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February 18, 2014 05:38 PM
Unlike a lot of Olympic legends, former speedskating star Bonnie Blair is busy with appearances in Sochi.
But they’re the exception to the rule in Sochi.
For the first time in a recent Olympic Games, agents say there are more opportunities for athlete appearances in the U.S. than there are in the host country. Many sponsors contracted their hospitality programs for Sochi, or scrapped them altogether, because of security and logistical issues. Instead, they opted to do events in the U.S.
“We did way more hospitality back home,” said Patrick Quinn of Chicago Sports & Entertainment Partners, who works with skeleton silver medalist Noelle Pikus-Pace and others. “There’s a fraction as much as here.”
Octagon's Peter Carlisle, who represents Michael Phelps and works with Mikaela Shiffrin, agreed. One of his Olympic legends, two-time snowboard cross gold-medalist Seth Wescott, stayed in the U.S. rather than coming to Sochi.
"There are more opportunities for him there than there would be here," Carlisle said.
Visa, Liberty Mutual, Citi and the USOC are all hosting events in the U.S, and they’re all bringing athletes to them.
Quinn said he’s arranged appearances by former Olympians such as Joey Cheek, Chad Hedrick and Shannon Bahrke. He added that if he originally knew there were that many opportunities available back home, he might have arranged for Pikus-Pace to return home earlier. Instead, she’s staying in Sochi until late this week.
“Perhaps the next time we’re going to be more aware of it and think about that,” Quinn said.
The Leverage Agency’s Brandon Swibel, who works with Jansen and Blair, said there are fewer opportunities in Sochi for appearances, but there are also fewer Olympic legends in Sochi for those appearances.
“It’s balanced itself out,” Swibel said. “There are less legends and less opportunities.”
February 18, 2014 04:21 PM
Facebook and Twitter are at the forefront of social media activity when it comes to the Sochi Games. In addition to 1 million new likes on the International Olympic Committee’s Facebook page, the social media giant reported that 24 million people were talking about these Olympics on Facebook during the first week of competition. Social media manager Hootsuite reported that there were 6.5 million mentions of the Olympics on Twitter during that same period. Overall, 1.2 billion impressions were noted on IOC Facebook and Twitter accounts in the past 30 days, according to an IOC press release.
Other platforms are getting in on the action as well, particularly in the host country with the Russian social network VKontakte (VK). There are 60 million monthly active users of VK, and roughly 12 million of those users connected with the Olympics in the first week of competition to account for 17 million mentions.
There was similar activity on the Chinese social network, Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter. The IOC’s account on that platform grew by nearly 850,000 fans during the first week of the Games, and there were nearly 12.5 million mentions that included “#sochi2014.”
Fans aren’t the only ones plugged in and engaged when it comes to these Olympics. Many of the 1,500 current Olympians, as well as 6,000 former athletes, are using the Olympic Athletes’ Hub app to engage with one another as well as fans by sharing their experiences via photographs or comments. There were more than 40,000 updates via the Olympic Athletes’ Hub in the first week.
“The app is awesome,” said U.S. hockey player Brianna Decker in an IOC press release. “It is easily accessible and a great way for Olympians to connect with other Olympians and have fans connect with Olympians. It’s also great to have thousands of Olympians involved with this app and know that they are truly who they claim to be.”
The total IOC fan base from social media platforms worldwide is 33.9 million, according to the IOC.
February 18, 2014 09:44 AM
Sunday marked the ninth time in 10 nights that NBC’s audience topped the figures seen from Turin. Coverage on Sunday night included gold-medal finals for men’s alpine skiing (Super-G), women’s snowboarding (snowboardcross) and women’s speedskating (1,500 meters). Also featured was figure skating (ice dancing short dance) and two-man bobsledding.
After 10 nights, NBC is averaging a 13.1 rating, down 10 percent from Vancouver, but up 8 percent from Turin.
