• IOC reprices TOP deals at $200M

    The International Olympic Committee has set a new price point for TOP sponsorships, nearly doubling the cost of four-year global sponsorships from $100 million to $200 million.

    SBJ Podcast:
    From Sochi: SBJ Olympics writer Tripp Mickle and Tom Shepard, former Visa marketer and current 21 Marketing partner, discuss the Sochi Games and how sponsors are faring on the ground.

    Panasonic last week became the first TOP partner to sign an agreement beyond 2020. Sources familiar with the deal said the eight-year sponsorship, which runs from 2017 to 2024, is worth $350 million to $400 million overall.

    IOC TV and marketing services director Timo Lumme declined to discuss financial details but said that the IOC had secured an increase.

    “The last pricing [of TOP] was done in 2005 to 2010, so it’s appropriate for there to be a repricing, and the price increases are significant, which reflects the value of the TOP program,” Lumme said.

    Since 2005, four-year TOP sponsorships have been valued at $100 million to $120 million. (TOP prices vary from category to category.) The Panasonic deal has the potential to increase TOP prices to $175 million to $200 million over four years and could allow the IOC to increase its sponsorship revenue from $1 billion to as much as $2 billion for the 2021 to 2024 period.

    “We’ve always said the program has been undervalued the last five or 10 years, and if they’ve corrected the pricing, it’s long overdue,” said Rob Prazmark, founder of 21 Marketing, which evaluated the TOP program for the IOC in 2009. “Those numbers will be difficult for some companies to adjust to, but other corporations will step up and fill the void of those that decide not to keep pace because of the value there.”

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    The Panasonic deal, which was announced just before the Sochi Games opened, caught the IOC’s other TOP partners by surprise. At a workshop last year, the IOC had said it was considering changing the TOP program and didn’t plan to sign any deals beyond 2020.

    Coca-Cola, Dow, Procter & Gamble, Visa, GE, Omega, McDonald’s and Atos Origin had all signed deals through 2020. Only Panasonic and Samsung had deals that ended in 2016.

    Following the IOC’s selection of Tokyo as the host city of the 2020 Olympics, Panasonic was eager to sign a new deal. The IOC, which prefers to sign eight-year deals, took advantage of the company’s interest to secure a huge price increase and set the future value of TOP.

    Executives at Coca-Cola, which had always been the first TOP sponsor to extend its Olympics deal, were not happy about the extension, according to sources. Other TOP sponsors were frustrated by the IOC’s move.

    “They told us one thing and then did another,” an executive with a TOP sponsor said. “What changed?”

    At the IOC session in Argentina last fall, Lumme said the IOC was looking to increase prices and possibly reduce the number of global sponsors from 10 to 12 to five to six. He said last week the IOC could still change TOP’s structure and opt to have fewer partners, but for now, the plan is to preserve the status quo.

    The IOC is in extension talks with Samsung and plans to open negotiations with other TOP partners soon. It also is looking at adding one or two new sponsors in industrial and consumer categories.

    “We’re in the fortunate position where we could stop the program now, but we’re not going to,” Lumme said.

    Lumme said that the IOC is looking to deliver more value to the sponsors. It is exploring ways to have signage in future Olympic Parks, looking to create programs for sport development and hoping to develop an Olympic network that offers new media value.

    “The core proposition as a global program that gives exclusivity in a category across all Olympic stakeholders won’t change,” Lumme said. “What may change is what we put into the pot in terms of goodies (and) the way we allow partners to activate.”

    Tags: Olympics, Visa, IOC
  • IOC to explore channel launch

    Five years after shutting down an effort to launch an Olympic channel in the U.S., the International Olympic Committee is looking to launch a network of its own.

    IOC President Thomas Bach received approval from IOC members during meetings at the Sochi Games to explore the viability of an Olympic channel. The IOC’s TV and marketing division and its production arm, the Olympic Broadcasting Service, will prepare a feasibility study for the IOC to evaluate at meetings in December.

    SBJ Podcast:
    From Sochi: SBJ Olympics writer Tripp Mickle and Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch assess the first week of the Sochi Games and NBC's performance.

    “On the one hand, you’re looking at different type of product — a traditional linear channel, digital, there’s various iterations of it — and asking, ‘What would it be?’” said Timo Lumme, the IOC’s director of TV and marketing services. “After that, you’re looking at the market side of it. What sort of penetration and what sort of audience are we looking at. And there’s a revenue side. Will this create revenue and be sustainable?”

