticeably different than his predecessor’s. Ebersol was known for bunkering down in the International Broadcast Center, keeping a laser-like focus on the prime-time show. Lazarus makes a point to get out of the IBC, visit NBC’s various sets and chat with everyone from big-name talent to anonymous staffers.

    Lazarus, of course, has a different role. He’s not the executive producer, like Ebersol. Lazarus oversees all parts of NBC’s sports business.

    While in London, his mornings began in production meetings led by Bell. His days were peppered with ad sales meetings set up by Seth Winter, NBC Sports’ executive vice president of sales and marketing. He regularly met with rights holders, which in London meant International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge and member Richard Carrión.

    And he has to deal with various brush fires that flare up.

    Take last Monday, for example. NBC was the brunt of a torrent of criticism after Twitter suspended a reporter with the British newspaper The Independent. The reporter tweeted Zenkel’s corporate email address, and Zenkel was receiving hundreds of messages.

    Before heading out to a dinner with Rogge, Lazarus was spotted huddling with Zenkel and NBC Sports communications staff in the network’s PR office at the IBC, trying to develop strategy for dealing with the controversy.

    Twitter eventually restored the reporter’s account and apologized for taking it down.

    That wasn’t the only flashpoint for the day. Even though it posted TV ratings that put the London Games in position to become the most watched Olympics in history, NBC received heavy criticism on social networks over its decision to tape delay some of the more popular events. In addition, NBC also was hearing complaints that its online streams were buffering and freezing too much.

    A big part of Lazarus’ job was to see if the complaints were valid.

    The prime-time ratings told him that the tape-delayed programming wasn’t a problem. And data from Google showing normal failure rates indicated that the streaming issues were not widespread.

    “Every frame of every event that’s taking place at these Games is being streamed and available,” Lazarus said. “I think it’s a technological feat that’s never been tackled.”

    The early criticism did not weigh down NBC executives last week, and it was clear that Lazarus set the tone for the company by staying positive and not becoming distracted by what he calls “noise.”

    He chatted with Burke in NBC’s commissary, a massive cafeteria in the IBC for NBC’s 2,800 staffers in London that has its own 24-hour Starbucks. Burke and Lazarus spoke about NBC’s prime-time show from the night before, when American gymnast Jordyn Wieber broke down crying after failing to secure a place in the individual all-around finals.

    Burke hadn’t seen it — but it was the type of emotional Olympic moment for which NBC is known. Burke held up a DVD of the telecast and said he planned to watch it later.

    The online streaming complaints never came up in their conversation.

    About two hours later, Lazarus rode a golf cart into Olympic Park to visit NBC Sports Network’s studio, which is on the park, adjacent to the Athletes Village.

    While there, he casually bantered with one of the on-air hosts, Willie Geist. Both Geist and Lazarus attended Vanderbilt, and they relished last season’s basketball wins against Kentucky.

    The positive energy was palpable, as tape-delay complaints were never mentioned.

    The mood in NBC’s IBC offices was as upbeat as you could expect for a group that’s working on five hours sleep a night. (Lazarus, for example, is spending the Olympics going to bed after NBC’s prime-time programming ends, around 5 a.m., and wakes up at 9:30 a.m.).

    The unexpectedly big TV ratings and the number of online streams helped keep the group energized and focused through the Olympics’ grueling first week.

    “I want to be part of as much as I can,” Lazarus said. “I haven’t gone through this before. These first couple of days are a great learning curve for me. I have thought about it, learned about it, talked to everyone in the company about it. But to actually live through it is quite different and educational.”

    Different, indeed. The same term could be applied to Comcast-owned NBC during this year’s Games.

    Staff writer Tripp Mickle contributed to this story.

  • Still hard at work, new role gives Ebersol time to enjoy Games

    Dick Ebersol has emerged from the bunker he used as the Games' executive producer.
    GETTY IMAGES
    On the opening day of Olympic competition in London, Dick Ebersol went to the U.S.-France basketball game. The sight of him in line for concessions stopped one executive in his tracks.