February 18, 2014 09:05 AM
Skateboarding could be added for the 2020 Tokyo Games at the earliest.
IOC Sports Director Christophe Dubi said he expects the IOC to recognize the International Skateboarding Federation by the end of the year.
“That is probably the next boost to the sport,” he said. “Major events, exposure to the global stage is what will help the sport continue to grow.”
The IOC is in the middle of overhauling the way it determines what sports are part of the Olympics. Jacques Rogge, the former IOC president, capped the number of summer sports at 28 and number of athletes at 10,500. His successor, Thomas Bach, is in favor of loosening those rules and making it easier to add new sports.
BMX racing has been part of the Olympic program since 2008, but not the halfpipe or park disciplines of the sport. Dubi said that the program for Rio 2016 is set, but the IOC will look at new sports for Tokyo 2020. In addition to skateboarding and BMX halfpipe and park, the IOC also is eyeing sport climbing, another lifestyle sport.
“We should not move away from those sports that appear to be more traditional,” he said. “You need probably a blend of urban-extreme sport and at the same time making sure that we have the ground covered with all the (traditional) others.”
Dubi said adding slopestyle and freeskiing had been a huge benefit to the program in Sochi. The average age of Olympics viewers has been rising during the past decade, and the IOC has looked to attract younger viewers by adding new sports that appeal to them. The discipline of slopestyle and the sport of freeskiing, which have been part of the X Games for more than a decade, are an example of that.
Dubi said internet consumption globally was up 300 percent for the Sochi Games and viewership for slopestyle had been “tremendous.”
“What I find interesting is it’s strong on TV, which is a good thing because it’s (where) our traditional viewers (are), but it’s also good on the internet, which is the younger generation, and these age groups have a big pickup,” Dubi said.
Dubi said the IOC feels like the Summer Games’ program is in good shape. For the first time in years, the IOC saw an uptick in younger viewers for the London Olympics, and he believes that the IOC can continue to make traditional sports relevant by making interesting venues, playing relevant music and creating colorful backdrops.
But, he added that including “so-called extreme sports” to the program is something that could help, and the IOC will spend the rest of the year evaluating skateboarding, BMX, sport climbing and other sports.
“By the end of 2014, we will know exactly what we will do,” Dubi said.
The IOC has flirted with the idea of adding skateboarding since 2006. It first met with Camp Woodward President Gary Ream at the Torino Games to discuss the sport.
Ream and BMX legend Mat Hoffman have had ongoing discussions with the IOC about skateboarding and BMX since then. They created the International Skateboarding Federation for both sports and began holding world championships in 2010. But the organization has never been recognized as an official federation by the IOC.
In a statement to SportsBusiness Journal, Ream said: “We, the ISF, continue to have meaningful dialogue with the IOC leadership and we will follow their guidance so the skateboarding community can present skateboarding to the world properly. If skateboarding were to be added to the Olympic Games properly, it would be a great benefit to both the Games and skateboarding.
“Skateboarding adds a youth lifestyle sport enjoyed by millions of kids worldwide. It also brings a youth culture and appeal that has a strong industry, iconic and well-known athletes, and a sport that will attract and engage a younger audience. We have seen the benefits from snowboarding and freeskiing being in the Olympic Games and we have also learned a lot from the process that led to their inclusion. The Games will help skateboarding continue to grow globally and help validate the sport to parents and an adult population. I am sure that newly elected IOC President Thomas Bach understands this and values this change as something that would be very important to the Olympic movement.”
February 18, 2014 09:03 AM
Tripp Mickle at P&G's Family Home with Ann Wool of Ketchum and Jan Katzoff of GMR (right)
■ Katzoff: "The traffic is the best I've probably ever seen in (Olympic) showcases, especially in the winter. Certainly this setup far surpasses what they had to deal with in Beijing, for example."
■ Wool: "Swiss House was hopping the other night. You can get a bratwurst and you can get some beer and there are a lot of very intense Swiss fans in there. They've got a great thing going."
