• As Games attract activists, sponsors adjust

    Nearly a year before the Sochi Games, U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Communications Officer Patrick Sandusky received a call from a reporter wanting to know what the USOC thought of a law winding its way through Russia’s parliament that would ban gay propaganda.

    Sandusky, who was hearing of the law for the first time, declined to comment and released a statement in the following days saying the USOC opposed the law but was focused on supporting athletes. For the veteran public relations executive, media questions and activist pressure about the law has underscored a new reality about the Olympics.

    Anti-gay legislation in Russia has drawn protests leading up to Sochi.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    As the Games have grown in size and scale, they’ve become not just a platform for brands looking to tout their products and services but also for activist organizations looking to promote everything from environmental to human rights agendas. Pressure from those groups pushes public relations issues to the forefront before the Olympics and forces sponsors and national Olympic committee officials to respond.

    “We assume there are going to be [communications] issues going into a Games,” Sandusky said. “There’s generally something we have to respond to. I don’t think anyone could have anticipated this would be it.”

    That reality is changing the way sponsors prepare for an Olympics. Companies increasingly see their community and international relations groups work hand in hand with communications and sports marketing staff to respond to issues that arise, and more time, energy and money is devoted to anticipating and responding to everything from environmental to political activists.

    “Over the course of seven years, which is the time an Olympic city has to prepare, they’re going to deal with almost every issue, from political to environmental,” said Ann Wool, partner and managing director at Ketchum Sports, which works with Olympic sponsors such as Procter & Gamble and Liberty Mutual. “Everything is going to bubble to the surface, and you’re going to encounter all of them. Preparations haven’t changed, but the bigger the Games have become the more likely an issue is to catch fire.”

    Looking back

    Activism is no stranger to the Olympics. U.S. athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested from the medal stand in 1968.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    The Olympics have put international political and human rights issues on stage for decades. From Jesse Owens competing in Nazi Germany during the 1936 Munich Games to John Carlos’ and Tommie Smith’s Black Power salutes during the 1968 Mexico City Games, activism has a strong history at the Olympics.

    In the 1990s, that activism began to transition from the field of play and news pages to the world of sponsorship and marketing. Wool said environmental activists called for a boycott of the 1994 Lillehammer Games because of Norway’s whaling industry. But those early protests were muted.

    That all changed when the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2008 Summer Games to Beijing. The IOC was criticized from the outset for awarding the Games to a country that was known for human rights abuses. That criticism only escalated in the years before the Olympics as activist groups criticized the IOC and sponsors for China’s role in violence in Darfur, a crackdown in Tibet and lax environmental regulations.

    Groups like Mia Farrow’s Dream for Darfur garnered major attention and forced sponsors to respond to letters criticizing their support of the Beijing Games. Protesters also disrupted the international Olympic torch relay, wreaking so much havoc that the IOC decided it wouldn’t host another international relay.

    Activists are able to sell the media on the parallels between what they’re advocating, like peace in Darfur, and the IOC’s own values, peace through sport, in ways they can’t with other global sporting events, such as FIFA’s World Cup or Formula One, which aren’t built on those same ideals. They also are able to pressure multinational corporations that espouse certain values.

    “Certainly, politics, human rights and the Olympics have always been tied together,” said Minky Worden, Human Rights Watch’s director of global initiatives. “What is new, starting in 1985, the TOP sponsor program was developed. That was when there started to be a big corporate presence. … We’ve called for the sponsors to engage and use the power they manifestly have. … We say, ‘You’re paying for the Games. You have leverage with the IOC.’”

    In 2008, activist groups criticized all Olympic sponsors for their support of the Beijing Games, but at times the issues can be direct and personal. No sponsor knows that better than IOC sponsor Dow Chemical.

    Dow bought a company in 2001 that 17 years earlier had been responsible for a gas leak at an Indian pesticide plant that killed thousands of people and injured more than 500,000. Protesters called on London Olympic organizers to drop Dow as a sponsor. The episode undermined Dow’s Olympic activation plans.