    Lumme said that the IOC won’t begin answering those questions until after the Sochi Games. Its findings and recommendations regarding a channel will be presented to the entire IOC membership for consideration at the end of the year.

    The IOC’s pivot in the last five years from opposing an Olympic channel in the U.S. to exploring one reflects the change in priorities between former IOC President Jacques Rogge, whose term ended last fall, and his successor.

    When the USOC’s planned Olympic channel was squashed, the IOC was preparing to negotiate its TV rights for the 2014-2020 Olympics. It also was in the middle of a heated, revenue-sharing dispute with the USOC.

    Both issues have since been resolved. NBC agreed to pay $4.4 billion for the rights to the 2014-2020 Olympics, and the USOC agreed to a revenue-sharing agreement that gives the IOC a greater percentage of Olympic sponsorship and TV money.

    Bach revived the idea of an Olympic channel during his campaign for presidency because he believes it can raise the profile of Olympic sports outside the 17 days of a Summer or Winter Games and help the organization reach new, young viewers.

    “This is not now a question about money,” Bach said before being elected president last September. “This is a question about addressing youth. If you do not see enough Olympic sports on TV and the Internet, then these other sports will lose more and more (participants) and young athletes.”

    Lumme said that the IOC also wants the channel to promote Olympic values like peace and active living.

    “That’s a pretty broad canvas,” Lumme said. “My objective is to see what’s the best way to deliver against those objectives on a global basis.”

    The IOC already has a YouTube channel that shows mostly highlights and archival footage of past Olympic Games. If it opts to create a digital Olympic channel, it could look to expand the on-demand offerings on YouTube. It also has two sponsors who make televisions, Panasonic and Samsung, who could pre-load their Smart TVs with an Olympic channel as an option alongside Hulu and Netflix.

    In the U.S., the organization could partner with its broadcast partner, NBC, and convert Universal Sports, a channel NBC co-owns with Intermedia Partners, into an Olympic channel.

    “At this stage, there’s no such thing as a bad idea,” Lumme said. “There’s not one way to achieve the objectives we’re talking about. There are lots of ways depending on the market, so I’m eager to hear NBC’s thoughts.”

    USOC Chairman Larry Probst offered his support for an Olympic channel at the IOC meetings in Sochi, but he encouraged the organization to focus on digital. Probst, who’s also the chairman of Electronic Arts, reminded IOC members that young people don’t watch TV anymore.

    NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus also is supportive of an Olympic network.

    “I don’t think it would do any harm,” Lazarus said. “It could only help our business.”

    Lumme said the IOC is talking to other international broadcasters about the channel. Though he doesn’t know when or how the IOC would move forward on a network, he did say that the focus wasn’t on creating an asset that enriches the IOC.

    “This is not a college sports channel play or NFL channel play,” Lumme said. “This is about increasing the overall value proposition as part of our partnership for broadcasters, for partners, for our whole ecosystem.”

    Tags: Olympics
  • ‘New guard’ creates new feel with NBC

    Shortly after 4 p.m. last Wednesday, NBC Sports Group’s top executives gathered in a makeshift conference room within NBC’s massive Sochi compound.

    There was nothing remarkable about the meeting — it was similar to production meetings the group holds all 18 days of the Games.

    But the half-hour “whiteboard meeting” — where NBC executives of all stripes weigh in on that night’s prime-time show — reflected a more collaborative environment at the network and illustrated how different NBC’s Olympic operation in Sochi is from past Games it produced under the eye of the network’s longtime Olympics producer Dick Ebersol.

    Six members of NBC’s production and executive team ringed four tables pushed together at the center of the room. Executive producer Jim Bell, who led the meeting, grabbed a sheet off the table and uncapped a blue marker. He scanned the sheet and began scribbling on the board, humming as he filled in slots numbered 1 to 22.

    “Do you want Russian pairs or Shani?” Bell asked the group about a specific afternoon slot on NBC. The choice was between a profile of a Russian pairs figure skating team or a profile of U.S. speedskater Shani Davis.

    Joe Gesue, NBC senior vice president of production, pushed for the Russian figure skating profile to be shown, believing it would be the best way to tease NBC’s prime-time programming block, which was slated to show the figure skating competition.