February 18, 2014 09:02 AM
“Whenever I come in it’s, ‘Wow,’” the Russian chemist-turned-Olympic marketer said. “The whole metal, the white on it, is a Dow customer (product) for anti-corrosion. The construction company was testing different companies’ (products) and chose ours, so whenever we go inside we’re like, ‘Yeah, it’s ours.’”
Irkha smiles. It’s the type of smile Dow executives envisioned when they signed the company’s TOP sponsorship deal with the International Olympic Committee in 2010. The deal, which costs more than $25 million a year, was designed to excite its employee base and help generate new business for its customers.
Midland, Mich.-based Dow makes the chemicals and plastics that other companies use to make the products and materials they sell. It calls its products “solutions,” and the company’s idea in sponsoring the Olympics was to help the customers who use those solutions to make everything from anti-corrosive coatings to power cables win contracts to supply the Olympic Games.
The company started its sponsorship long after most of the contracts had been awarded in London, but it has had far more success getting its customers’ products — and by virtue, its products — into the venues built in Sochi. More than 20 products are incorporated into the venues in Sochi. They range from Dow’s Primal acrylic resin used for wood protection to Dow’s Endurance semi-conductive material.
Irkha spearheaded the Olympic sales and placement effort. She joined Dow in 2006 as a chemist and became its Olympics project leader in 2010. She and her team managed to get Dow products and customers into all five venues in the Olympic coastal cluster and two of the venues in the mountain cluster. But nothing makes her more proud than their success in winning contracts at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, which will host hockey, arguably the most anticipated sport in Russia.
Sochi won the Games in 2007, and before Dow became a sponsor, the Olympic development authority in Sochi planned to use Russian company materials in most of its venues.
Standing outside the venue beside an industrial-sized air conditioning system used to keep the ice cool, Irkha, whose fingernails were painted in Russia’s red, white and royal blue, explained that a Dowcal Heat Transfer Fluid was being used inside it to help maintain the temperature of the ice.
“In the past, it was Russian local material, but we were able to prove our material had anti-corrosive agents that would protect the machine longer,” Irkha said. “For speedskating, you need a certain temperature (for the ice). For hockey, another. This gives you an ability to do that.”
She walked inside the venue and paused when she reached the granite floor inside the main concourses. Windows stretched from the floor to the ceiling behind her offering views of the Black Sea. She dragged the toe of her right foot across the granite floor and explained that Dow products were used in the grout between the tiles. Its chemicals and additives also were used in the cement underneath the venue to make it smooth and “increase the hardness of the ice surface.”
She then pointed to the ceiling — a lattice-work of arching steel beams coated in white paint — and explained that the Dow coating used on those paints had beat out coatings made with competitors’ products. The construction company installed the beams and coated them first, before construction was completed, so they needed to coat them with a material that would protect them from the weather while construction continued. It tested several companies’ products before choosing a coating with Dow product in it, Irkha said.
She strode up a ramp and pushed open a door to a 28-person suite on the second level of the arena. She walked to the veranda and stood beside one of 587 plush suite seats that ringed the 12,000-seat arena.
“They needed seats that could absorb sound,” Irkha said. “First it was a competitor’s solutions for the seats, but we won this. Our customer in Poland, we were able to promise these seats had a certain amount of noise canceling because when it’s hockey, you need to cancel the noise for broadcasters.”
The seats contain Dow’s Specflex polyurethane. It was one of a half-dozen Dow products that Dow’s Olympic team was able to get into the Bolshoy arena. For Irkha, that’s a tremendous accomplishment because it both helps her company and her country in its effort to host its first Olympics since 1980.
“It’s developing of sport, and we’re proud of that,” Irkha said. “You’re honored you’re able to help, but you hope as a person everything is OK. It’s two feelings.”
February 18, 2014 09:01 AM
T.J. Oshie scores against the Russians on Saturday.