    “When I talked to other partners [before we signed our sponsorship], I was told this is a bit of a free platform, this Olympic world, for activists and others to tell their story,” George Hamilton, Dow vice president of Olympic operations, said last year during the London Games. “We expected that. I’ll be honest and tell you the level … in London was higher than we expected.”

    Preparing for Sochi

    The Sochi Games are only the latest in a string of Olympics to be preceded by controversy. The public relations crisis this time has centered on Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law, which bars public discussion of gay rights.

    Companies have been more proactive in responding to criticism from activist groups than they were when criticism mounted before the Beijing Games. When Human Rights Watch mailed a letter this year outlining Russian rights violations to all 10 of the IOC’s sponsors, only two (Atos Origin and Visa) didn’t respond, and Coke, Dow and GE also met with the organization.

    Coke then followed through on one of Human Rights Watch’s demands — that sponsors condemn Russia’s anti-gay legislation — by issuing a statement saying it does not “condone intolerance or discrimination of any kind.” Most of the sponsors said they raised the issue with the IOC and touted their own corporate policies of equality and diversity. Their letters also emphasized that they support the Olympics because they stand for those principles.

    Dave Mingey, founder of the sports marketing agency GlideSlope and a former marketing executive at Johnson & Johnson, said that’s critical to preventing criticism from activist groups from undermining the value of a sponsorship.

    Before the 2008 Beijing Games, protesters in San Francisco and elsewhere criticized China’s record on human rights.
    Photo by: NEWSCOM
    “You have to do what you can to demonstrate why you’ve associated with the Olympic movement in the first place,” Mingey said. “Every sponsor can point to the value of the Olympic Games and the IOC’s commitment to inclusion, equality, respect and fair play, but that sport is not the only tool to foster dialogue and change in these political, diplomatic and sensitive areas.”

    Doing that isn’t easy. More than 80 percent of Russians support the law, but many people in Western countries oppose it. They have to find a way to speak to the opposition, which most agree with, while not alienating people in the host country.

    “You have to be careful because Russia is a critically important market, as was China, so sponsors are trying to do the right thing but don’t want to be the ones leading the charge,” said one Olympic sponsorship executive.

    The way sponsors are responding to criticism ahead of the Sochi Games is different from what they did in Beijing. In 2008, companies’ public relations teams managed most of the communication. Today, other departments are increasingly getting involved. For example, GE’s chief diversity officer and Procter & Gamble’s corporate responsibility officer wrote letters to Human Rights Watch.

    Public relations experts said that pulling in corporate responsibility officers and diversity officers was always a part of company playbooks, but those individuals taking the lead on the Sochi-related focus on gay rights has meant they have needed to take more of a lead in communicating companies’ positions.

    The changes also can be seen at public relations firms working in the Olympics. Edelman’s Matter Inc., which works with Olympic sponsors like Dow, GE, Kellogg’s, Citi and others, has built out its staff to have a group that’s focused on sports crisis communications. Those experts are embedded with client groups advising sponsors prior to the Games.

    “It’s changed fundamentally how we look at it and counsel clients,” said Mary Scott, managing director of Matter. “Crisis has to be at the forefront of communications planning. It’s no longer something that gets dusted off if something happens.”

    Ketchum’s Wool added, “There’s a bit of a blueprint now. The challenge now is on making the good news stand out.”

    The faces of most good news for sponsors are the athletes at the Games, and the USOC meets with every Olympian headed to the Games to discuss PR issues. The meetings are part of the Olympic ambassador program that the USOC developed before the 2006 Torino Games. It devotes about 15 minutes in every two-hour meeting with groups of athletes to PR.

    When it comes to the anti-gay legislation in Russia, the USOC has encouraged athletes to be open and say what they want.

    “They should not feel pressured by us to say or not say something,” Sandusky said. “We’re a sports organization, and we’re focused on preparing the team. We’re not an advocacy organization.”