    But NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus, standing behind the conference table, objected. He was OK with the tease, but he wanted to be sure that the figure skating competition wouldn’t air on NBC before prime time.

    “I’ve got an affiliate concern,” Lazarus said. NBC affiliates could be angry if the network showed clips of the figure skating competition before prime time. Showing the competition live on cable was fine; broadcast was not.

    Bell understood and nodded.

    These are the Games of Lazarus and Bell. There was no doubt that they were the ones in charge, with Bell focused on production and Lazarus on business. Tasked with replacing the legendary Ebersol as the Olympics’ producer for the London Games in 2012, they have developed a collaborative style that permeates NBC’s entire Olympic operation.

    SBJ Podcast:
    From Sochi: SBJ Olympics writer Tripp Mickle and Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch assess the first week of the Sochi Games and NBC's performance.

    Ebersol attended the London Olympics, spending his days in the NBC compound and participating in these types of production meetings. For Sochi, he is half a world away, staying in Hawaii as NBC produces the Games.

    Home base in Stamford, Conn., handles the
    digital effort behind the production in Sochi.
    Photos by: NBC
    The differences can be seen everywhere: whiteboard meetings that include both business and production executives; live daytime telecasts of figure skating on a cable channel; the streaming of every single winter competition.

    NBC’s Olympic strategy in Sochi presents a microcosm of the direction the network plans to take with the Olympics in the coming years.

    “There’s definite confidence in our strategy,” Lazarus said, shortly after the meeting. “There’s a sense we know what we’re doing,
    and we’re going to keep doing it.”

    ■ ■ ■

    The London Games were Lazarus’ first. From the start of them, he was under fire. There was criticism of the quality of NBC’s live streaming. There were complaints about the network’s tape-delay coverage. There was an entire social media movement: #NBCfails.

    Through the first week of the Sochi Games, things have run much smoother. Before the Games even started, Lazarus addressed NBC’s tape-delay, prime-time strategy with the press. He decided to put figure skating live on NBC Sports Network for the first time — potentially hurting the broadcast network’s prime-time ratings. And the quality of its video streaming online has been much better than it was in London.

    “We have a calmness,” Lazarus said. “We believed coming in that our plan would work. We’re more at ease.”

    The team around Lazarus, who oversees the business, and Bell, who oversees the Olympics production, has changed. Not only is Ebersol absent. So is Bucky Gunts, who directed prime-time Olympic broadcasts, and Molly Solomon, a longtime Olympics producer.

    In their place are longtime NBC employees who grew up in the Ebersol school of the Olympics but now are operating under the new regime. There’s Gesue, who is the production department’s second in command to Bell; coordinating producer Becky Chatman, a newcomer; prime-time director Mike Sheehan, who is new to his role; senior vice president of production Mark Levy; producer Brian Orentreich; and NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel.

    “There’s a new guard,” Lazarus said. “Sitting in that control room is very different from the control room in London. Not better. Not worse. Just different. I feel very confident in that team.”

    ■ ■ ■

    Different is also a word NBC’s digital executives are using for these Olympics.

    It’s not just about NBC’s digital offerings (every event is being streamed live) or traffic numbers (digital growth is up 54 percent from Vancouver, NBC executives said last week).

    Rather, NBC’s digital executives have been given the mandate to have more fun. It’s a different mindset that highlights viral videos alongside live streamed events.

    “In the past, sometimes we’ve been accused of missing the quirky, cool stuff about the Olympics and being straight laced and focusing on the competition,” said Tom Seeley, vice president of editorial for NBCSports.com and NBCOlympics.com.

    As an example, Seeley pointed to video of Shiva Keshavan, an Indian luge athlete who crashed during a training run on Feb. 7 and managed to get back on his sled to complete his race. The video went viral and brought a lot of traffic to NBCOlympics.com.

    “We really wanted to make sure that we got that clip out there and make sure that folks knew that we had it, and if you wanted to see it, this was the place to go,” said Seeley, who is working his fourth Olympics. “We want to make sure that we’re feeding into what folks are looking for on the Web. They don’t have to go find a second-rate version of it. We have the video, and we will make it available to the most folks possible, not try to pretend that’s something we wouldn’t touch because it was something that isn’t part of our high-brow coverage.”

    Seeley and a group of about 400 NBC Digital employees are working out of NBC’s new offices in Stamford, Conn. He credits the fact that the entire team is working under one roof for the first time with helping NBC take ownership of these types of viral clips.