    Ebersol at an Olympics event? It was something that hasn’t been seen in the last two decades — a stretch dating to 1992, during which Ebersol was the Games’ executive producer for NBC and defined its coverage in the United States.

    Needless to say, it’s been a different Olympics for the former chairman of NBC Sports & Olympics.

    Between 1992 and 2010, Ebersol spent the majority of the Olympics holed up in an expansive, bunker office at the International Broadcasting Center. The office had televisions for every competition so that he could keep track of events, and even a bed and a shower so that he never had to leave the broadcasting center if he didn’t have time to head to a hotel.

    Plans for a similar office in London were scrapped by NBC after Ebersol left the network last year. NBC repurposed the space to make room for more employees that it wanted to bring over from the NBC Universal family of networks.

    Still, Ebersol is spending the majority of his time in London working on the Olympics broadcast. He’s in the IBC most days advising Jim Bell, NBC Olympics executive producer, on broadcast decisions. He opens every day at an NBC meeting to discuss programming plans and events, but he is spending the rest of his days and nights differently than he did in the past.

    He was able to take in the U.S.-France basketball game. He is staying in the same hotel as the rest of NBC’s production staff. And he often is seen outside the IBC smoking a cigar.

    “He has his family here, and he’s enjoying himself,” Bell said.

    Ebersol declined to be interviewed for this story.

    Reduced workload aside, Ebersol’s taken as much interest in these Olympics as any that have preceded it. He was on the phone with NBC’s swimming color commentator Rowdy Gaines the day Michael Phelps won his 19th Olympic medal, asking Gaines about how Phelps looked in practice and what his mood was like.

    “He’s very invested [in Michael] from a friendship standpoint,” Gaines said. “He’s been with him four Olympics, too, and Dick loves the Olympics. He has a really strong passion for them.”

    While it’s been different not having Ebersol run the show in London, NBC executives are glad to have him on site as an adviser. The company opened a three-hour seminar before the Games with several executives praising his approach to the Games and saying that the approach wouldn’t change in London, Gaines said.

    “There are two reasons why the Olympics are what they are today,” said Gaines, who attended the seminar. “There’s Roone Arledge and Dick Ebersol. Those are the two main factors why you see the Olympics on television the way it is. They are visionaries.”

  • Comcast's Brian Roberts: ‘We see these Olympics as a real laboratory’

    Comcast CEO Brian Roberts
    GETTY IMAGES
    The Olympics’ importance to Comcast goes way beyond NBC’s prime-time window. It’s even more important than its cable channels, like NBC Sports Network, which has seen ratings and distribution growth thanks to the Games. For Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, the Olympics’ popularity allows his company to test new technologies and imagine how the media landscape will look in the next decade.

    SportsBusiness Journal media reporter John Ourand caught up with Roberts in NBC’s compound at the Olympic Games in London last week and asked the executive about his Olympic Games experience.

    What are your thoughts after your first three days as an Olympics rights holder?

    ROBERTS: This has been a great beginning and it is all we could ever wish for in so many categories … the opening ceremonies, ratings, live streaming, great content on so many networks.

    NBC’s operation in London seems so extensive to me.

    ROBERTS: This is the most technologically sophisticated experience I’ve ever been a part of. These are real pros who have been doing this for decades, and I’m just trying to get out of the way and let them shine. What’s amazing to me is something called the “Subway Chart” that shows where all our production locations are and the various broadcast feeds, technology, fiber-under-the-sea and satellites are. When you look at the Subway chart you can see how we are able to deliver all this content when you want to watch it on whatever device you want to use. We have 3,400 people working here to make all this happen and they are working really hard. It’s early, but so far I think the ratings are great.

    Is this the future of the Olympic Games that we’re seeing?

    ROBERTS: We see these Olympics as a real laboratory. If you subscribe to cable or satellite, you can watch a lot more than what’s on linear TV. When we were bidding in Lausanne for the future Games, and we got the rights through 2020, we were looking at some statistics. In the year 2000, there was virtually no broadband technology, and in the year 2010, broadband has become such a huge thing. So what is coming in 2020 that doesn’t exist today? We don’t know. But we have the rights to broadcast on any new technology that may be developed. That’s one of the great things about the rights we have.