    Tags: USOC, Russia, Media, Olympics
  • NBC, Yahoo to partner for Sochi

    NBC Olympics and Yahoo will partner to promote video highlights and live streamed video of the Sochi Games, ending years of competition and public sniping over what outlet drove the most traffic during an Olympic Games.

    SBJ Podcast:
    Tripp Mickle and Eric Fisher discuss the NBC-Yahoo Olympic deal, whether the two sides will be able to get along during the Sochi Games and whether the partnership will last past 2014.

    The agreement extends the content, promotional and distribution partnership that NBC and Yahoo signed a year ago and announced to great fanfare on “Sunday Night Football.” That alliance helped Yahoo Sports-NBC Sports Digital clinch the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in the monthly comScore multiplatform reach rankings of U.S. sports sites throughout the past year. But the partnership notably excluded the Olympics, in part because NBC and Yahoo historically competed for traffic during the Games.

    Under the new deal, NBCOlympics.com and Yahoo will remain independent and continue to sell their own inventory, but link to each other’s stories and videos in order to boost each other’s traffic during the Sochi Games. Yahoo Sports and NBC Sports staff will contribute to Olympic news and digital segments that air on NBCOlympics.com, and NBC Olympics will integrate Yahoo Search, Flickr and Tumblr into its website during the Games.

    “We have had a great year on the sports side,” said Rick Cordella, NBC Sports Digital’s senior vice president and general manager. “It makes all the sense in the world that we match the uniqueness of what Yahoo can do with the uniqueness of what NBC can do. It’s a great partnership that we hope to see manifest itself in later Olympics.”

    For NBC, the deal is designed to boost video views during the Olympics, so that it can meet its guarantees to advertisers who bought digital inventory during the Sochi Games. Its site, NBCOlympics.com, will offer more than 2,000 hours of live Winter Olympics video coverage over 18 days in February, a first for the Winter Games.

    For Yahoo, the partnership bolsters its existing Olympics coverage by allowing it to link directly to highlights and live video on NBCOlympics.com, a move expected to help Yahoo attract more visitors.

    “This is a peanut-butter-and-jelly deal,” said Ken Fuchs, vice president global media and commerce at Yahoo. “It brings to our users the one thing we haven’t had [video] around the data and stories we tell. They can jump in and watch live and watch highlights in ways they couldn’t before. That’s a very unique thing for us.”

    The partnership was approved by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus.

    As early as February of this year, a full year before the start of the Sochi Games, NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel confirmed negotiations of a potential Olympics partnership. But as talks dragged on through the summer and fall without resolution, uncertainty grew over whether an agreement could be reached in time to deploy for Sochi. Last winter, Zenkel had said a decision would have needed to be made by the summer in order to execute properly. But as talks continued, that artificial deadline was extended.

    Some NBC executives harbored reservations about working with Yahoo because the company had boasted in press releases during the four previous Olympics (2006-12) that it drove more traffic than NBCOlympics.com, particularly during the high-profile Beijing Summer Games of 2008.

    NBC worked with MSN to boost traffic during the Beijing Games and partnered with YouTube in an effort to improve its digital reach during the 2012 London Games. But the company, which streamed all Olympic competition live for the first time in 2012, found that most of its 2 billion page views and 159 million video views came from NBCOlympics.com and not YouTube. As a result, it considered operating its site for the first time without partnering with a portal.

    Cordella said NBC’s and Yahoo’s competition during years past wasn’t an issue in negotiations, particularly as the sports partnership grew during the course of this year. He added that he expects NBCOlympics.com and Yahoo will still compete to draw users to their own respective properties during the Sochi Games, but the hope is that making video available on both NBCOlympics.com and Yahoo will boost traffic for both sites.

    “We’re doing this for our collective audience,” Cordella said. “The ultimate beneficiary is the consumer.”