    A group of 75 people make up what’s called a Highlights Factory, tasked with watching every piece of Olympics coverage and identifying key moments. When Keshavan’s run ended, someone from the Highlights Factory walked down the hall to the newsroom to let them know a clip was coming.

    “We were able to get it out there pretty quickly,” Seeley said. “That still would have happened in the old system. But it would have been a lot of emails and phone calls and added steps to that process.”

    ■ ■ ■

    NBC has 2,700 employees in Sochi, working on everything from the Olympics to “Nightly News” to the “Today” show. Many, including Lazarus, arrived in January to begin preparing for the Games, which began Feb. 6.

    Sochi is significant, as it’s the first Olympics deal that Lazarus negotiated. NBC signed a $4.4 billion deal for the 2014-2020 Olympics shortly after he arrived.

    Every afternoon in Sochi, Lazarus and the rest of his team wait for NBC’s report card. Overnight ratings arrive around 4 p.m. local time. Lazarus was in his office when the ratings update arrived for the Wednesday night show NBC sketched out on the white board.

    The show earned a strong 13.3 overnight rating. The production team had to rework the show because Davis failed to medal in speedskating that day, but a gold medal for Team USA in women’s halfpipe helped the TV number.

    Lazarus nodded when he heard the number. For him, it was more confirmation of the strategy put in place for the Sochi Games. Advertisers are happy — NBC is meeting its ratings guarantees to them.

    NBC was dominating prime time and posting numbers slightly lower than Vancouver, a North American Olympics. NBC Sports Network viewership had soared to record levels.

    “There’s a strange obsession with prime-time ratings,” Lazarus said. “To us, this is an Olympic business, not a prime-time schedule. Prime time is important and it’s a big revenue driver, but the story is Americans … are watching in many forms in all parts of the day.”

    This view marks another example of the collaborative mindset at work. NBC no longer is focused on just building up the prime-time block. Its all-encompassing multi-platform strategy brings a lot more people to the table.

    Four years ago, when Ebersol produced his last Olympic Games in Vancouver, the tablet had yet to be introduced. Now, more people are using tablets to watch the Sochi Games than PCs or laptops. NBC is seeing record numbers not only for digital, but also for its cable sports channel, NBC Sports Network.

    There’s a new regime at NBC with a new mandate that goes beyond broadcast prime time. For NBC executives, it’s a change that already looks to be paying dividends in Sochi.

    Tags: NBC, Olympics, Russia, Media
  • SBJ Podcast: Peter Carlisle of Octagon

    SBJ Olympics writer Tripp Mickle talks with Peter Carlisle, head of Octagon's Olympic division, about representing Olympic medalists and how agents can make the most out of the marketing and media
    SBJ's Tripp Mickle (left) and Peter Carlisle, head of Octagon's Olympic practice
    opportunities that presents. Among Carlisle's clients are Jamie Anderson, gold medalist in women's slopestyle at Sochi, and Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history. Among the discussion:

    "The (first) 24 hours, the focus is on media. The window is so small generally because that story could be replaced the next day. … So you want to take advantage of the moment and make sure you get that story and that personality out there to as many people as you can. … I think it's a mistake to focus on commercializing that too quickly."

    "The hope is that if you can generate enough media over a long enough period of time, then it won't just be a hospitality appearance. It'll be an actual deal that might give legs into the future for these athletes."

    Tags: Octagon, Olympics, SBJSBD Podcast
  • Hard work helps figure skating NGB rebound

    David Raith still remembers the day in 2007 that he learned ABC planned to end its 43-year relationship with figure skating. U.S. Figure Skating had anticipated it, cutting its expenses drastically in the final two years of ABC’s media contract, but the decision still hurt.

    Gracie Gold has secured deals with Visa and Smucker’s that help the sport’s exposure.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    “It changed our business,” said Raith, U.S. Figure Skating’s executive director. “We went from guaranteed [revenue] overnight to what we had to generate.”

    ABC had propped up U.S. Figure Skating for years. Its $12 million-a-year TV rights deal covered more than half the organization’s expenses. The media money also meant the organization didn’t have to sell sponsorships or need a commercial division. But without it, revenue plunged from nearly $20 million in 2007 to just over $9 million the next year.