    Do ratings matter to you?

    ROBERTS: Different people have different answers to that. To the advertising department, they matter a lot, and Steve Burke, Mark Lazarus and Gary Zenkel are obviously watching them very closely. I look at ratings and say, there’s only so much we can control. As long as we’re heading in the right direction and deliver an excellent broadcast, then I am happy. We’re in it for a decade. This is the first three days. I’m thrilled the ratings are up.

  • Bolt's tape-delayed race tops live version in social media tracking

    Even with NBC making every major Olympics event available live in some fashion, the network's practice of also tape-delaying some key action for U.S. prime time remains a subject of some debate. But new data from social media tracking firm Bluefin Labs provided further evidence of support.

    Sprinter Usain Bolt retained his title Sunday as the world's fastest man, winning gold for a second straight Olympic 100-meter dash. His victory, occurring at 4:50 p.m. on the U.S. East Coast, generated a peak volume of more than 23,000 social media comments per minute, Bluefin Labs said. The tape-delayed broadcast of the race, shown at 11:15 ET last night, generated peak volume of more than 25,000 social media comments per minute.

    More than six hours apart, the two airings of the race created nearly equal amounts of social media conversation, with the tape-delayed version slightly topping the live version.

  • NBC sees first drop on Saturday, still on pace for record Games

    For the first time since the start of the London Games, NBC on Saturday night drew a smaller prime-time audience than it did for the same night in 2008. The network drew 28 million viewers and a 15.9 Nielsen rating for its prime-time broadcast Saturday.

    On the same night four years ago, NBC drew 31.6 million viewers to see Michael Phelps win his record eighth gold medal and Dara Torres win a silver in the 50-meter freestyle as a 41-year-old. Those races were shown live and delivered one of the largest audiences of the 2008 Beijing Games.

    The 28 million viewers NBC posted Saturday night was its smallest audience of the Games, but it was far larger than the 22.5 million viewers the network drew for the same night of the Athens Games in 2004.  

    NBC is still on track to deliver the highest-rated, non-U.S. Olympics since the 1976 Montreal Games. Through nine nights of coverage, the network is averaging 33.9 million viewers and an 18.9 rating. Six nights of coverage have drawn more than 30 million viewers, which is more than the five nights that Beijing did that and the two nights that Athens did it.

    The network said that 194.7 million viewers have watched the London Games across NBC Universal networks. The total is 3.5 million more than the number it had amassed through the first nine days of the Beijing Games.

  • World Marathon Majors meet, share ideas at Olympic marathon

    Race directors from the five World Marathon Majors hosted more than 100 guests for a women’s marathon viewing party Sunday at a conference center near Blackfriars Bridge.

    The race directors of the New York, Boston, Chicago, London and Berlin marathons started the World Marathon Majors in early 2006 as a way to generate publicity for marathon runners and give the top distance runners a financial reason to run in their races.

    Runners accumulate points at those five races over a two-year period, and the runner with the highest point total wins $500,000. Every four years, the Olympic marathon is added to the list of races that count for points.

    Between short breaks to stand in the rain and watch the women’s marathoners run past, the race directors who gathered on Sunday said their collaboration had been successful not only in convincing elite athletes to run their races but also had other benefits that varied from race to race.

    For example, ING New York City Marathon race director Mary Wittenberg said she was inspired to improve New York’s fundraising efforts after seeing what the Virgin London Marathon did. London has raised more than $71 million per race for charities. New York has increased its fundraising from $500,000 to $32 million since joining the majors in 2006, Wittenberg said.

    The BMW Berlin Marathon has seen the number of international entrants to its race soar since it joined the World Marathon Majors. Mark Milde, Berlin’s race director, pointed to 700 Brazilians who are coming to its race in September. They are part of a group that has pushed the number of foreign runners in the race to more than 50 percent of total entrants.