    Outside of the Olympics, the NBC Sports-Yahoo partnership has generated an extensive amount of content integration, particularly around events such as college football’s National Signing Day and the creation of the daily “SportsDash” sports talk program that appears on NBC Sports Network and both partners’ websites.

    Similar content integration is expected to happen during the Olympics. Yahoo will embed some of its staff in Stamford, Conn., where NBC’s digital team is based, to work directly on that.

    “We expect to have a historic level of interest for Sochi,” Cordella said. “You think about this compared to Vancouver [in 2010], the iPad wasn’t even out yet back then.”

    Tags: NBC, Olympics, Yahoo
  • USA Hockey renews contract with Ogrean

    Executive Director Dave Ogrean
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    USA Hockey renewed the contract of Executive Director Dave Ogrean, who signed a four-year extension that will keep him in his position through 2018.

    Ogrean, who’s also a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee board of directors, joined USA Hockey in 2005. During his eight years of leadership, the organization’s total revenue rose 45 percent from $24.4 million to $35.4 million.

    USA Hockey President Ron DeGregorio said in a statement: “His leadership has been a significant factor in the continued progress we’ve made overall, and we’re fortunate to have him guiding USA Hockey.”

    Ogrean played a critical role in forging a partnership with the NHL three years ago that sees the league contribute $8 million annually to the USA Hockey Foundation, which supports national hockey programs and initiatives. He also led the creation of the American Development Model, an initiative to assist hockey associations with the development of young players. USA Hockey’s player membership has grown from 442,077 in 2005 to 510,279 today.

    Tags: Hockey
  • Citi will bring Olympics to NYC hospitality space

    Citi is bringing its Olympic hospitality home.

    Rather than limiting its hospitality to Sochi, the company is renting a loft in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood where it will host employees, clients and customers from Feb. 18-23. Citi is the only sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Committee doing on-site hospitality in the U.S., and sources estimated that it will spend more than $1 million over those six days.

    “After the 2012 Games and our evaluation of what we did well and could improve upon, we felt like there was an opportunity to engage with our clients on a more personal level around the Olympics,” said Tina Davis, senior vice president of corporate sponsorships and marketing. “The Olympics is one of those things that everyone engages with and we thought there was an opportunity to engage with our customers.”

    Like Citi, the USOC also decided to expand its hospitality offerings from Sochi to the U.S. The organization is hosting five hospitality events in four U.S. cities next year (SportsBusiness Journal, Oct. 21-27).

    Both the USOC and Citi’s plans are driven in part by the challenge of reaching Sochi, which requires a 20-hour flight from many U.S. cities, and a belief that there’s an opportunity to give more customers Olympic experiences by creating domestic events.

    “We like to look for client engagement opportunities beyond the actual events,” Davis said. “The Olympics is the perfect sponsorship to do that with because it’s not here in the U.S., and even if it were in the U.S., the number of people who could experience it would be limited.”

    The loft Citi is renting will hold 300 to 500 people. Davis said Citi is still planning, but she expects the loft will host morning, midday and evening events. Citi doesn’t have an estimate of how many guests it will host. Some days it may be as many as 1,000, on others far fewer.

    Guests will be able to view the Olympics on projector screens and TVs. There will be athlete appearances and interactive elements, such as a small luge course.

    The company plans to issue invitations to the hospitality center in January. Davis said success won’t be determined by a traditional return-on-investment measurement.

    “We’ll reach back out to the clients and colleagues and see if they walk away with the sense that Citi enabled them to have a richer experience with the Olympics,” Davis said. “It’s all about employee and client engagement.”

    Lead Dog Marketing, which was selected in an agency review held this fall, will run the hospitality center.

    Tags: Citi, Olympics
  • Sponsors find high hurdles on getting food products to Russia

    High shipping costs and Russian food regulations have made it challenging for U.S. Olympic Committee sponsors to get their companies’ food products into the country for the Sochi Games.