    SBJ Podcast:
    From Sochi: SBJ Olympics writer Tripp Mickle and Tom Shepard, former Visa marketer and current 21 Marketing partner, discuss the Sochi Games and how sponsors are faring on the ground.

    The organization, which traditionally fields the most popular team in the Winter Olympics, has spent the past seven years rebuilding its business. It has cut costs, developed its own sponsorship program, acquired media rights to figure skating events and overhauled the selection process for its marquee events.

    The result is a stable governing body that has increased its corporate revenue by $4.5 million over seven years and increased total revenue to about $15 million annually.

    “We’re pushing it back up with the successes we’ve had,” Raith said, “and we’re looking forward to growing it more.”

    Jay Ogden, senior vice president at IMG, who oversees the company’s figure skating events, said the organization has done “A-plus work” developing new talent, improving its TV coverage and landing sponsors.

    “We’re seeing a resurgence [of figure skating] in the U.S. on a number of levels over the last two years, and particularly the last 12 months,” Ogden said. “That’s a reflection of how U.S. Figure Skating has operated.”

    U.S. Figure Skating signed its lucrative TV agreement with ABC following the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding soap opera in Lillehammer in 1994. The sport was at its peak, regularly delivering more than a 10.0 rating for events. But ratings peaked in 1998 and began to steadily decline.

    The 1998 U.S. Figure Skating Championships ladies’ free skate competition, the sport’s most popular event, pulled an 11.5 rating, more than 60 percent greater than the 4.7 rating the same event delivered in 2006.

    Two things triggered the decline in interest. First, few female stars surfaced to replace 1990s stars Kerrigan, Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski. Then a voting scandal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games caused the International Skating Union to overhaul the judging system. It did away with the 6.0 scoring system.

    “Hearing a score of a ‘6’ is theater; hearing he got a score of 294.5 is not,” said Dick Button, an Olympic gold medalist and longtime figure skating promoter.

    The sport’s struggles didn’t bode well for U.S. Figure Skating. The organization’s board doubted ABC would renew its $12 million-a-year contract and worried it might exit the sport altogether. It hired Raith, a former executive with USA Track & Field and Turner Broadcasting System, as executive director in 2005 and tasked him with coming up with a plan for the organization’s survival.

    “We were almost starting at ground zero,” said Ramsey Baker, U.S. Figure Skating’s chief marketer.

    Raith replaced the ABC deal with a revenue-sharing agreement with NBC that gave the sport nine hours on the network. He also worked with Baker to establish figure skating’s first commercial division.

    ABC had held U.S. Figure Skating’s marketing rights for a decade. As a result, the organization had never sold or serviced sponsorships, and few of the sponsors that ABC had signed stuck with figure skating.

    In 2008, U.S. Figure Skating hired Van Wagner to help with sales. But the agency started too late to find title sponsors for that year’s marquee events, Skate America and the U.S. championships, so they went unsold.

    It wasn’t until 2010 when figure skating signed a deal with AT&T to take over title sponsorship of the U.S. championships that the organization began to make some headway. It added Prudential, Hilton and Alka-Seltzer the next year in deals that ranged from the mid-six to low seven figures. It then closed out its last presenting sponsorship last year when it signed Procter & Gamble’s Puffs brand as the sponsor of the “kiss and cry” area where figure skaters wait for their scores, in a deal valued in the high six figures.

    “That was a big deal for us,” said Chris Pearlman, Van Wagner Sports senior vice president. “It gave us a feeling of, ‘Hey, we’ve arrived. We’ve sold every big position that we wanted to sell and we sold out of our inventory, too.’”

    The sellout gave Van Wagner and U.S. Figure Skating confidence that the corporate appetite for figure skating had returned. Since they were out of inventory on NBC, they last year partnered to buy the rights from the ISU to the World Championships and Grand Prix events.

    Sponsorship and advertising sales for the current fiscal year, which ends this summer, have surpassed $4.5 million, according to the organization. Baker said that’s a 70 percent increase over 2012-13, a quarter of which was due to the new inventory it picked up from the ISU.

    “We’re starting to get to the point where we’re going to maximize the revenue we can get off our events,” Baker said.

    U.S. Figure Skating also overhauled the way it awards its marquee events in order to boost event revenue. Before Raith arrived, it rotated its championships from the East Coast to the West Coast to the Midwest. It now holds an open bidding process with a minimum site fee. The changes have made the process more competitive and helped deliver $500,000 to $1 million to its bottom line annually, Raith said.