Fanatics.com, the largest online retailer of licensed sports merchandise, sold out of USA Hockey T-shirts with Oshie’s name within hours of the game (http://tinyurl.com/kn7myle). It replenished the supply, and demand for Oshie merchandise remains strong. His name has been the No. 1-searched term on Fanatics.com since Saturday.
Residents from New York City bought the most USA Hockey gear with Oshie’s name on it. Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Boston followed.
But it wasn’t just USA Hockey shirts that sold. More merchandise of the St. Louis Blues, where Oshie plays, sold Saturday than any other day in the site’s history.
The top-selling item on Fanatics.com remains the blue “Go USA” mittens that the U.S. Olympic Committee made for the Sochi Games.
February 18, 2014 09:00 AM
Now, the big question is: Will they come?
I decided the best way to find out was to go skiing. (I know what you’re thinking: Skiing? Tough day at the office, right? But you can report on the lift between runs. Seriously. And I had to come up with some way to justify a ski day to my editor.)
In the mountain town of Krasnaya Polyana, they have built three new resorts since they won the Olympics in 2007. Russian Oligarch Vladimir Potanin built Rosa Khutor, where alpine events are taking place; Russian-bank Sberbank built Gornaya Karusel; and Russian gas company Gazprom developed a resort that’s hosting biathlon and cross country.
Like seemingly everything with the Sochi Games, trying to go skiing was more difficult than I imagined. But once on the slopes, like the Sochi Games themselves, things were breathtaking and smooth and amazing and fun and foreign … and all those troubles getting there were just bumps in the past.
Just another day at the office: Our hard-working reporter poses with Katarina at the top of Gornaya Karusel.
Evidence of Sochi’s security operation was visible the entire hour-long ride. Solitary policemen stand guard between the road and a nearby riverway, and the occasional army tent can be seen tucked into stumpy evergreen trees along the river.
There were a few villages and some industrial-looking facilities like a sewage treatment center along the way, but nothing is near the road until the bus emerged from a mile-long tunnel and snowcapped peaks came into view. A series of peach and cream apartments, brick and stucco condos and backhoes stood along the highway. This was Krasnaya Polyana.
The town, like all of the Sochi Games, remains a work in progress. Every other shop is shuttered, and each day new stores, coffee shops and other businesses open. A vacant building one day is a snowboard shop the next.
I took a second bus to the base of Rosa Khutor and arrived at a ski rental shop at 10 a.m. The shop was downstairs and there was no sign outside. I only found it because I saw ski gear through the window. But finding the shop was only half the process.
“You check to see if you rent equipment,” the guy at the shop said. “Cash desk 14. Ask — can take equipment on mountain? Buy ticket. Come back.”
The views at the top of the mountain were well worth the difficult and sometimes frustrating trip to get there.
The gondola climbed up the mountain a few thousand feet. Then I got out and boarded another gondola that climbed another few thousand feet. Then I climbed out and got in line for another gondola that would take me to the top of the 5,000-foot resort. Or tried.
“Your credential doesn’t go there,” a ski operator said.
“But they told me at the bottom I could rent equipment,” I said.
“No. You see the sign,” he said, pointing to a sign that showed that athlete, coach and other credentials worked but not media. “You can maybe come back at 3 o’clock. They are not so strict then.”
It was noon. I should have already skied a few runs. But I hadn’t even reached the top of the resort. I skied down a little ways and got back in the gondola. I’d been told there was another resort — Gornaya Karusel — that was open, so I returned my gear and headed there.
I rode a bus back into Krasnaya Polyana and spent another hour getting suited out for rental equipment. Then I stood in line with a lot of people in plain clothes, who were buying tickets to ride the gondolas to the summit.
The gondola climbed up the mountain a few thousand feet. Then I got out and boarded another gondola that climbed another few thousand feet. Then I boarded another gondola and rode to the top. After six hours of effort, I was finally ready to ski. And the view was amazing.