    Sponsor Chobani won’t have any products at the USOC hospitality center; Smucker’s is still exploring what products it will try to get in to Russia.
    The issues mean that yogurt brand Chobani, which became a USOC sponsor in 2012, won’t have any of its products available for athletes or guests at the USOC’s hospitality center. Kellogg’s will ship products it distributes in Europe, which aren’t genetically modified, and
    Smucker’s still is exploring what products it will work to get into the country.

    Packaged goods companies that are USOC sponsors typically ship their products to the Olympics so that athletes and members of the USOC delegation can use them. By doing so, they hope to raise awareness of the products, showcase their support of Team USA and get media attention if athletes mention their brands during interviews.

    Each Olympic Games presents its own set of shipping challenges. For the Beijing Games, brands had to list all the ingredients in food products on the exterior of shipping boxes in order for the boxes to be admitted into China. For the London Games, brands couldn’t send any products with genetically modified foods, which are banned by the European Union.

    The Sochi Games have presented similar challenges. Russia, like the European Union, has a ban against genetically modified foods, and the country has special regulations about foods with live cultures in them, like Chobani’s yogurt.

    “In a normal situation, it’s hard to get food to these places,” said Sandy Uridge, Kellogg Co. senior director of integrated consumer promotions. “It’s complicated for an Olympics.”

    The USOC begins evaluating the shipping rules of Olympic host countries five years before a Games. It works with cargo-shipping company Rock-It Cargo, which handles the international shipping for hundreds of bands touring worldwide, to understand what can and cannot be shipped.

    Companies such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, which already have extensive and well-established operations in Russia, aren’t affected by the country’s shipping rules, but Kellogg’s, Chobani and Smucker’s all have had to work with the USOC to determine what they can send to Sochi.

    Uridge said Kellogg’s doesn’t have a cereal business in Russia, so the company will be shipping breakfast-related products from Europe.

    Chobani made arrangements to get its product into Russia but decided against sending its yogurt there because of high shipping costs. The company is exploring the possibility of having a yogurt station at the USOC’s processing center in Munich as an alternative. Team USA athletes will pass through the processing center to get supplies and equipment before going to Sochi, and the yogurt would be offered alongside meals that are being served there.

    Chobani confirmed it will not be shipping product to Russia but declined to comment on questions about its shipping plans.

    Tags: Russia, Olympics
  • USOC extends deal with Blackmun through Rio

    The U.S. Olympic Committee board of directors finalized a four-year contract extension with Scott Blackmun that will see him continue to lead the organization through the 2016 Rio Games.


    SBJ Podcast:
    Tripp Mickle talks about the challenges Scott Blackmun faced, the job he has done and how his salary stacks up to the rest of the sports industry.

    The four-year deal, which raises his base salary 10 percent to $550,000, ensures the mild-mannered lawyer who restored credibility to an organization reeling after Chicago’s failed bid to host the 2016 Olympics will be at the helm as it pushes ahead with a bid for the 2024 Summer Games.

    “This extension is an indication of the excellent job Scott has done the last four years,” USOC Chairman Larry Probst said in an email. “Scott has worked diligently to build the reputation of the USOC both domestically and abroad, and we are excited that this extension will keep him as our leader for another four years.”

    The contract is Blackmun’s second with the USOC. The deal offers an increase in base compensation but a decrease in performance compensation. Bonuses in his previous deal brought his total compensation to $765,369 last year, according to USOC tax filings, but the new deal doesn’t include a long-term incentive bonus of $425,000 that rewarded him for staying in the job the last four years.

    The USOC was in turmoil when Blackmun joined it in early 2010. He was the USOC’s third CEO in less than a year, and he stepped into the job at a time when Olympic partners criticized the organization for becoming insular and ineffective. He responded by promoting a service-minded culture at the USOC that was more inclusive of outside constituent groups like the national governing bodies and former Olympians. He led that effort by emailing NGB executives the summaries of board meetings and sharing the USOC’s financials at the Olympic Assembly — things that had never been done in the past.