    “They went to New York, did that race and said, ‘Who else is in this series?’” Milde said. “It’s quite amazing.”

    Chicago and Boston have shared best practices around their races in recent years. Boston this year reached out to Chicago for advice about how to handle temperatures that soared above 80 degrees this year. Chicago had to shut down its marathon in 2007 because temperatures were too high.

    “We’ve been rivals in the past and we’re still competitive, but we’re able to share now,” said Carey Pinkowski, executive director of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

    Wittenberg said the biggest upside of the marathons coming together is that it’s given them a more powerful voice in the international running community. She said that before 2006, the race organizers had no relationship with track and field’s international sports federation (IAAF).

    “This has created a level of collaboration between our five races and the IAAF and brought together all of track and field and road racing,” Wittenberg said.

    The World Marathon Majors will host another hospitality event at Blackfriars during the men’s race next Sunday.

  • Phelps, USA Swimming look for long-term relationship to grow sport

    Michael Phelps retired from swimming after winning his 22nd Olympic medal Saturday night.
    After Mark Spitz retired from swimming in the 1970s with a record seven gold medals at the Munich Games, he did little promotional work with USA Swimming.

    The organization is working to be sure that’s not the case with Michael Phelps, who retired Saturday night after winning his 22nd Olympic medal.

    USA Swimming executives have spent almost a year talking to Phelps and his agent, Octagon’s Peter Carlisle, about keeping him involved with the organization in a formal capacity. They hope it will allow them to continue growing the sport over time.

    “We want a playbook for the future,” said USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus. “Michael’s all for that. Peter’s all for that.

    “I think Michael and USA Swimming will have a great relationship going forward … that will stand in stark contrast to the relationship USA Swimming had and Mark Spitz had a generation ago.”

    Speaking the day after his final competitive swim, Phelps said he’s still committed to growing the sport of swimming. That’s been his career-long goal and a major reason that he signed certain deals like the $1 million bonus Speedo paid when he won eight gold medals and broke Spitz’s record in 2008.

     “My competitive part of my career is over,” Phelps said while speaking at a Visa press conference Sunday. “It doesn’t mean I’m done with the sport. … I’m still going to go with my goal of trying to change the sport and take it to a new level. It hasn’t reached the peak that I want it to reach.”

    Phelps, 27, has been a huge benefit to USA Swimming. He won 22 of the 89 medals the organization has collected during the last three Olympics, and that contributed to major increases in awareness for swimming. The sport’s ratings now surpass track and field on NBC during the Olympics, and USA Swimming has seen its membership swell from 232,000 in 2004 to 291,000 today.

    “He’s been great for the sport,” Wielgus said.

    There are challenges to keeping Phelps involved. The swimmer has launched his own non-profit, the Michael Phelps Foundation, which is focused on teaching kids to swim. That mission is similar to the mission of the USA Swimming Foundation, which means they could potentially compete for donations.

    Then there are the basic demands on Phelps’ time, and the need to protect his image and make sure he’s being fairly compensated when it’s used. Phelps currently has sponsor obligations from a long list of companies — Visa, Omega, Under Armour, Hilton, Master Spas, Procter & Gamble, Subway, Speedo, Pure Sport and HP — and he reportedly earns more than $5 million a year on those deals (see related story).

    Wielgus and Carlisle have talked about that and hope to work through it after the Games.

    “We’re there in concept,” Wielgus said. “It’s a matter of working the details out.”

    USA Swimming's SwimToday campaign

    USA Swimming is looking to build on the 11 percent increase in membership it saw after the 2008 Games.

    The organization is in the middle of a major marketing campaign called SwimToday, which is designed to encourage parents, kids and young people to swim.

    It did a deal with Living Social, a digital coupon service, that offers discounted rates at local swim clubs. More than 1,200 people have bought the coupons in the last five days. The campaign will run through the fall.

    USA Swimming also has seen a major increase in searches for its website. Searches have increased three-fold since the Olympic Trials.

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