Snow-covered mountains stretched into the distance to Georgia. White. Jagged. Stunning. I felt like a mountaineer who had just summited K2 or Everest.
A guy named Alexander from St. Petersburg was standing right beside me taking in the view, too. He’d been skiing all morning, and I asked him where I should go.
“This is amazing,” I said. “Do you think you’ll come back?”
“Maybe, but I don’t think so,” he said. “Here I noticed two things. It’s three to four times cheaper than Austria, but I don’t think people will come. Southern people (in Sochi) are different. I’m not so sure.”
To Russians in Moscow and St. Petersburg, southern Russians are different. There’s more Georgian influence here. More ethnic diversity. A Russian agent for a Russian hockey player told me last night, “They’re like hillbillies here.” And Alexander and other Russians aren’t convinced they want to hang out with “hillbillies.”
But a local resident named Katarina who was out skiing in a Team USA Nike jacket had a different opinion. With all the new hotels and resorts, she was confident people will come. Why?
“For the skiing, of course,” she said. “I’m sure of it. Lots more tourists come.”
I took a photo with Katarina and then hit my first slope. The sun was bright and it was so warm that I only had on a T-shirt under my jacket. The snow on the groomers was soft, and the run was fast. After six hours of effort, it felt great just to be going fast.
On my ride up the new quad chair, I sat beside a 21-year-old snowboarder named Sergey Godov. He was in town from Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains. Half a world away in another part of Russia. He usually skies in Italy but he was here for the Olympics, and he said he would come back.
“More people will know about it,” he said. “I will tell my friends it’s pretty OK here and advise them to come here.
“For a couple of years, (the hotels will) be almost empty, but quite pretty and new. The quality can be shitty sometimes in Russia, but in a couple of years, they’ll arrange things. People will come.”
I skied the next two hours trying to figure out who was right: Alexander? Katarina? Sergey? Would anyone come back? I, for one, was having a great time, but I also knew there was no way in hell I would ever take a 17-hour trip to come back here and ski. No matter how cool it was. And it was cool.
Apres consists of kabobs, vodka and dated rap music. A blonde in a pink helmet and a slim-fit black ski suit raised her hands as “Riding Dirty” thumped on the loud speaker. I walked over to buy a beer and found myself in line behind a man in a Squaw Valley jacket.
“Squaw?!?” I said. “I used to live there.”
I lived in Tahoe for two years and skied Squaw all the time. The guy’s son went to Squaw Valley Ski School and he was out skiing with U.S. skier Travis Ganong’s aunt, Barbara Ganong, and a small Tahoe contingent.
“What’d you think?” I asked.
“It was great,” he said.
“Skiing’s always great, but would you come back?”
Barbara jumped in.
“I know I would,” she said. “I think I’d fly to Europe, ski a few days, and then come here.”
“Wow,” he said. “Wouldn’t that be great!”
We all skied down together. A group of five with Tahoe connections skiing half a world away. I savored every second of that run. I may not come back, but I always will be able to say something I never imagined: I skied in Russia … and it was awesome.
EDITOR'S NOTE: For more from Tripp Mickle's travel blog, click here.
February 17, 2014 04:55 PM
Russian President Vladimir Putin (center) chats with executives at USA House last Friday.
“Lisa, this is Mikhail,” the caller said.
She had known Mikhail, who works in the Russian government, for a couple of years because of her work with Sochi 2014 organizers. She listened as he explained that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to visit USA House the next day.
“Would that be OK?” Mikhail said.
“Of course,” Baird said.
She hung up the phone a little startled and slightly confused, and turned to the group of people walking with her to the game. No head of state had visited a USA House since she joined the USOC. And they had never had a visitor remotely as well known worldwide as Putin. It didn’t make sense.
“I just got a call that Putin wants to visit USA House,” Baird said. “I think Canada is punking us.”