    “Scott rebuilt the trust and confidence of everyone within the Olympic family that the USOC is a stable partner for all of us, whether you’re an NGB or a corporate partner,” said Steve Penny, USA Gymnastics president and CEO.

    Blackmun and Probst also worked to repair the organization’s standing internationally. They traveled to events such as gatherings of the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees, Pan-American Sports Organization meetings and Sport Accord meetings. They were rewarded by being named to the International Olympic Committee’s marketing and international relations commissions.

    Perhaps Blackmun’s biggest international achievement came last spring when the USOC reached a new revenue-sharing agreement with the IOC. The USOC had faced escalating criticism because of an agreement that gave it 20 percent of IOC sponsorship revenue and 12 percent of Olympic media rights fees paid by U.S. broadcaster NBC. The situation even had been blamed for Chicago’s failed bid to host the 2016 Olympics. Blackmun helped craft a deal that will see the USOC retain $410 million in revenue but contribute a greater share to the cost of future Olympic Games.

    For his successes in 2012, SportsBusiness Journal/Daily named Blackmun Executive of the Year. Under his leadership, the USOC increased its total number of sponsors from 13 to 22, adding blue-chip brands such as BP, Citi and Kellogg’s. U.S. Olympic teams also won the medal count at the 2010 Vancouver Games and 2012 London Games.

    Blackmun, 56, now is focused on increasing the USOC’s revenue through fundraising and bringing the Summer Games back to the U.S. in 2024. The organization launched a new foundation earlier this year to assist with fundraising, and it is in the process of determining how it will select a potential bid city for the 2024 Games.

    “Scott came to the USOC at a time of turmoil and he, along with the senior team he has built around him, have provided not only much needed stability to the USOC but have helped further enhance the Olympic Movement in the U.S.,” Probst said. “I look forward to the USOC’s continued success, and to partnering with Scott for the next four years.”

    Tags: Olympics, USOC, SBJSBD Podcast
  • NBC bullish on profitability of Sochi Olympics

    NBC Sports executives are more optimistic about the Sochi Games than they have been about any Winter Olympics in the last decade.

    Ad sales are strong, internal research suggests viewership will be high, and the event is expected to be “comfortably” profitable.

    “We’ll be profitable, comfortably,” NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus said during a dinner NBC hosted for Olympic advertisers and executives last week at New York’s Russian Tea Room. “Rights fees in the world are going up and up and up. When push comes to shove on [the] Sochi and Rio [Olympics], the deal was pretty flat, but [our profitability] is really indicative of the strength of the market. Sponsors are supporting it because of the ratings and the family viewing.”

    NBC agreed to pay $775 million for the rights to the Sochi Games. The price tag is slightly less than the $820 million the company spent on the 2010 Vancouver Games when NBC’s then-parent company, General Electric, reported a $233 million loss on the event.

    But Lazarus said the combination of its lower rights fee and a strong ad market means the company won’t incur a loss on the upcoming Winter Olympics.

    Advertising sales have been so strong that Seth Winter, NBC Sports executive vice president of ad sales, said the company is positioned to sell out its first Olympics in more than a decade. Ad inventory is more than 90 percent sold for the Sochi Games, a major reversal from the 2010 Vancouver Games when it was only 70 percent sold less than 100 days before the opening ceremony.

    “I’ve never walked into a Games feeling we’re this well sold,” Winter said. He added that he is concerned NBC Sports may not have “enough inventory to meet the demand in the marketplace.”

    NBC still has several key categories available, including beer and technology, and Winter expects to find advertisers in those categories in the coming months. He attributed the sales success for Sochi to demand among ad buyers for the strong ratings that the Olympics historically have delivered over 17 days. He also said NBC’s move to divide categories into more refined segments helped sales. He pointed to banking as an example. NBC sold retail, online trading, consumer banking and other categories. It landed deals with TD Ameritrade and Citi.