    The organization continues to look for other ways to boost revenue. It partnered with IMG this year on a post-Olympics tour. USA Gymnastics ran a similar tour after the London Games and raised more than $15 million. Baker hopes U.S. Figure Skating has similar success.

    Raith also is focused on increasing membership from 170,000, where it’s been flat for years, to more than 200,000.

    All of that will help U.S. Figure Skating continue to boost its bottom line, but nothing will drive interest in the sport more than competitive success. Figure skating experts like Ogden say the sport has fielded one of its more competitive teams in years.

    Meryl Davis and Charlie White are considered gold-medal contenders.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    This week its ice dancing pair, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, are expected to contend for gold, and Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold are considered to be the first podium contenders in female figure skating since Sasha Cohen won silver in 2006.

    Particularly encouraging is the recognition this year’s star female figure skaters have received. Gold, who has deals with Visa and Smucker’s, was one of a half-dozen Olympians featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and Wagner signed deals with Nike and CoverGirl.

    Exposure like that won’t help the sport return to the height of popularity it enjoyed during the Kerrigan-Harding years, but it should help it recapture lapsed fans.

    “You won’t have another Nancy-Tonya thing, but it would help to have some female success in the Olympics,” said Steve Disson, who organizes figure skating events. “The biggest impact comes when a female skater wins the Olympics.”

    Raith understands the value of success. Now that the organization has stabilized its finances, he feels like it’s in a position to focus on that.

    “We want to grow this organization in a structured way,” Raith said. “We want to achieve podium placements in all disciplines. When we structure our finances, we may push more money in certain places to achieve that.”

    Tags: Olympics
  • USSA putting time buys behind it with new NBC agreement

    The U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association is finalizing a new TV rights agreement with NBC, and for the first time, the national governing body will not pay for the broadcasts of its events.

    The USSA and NBC have agreed to terms on a five-year, revenue-sharing deal that will see total ski and snowboarding coverage increase from 12 hours to 18 hours on NBC and 24 hours to 32 hours on NBC Sports Network.

    Since the late 1990s, the USSA has bought time and covered production costs for coverage on NBC. This year’s deal for 12 hours on NBC and 24 hours on NBC Sports Network cost it $5.1 million. Under the new deal, total costs will drop to $3.2 million, and its share of advertising inventory should offset that.

    SBJ Podcast:
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    “We go from losing money on TV to profiting, and that allows us to invest in infrastructure and support our teams,” said USSA chief marketer Mike Jaquet, who negotiated the deal.

    The agreement gives NBC rights to show the 2015 and 2017 FIS Alpine World Championships, which USSA acquired in the U.S., and the 2019 FIS World Championships in freeskiing and snowboard. Those and every other event the USSA hosts, roughly 160 hours, will be aired live on NBC or NBC Sports Network or streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra.

    “If you look at Sochi, the U.S. has 250-plus athletes here, and in excess of 40 percent of them come from U.S. Ski & Snowboard,” said Jon Miller, NBC Sports president of programming, who handled the deal for the network. “It’s important people become familiar with the athletes, the sports and the disciplines.”

    USSA will keep some advertising inventory for its sponsors, and it will be able to protect some categories, including automotive, wireless, financial services, men’s care, household items, medicines and apparel.

    It will collaborate with NBC to sell the rest of the inventory. Miller said that will allow NBC to include sponsorship assets in its media packages and USSA to include media in its sponsorship packages.

    “That’s something we both find attractive,” Miller said.

    Tags: NBC, Olympics
  • Thinking Back, Looking Ahead: Bill Marolt

    Photo by: USSA
    After 18 years leading the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, Bill Marolt will step down as CEO after the Sochi Games. He joined USSA, where he had been a member of the 1964 Olympic ski team and later the alpine skiing director, after working as the athletic director at University of Colorado. He set a goal of making the organization the best in the world in Olympic skiing and snowboarding. It achieved that goal at the 2010 Vancouver Games when 17 of its athletes won 21 medals. SportsBusiness Journal writer Tripp Mickle spoke to him before his final Olympics.

    When I graduated from the University of Colorado, my professional plans were to go into ski area management and ski area development, but the job as ski coach at CU was open. I took the job thinking it was a transition job, and two years turned into seven.