The USOC and Canadian Olympic Committee have been pranking each other all Games. The USOC has joked that it planned to steal the COC’s beer refrigerator, which only opens for Canadian passports. And they scheduled a street hockey scrimmage later this week.
Baird was convinced they were messing with her. She double-checked, though, and found out the truth: Sure enough, Putin was coming to visit.
People in USA House, a large, temporary, one-room building on the edge of Olympic Park, knew something was up the next day when Russian security members showed up in the courtyard. The head of the security team even tasted drinks and sampled food before Putin arrived. He showed up shortly after 6:30 p.m. and visited with USOC Chair Larry Probst and CEO Scott Blackmun in the courtyard.
The USOC didn’t tell any media about the visit. It opted to break news of the visit on its website, teamusa.org, because it wanted to drive traffic there and control the message. A few staff members from USA Today happened to be there, as did NBC’s Jimmy Roberts. They reported it later.
The visit was one of a series Putin has made to the hospitality houses of countries competing in the Games. He went to China House last week, as well.
USOC Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Baird, shown in 2012, thought the Canadians were pulling a prank on the U.S. staff when she got word that Putin wanted to visit USA House.
“He visited our house,” Baird said, two nights later, still stunned. “How cool is that?!?!”
Baird tells the story about the call she received and Putin’s visit so often that she’s developed a standard ending.
“You know who’s coming Wednesday?” she asks. “The Stanley Cup.”
She pauses and grins.
“You know who’s coming Friday?” she asks. “Bono.”
It’s tempting to believe her. After all, Putin did visit. But she breaks into a grin before you even have a chance to ask if Bono is at the Olympics.
“Naaaah,” she says. “I’m just kidding.”
It’s just a joke … a real one this time.
February 17, 2014 02:44 PM
Focus turned toward Saturday’s U.S.-Russia hockey game on Monday, as THE DAILY offers some of the sound bites from the last few days of Sochi Olympic on-air conversation.
T.J. Oshie and Jonathan Quick, two stars of the U.S. men’s hockey team, appeared together on “Today” this morning to discuss their shootout victory over Russia on Saturday. NBC’s Matt Lauer said the game “lived up to its billing.” Oshie said of scoring multiple goals in the shootout, “I had a feeling I was going to go again. I didn’t know I was going to keep going, so I was running out of moves there. Really happy the last one went in.” Lauer said, “When it comes right down to it, this is not ‘Miracle On Ice II.’ It’s not 1980 — the game has changed, the world has changed, the way you come up with Olympic teams has changed. But nonetheless, the history is there. … Did you understand the significance of taking on the Russians on their home soil?” Quick said the U.S.-Russia rivalry since the Lake Placid Games “has maybe died down a little bit.” However, he added, “Playing any team on their home soil during the Olympics is pretty special” (“Today,” NBC, 2/17).
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney discussed the excessive amount of money the Russian government spent on hosting the Sochi Games and said, “You don’t need to spend $50 billion dollars, as Russia has or as China did, to put (on) an Olympic sport. Olympic sport can be demonstrated at $2 (billion) to $3 billion, and all that extra money can be used to do some very important things in terms of fighting poverty and fighting disease around the world.” He said there is “no question” that Russia President Vladimir Putin views the money as well spent. However, Romney added, “I think the International Olympic Committee is going to have to take action to limit how much is spent on an Olympic Games” (“Meet the Press, NBC, 2/16).
Under Armour’s controversial racing suits that the U.S. Speedskating team debuted in Sochi garnered a fair amount of discussion over the weekend. The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan asked, “What sense did it make to make this change just prior to an Olympics? Dumb timing.” Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw asked, “What do they do in those four years between the Games? Don’t they test suits? Can’t they figure out whether this vent on the back is a really bad idea?” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 2/14). ESPN’s Keith Olbermann added, “Once the phrase was, ‘Must have been the shoes.’ Now it’s, ‘Must have been the skate suit’” (“Olbermann,” ESPN2, 2/14).