    People encouraged me to take the AD job. It was a weird change of direction. The athletic program at CU at the time needed leadership and it needed some attention. I knew what the challenges were and what the solutions were so I just jumped in.

    I came from the coaching side. I didn’t know a lot about the business side. I didn’t know about television, sponsorship, fundraising. All of those things I learned on the fly.

    “Bode is, at core, a really good person,” Marolt says of U.S. skiing star Bode Miller.
    Photo by: SARAH ELY / USSA
    KOA radio booms all over the West. They approached me about broadcasting CU football and basketball. I walked into the meeting and I didn’t know what a 30-second spot was, and when I walked out of the meeting, I was selling them. That’s how naïve I was. The whole idea was KOA would put together the network and provide the talent. We would sell it. That’s where I learned about packaging radio and television.

    My first year as AD we were a 1-10 football team. The biggest decision I made in my first year was to extend Coach [Bill] McCartney’s contract and give him two more years. That was probably the most key decision the whole time there. That gave him a chance to continue to recruit and improve. We went from 1-10 to a 7-5 team going to a bowl. By 1990, we won the national championship.

    We had gone through a period of time with the football program where you get in a cycle of hiring and letting guys go. When I looked at where we were, Coach McCartney had a good coaching background. I looked around the country and couldn’t see a better guy to do it. A lot of ADs would want to find their own guy, but I had a lot of confidence in him.

    Marolt stuck with McCartney, who delivered a national title.
    We talk about goal setting and that’s one of the things I brought [to USSA] from Colorado. This is a McCartney-ism, so to speak. Mac always said, “If you have a goal, you’re not committed to it unless you write it down and put it on the wall for everyone to see.” That’s what I brought to USSA. I brought a goal and when we put it on the wall, few thought it was attainable. But when you have a goal and are focused on the goal, it works. It has served us and will continue to serve us.

    Before I got here, we had a foundation. The foundation board still exists. But we weren’t sure who we were when I got here. We weren’t sure if we were a fundraising org or an event org. Really what we are is an athletic org. We’re an org about winning. But we have to do all of those things well. We have to do a great job in sales and marketing. We have to do a great job in fundraising. We have to do a great job in managing events. That’s all to support the organization. And as we’ve found success, our sales have gotten better, our fundraising has gotten better.

    The key is having the stars that are easy to identify with. It doesn’t matter if it’s fundraising or sales but having the stars there — whether it’s Julia [Mancuso] or Lindsey [Vonn] or Bode [Miller] or Lindsey Jacobellis — those personalities and the results they get motivate people. What our public wants to hear, a corporate sponsor or a donor, is excitement. They want to hear that we have a chance to have someone standing on the podium. We have to stay focused on athletic results and winning.

    Marolt celebrates a strong run by Ted Ligety at Soelden, Austria, in 2009.
    Photo by: USSA
    Bode is, at core, a really good person. He is a challenge because he’s a contrarian. But he’s a really good guy. He’s not arrogant. He’s just looking for opportunities to win.

    One of our values is team. We believe we’re stronger if we have everybody working together. But all of these sports are individual sports. When they get in to the starting line, they’re individuals. But getting them there takes a community and a team. It takes not only coaches but the teammates, the nutritionists, doctors.

    We had conversations with [Miller] and his agent [after Miller left the team in 2007]. We opened the doors and said, “Look, we’d like to have you back.” We didn’t put any conditions on it other than, “You have to be part of the organization and what we do going forward.” He was fine with all of that. It wasn’t a complicated situation because I didn’t make it complicated.

    [After Torino] we felt that as a staff and an organization we needed to put a better face on the organization. That’s when we sat down and thought about values. You talk about what competition teaches you, but a lot of organizations don’t write that down. Out of 2007 came a recommitment to values and what we wanted to be and look like. It was important we did [create a new code of conduct] because it sent a message to the public about what we were. It made a difference leading up to ’10.

    Marolt in the U.S. Ski Team Day pro-am race in 2012 at Squaw Valley
    Photo by: KATE PERHAI / USSA
    All the success we’ve had at world cups and the Olympics — those moments are the greatest.

    I grew up in Aspen and had a super opportunity to get involved in skiing. My mom and dad and family were supportive. But I had a coach named Gale Spence who coached me from fourth grade to high school. He was a competitive skier. He started me in it, and that’s where a lot of my philosophy started.

    I want to stay involved in skiing. I’m on the board of directors of the USOC, I’m on the FIS council. I’ll do that the next few years. I’ll do some fundraising for USSA. I’ll be involved from a distance. I’d like to stay involved through membership on those boards and fundraising.

    Tags: Olympics
  • NBC Friday night Sochi rating falls below Turin figure for first time

    NBC drew an 11.0 fast-national rating and 19.2 million viewers for prime-time Olympic coverage on Friday night, which featured gold-medal finals for men’s figure skating, women’s skeleton and men’s alpine skiing (super combined). That rating marks the first time during the Sochi Games that NBC’s prime-time telecast fell below the rating earned by a comparable night during the 2006 Turin Games (11.2 on same night in 2006).

    Despite the rating being down, viewership for Friday night’s telecast was up from 18.9 million viewers in Turin. The comparable Friday night during the 2010 Vancouver Games earned a 13.4 rating and 23.3 million viewers.

    Tags: NBC, Olympics
  • U.S.-Russia game delivers record hockey streaming numbers for NBC

    NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports Live Extra app saw 589,552 unique streams for the U.S.-Russia men’s hockey game on Saturday morning, marking a record for any stream hockey game in NBC history (NHL or Olympics). The figure passed previous hockey marks set during the 2010 Vancouver Games and the 2013 Blackhawks-Bruins NHL Stanley Cup Final.

    The U.S.-Russia game also marks the second-best NBC Olympics stream ever.

    Tags: Hockey, NBC, Olympics, NHL
  • Avaya’s technology makes IOC’s promise of free WiFi possible

    If providing WiFi service to spectators at sports venues across the U.S. is tough, then providing it to the prickly and complaint-prone press corps and demanding Olympic family at the Sochi Games is downright dangerous for a company.

    But California-based Avaya, which is delivering WiFi at every venue, didn’t hesitate.

    “We’ll deliver during the Games, and we want to be sure people are talking sports and not technology,” said Dean Frohwerk, who leads Avaya’s solutions engineering efforts and is overseeing work at the Sochi Games.

    Delivering The Goods
    The top 5 apps used by Olympic executives, Olympians and media during a four-hour period:
    Twitter (5,130 MB)
    Facebook (2,222 MB)
    Skype (1,475 MB)
    Dropbox (778 MB)
    Instagram (746 MB)

    The company is the official supplier of network equipment in Sochi. It installed 2,500 wireless access points throughout Sochi’s venues, and its systems are processing 1-2 terabytes of data daily.

    The sponsorship has been good for Avaya’s business. Because Sochi was built from scratch, it was able to win contracts to provide services at many of the new hotels, restaurants and retail outlets being built before the Games.

    Frohwerk said Avaya’s business in Russia is up 120 percent since it became a Sochi supplier. It hit its revenue goals in the market two-and-a-half years into a four-year plan.

    He expects those numbers to rise further after hosting and demonstrating its work in Sochi to more than 70 CIOs it’s bringing to Sochi from companies around the world.

    “That’s when it really starts resonating with the customer,” Frohwerk said. “It’s not what you’re planning to do. It’s what you did.”

    Sochi 2014 is the first organizing committee to offer free WiFi to journalists, IOC members, coaches and athletes at every venue. At previous Olympics, journalists paid as much as $500 for Internet access and used Ethernet cables to file stories.

    The fact that the WiFi is free in Sochi meant that the estimate of usage soared from 2,000 reporters per day to 15,000. Add on Olympians, coaches and Olympic officials, who can all access the WiFi network, and Avaya is servicing more than 120,000 mobile devices a day.

    “For us it was zero to 40,000,” Frohwerk said, noting that there was no opportunity to test the network with that many people before the Games began.

    For the most part, the service has been effective. Service at the main press center in the mountains (Gorki Media Center) has been fickle, and there also were problems with the service at the media center at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. But service at venues in the Coastal Cluster has been smooth.

    After the Games are over, Avaya will evaluate its work in Sochi and share its analysis with organizers of the next Winter Games, Pyeongchang 2018. Frohwerk said he plans to bid to become the official supplier of those Olympics, as well.

    “We’re looking to increase market share across the Asia-Pacific region,” Frohwerk said. “Korea is a pearl in there.”

    Tags: IOC, Olympics, Russia
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