    NBC’s research shows that awareness of the Winter Olympics is at record levels. A survey of Nielsen subscribers that NBC conducts showed that intent to watch the Sochi Winter Olympics is at more than 52 percent, and NBC Sports chief marketer John Miller said that’s before the company has made its final promotional push around the Games. He expects the intent to view to rise closer to the Games and believes the addition of a day of competition on Feb. 6, the day before Sochi’s opening ceremony, will boost viewership for the ceremony.

    “My sense is there will be a significant number of people surprised by [Feb. 6],” Miller said. “Then social media will explode between the 6th and the 7th [of February]. More people will watch the opening ceremony, and the number of people who watch the opening ceremony often affects how many people view the Olympics.”

    NBC and ad buyers did not discuss any specific ratings projections or share what guarantees have been offered to advertisers. The Vancouver Games averaged a 13.8 rating and 24.4 million viewers for its 17 prime-time broadcasts.

    Miller and other NBC executives acknowledged that few Americans know about the actual host location of Sochi, but they’re not concerned about that.

    “The stage of the Games is the Winter Olympics,” Miller said. “The location flavors it, shapes it a little, but the Winter Olympics is fascinating to people whether it’s Sochi or Cleveland.”

    NBC hopes to overcome the lack of knowledge about Sochi by emphasizing that this is a Russian Olympics. They believe that recent political news about the country has raised Russia’s profile in the U.S., and they hope to capitalize on that.

    Over the past year, Russia has been in the news for everything from granting Edward Snowden asylum to brokering a deal between the U.S. and Syria to remove chemical weapons from the Middle Eastern country. Russian President Vladimir Putin also wrote an editorial in The New York Times, and the country’s anti-gay propaganda law has generated extensive news articles in the West about protests and potential boycotts.

    “What people do know [about Sochi] is it’s Russia,” Lazarus said. “We believe in the mystery of Russia, and people want to understand Russia. There’s a curiosity around that with the American population.”

    Tags: NBC, Olympics
  • USOC countdown event grows in size, stature

    When the 100-day countdown to the Torino Olympics began eight years ago, Kellogg’s didn’t hold a press event or announce a marketing program. In fact, it did next to nothing.

    More than a dozen sponsors participate in the 100-day-countdown event for the Sochi Olympics last week in Times Square.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    But when the same countdown began for Sochi last week, the company gathered six Olympic athletes in New York, unveiled a series of digital videos featuring each one and announced it will give breakfasts to children each time the athletes’ videos are viewed and shared online.

    “It used to be a struggle to get sponsors to do something early,” said Ted Morris, U.S. Speedskating’s executive director and the former head of marketing at U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. “Now a lot of sponsors are finding more ways to get beyond the two weeks of the Games, and it’s good for everybody.”

    The 100-day countdown is becoming a major milestone, and that’s resulted in more sponsors unveiling Olympic marketing programs earlier than they did historically. For example, Procter & Gamble, The North Face (a USSA sponsor), Ralph Lauren, Oakley, Chobani, TD Ameritrade and others last week made announcements around a 100-day-out celebration in New York, and Citi announced its program the week before to avoid the crowd.

    Olympic Sponsor Plans

    BMW — Working with USA Bobsled to assist in designing the bobsleds for the upcoming Games; plans to unveil its marketing program early next year.
    BP — Announced six athletes; launched a microsite with video on athletes and information about Sochi; running a social media campaign and digital banner advertising between now and the Games.
    Budweiser — Signed five athletes for point-of-sale materials due out next year.
    Chobani — Announced six athletes and doing sampling at Road to Sochi tour stops.
    Citi — Running its “Every Step of the Way” program, which will use social and digital media to give $500,000 to sports-related nonprofit organizations chosen by nine sponsored athletes.
    Coca-Cola (North America) — Signed four athletes who will be featured in digital advertising, packaging and point-of-sale.
    Hilton — Partnered with Visa on a sweepstakes awarding three Hilton HHonors members trips to the Sochi Games.
    Kellogg’s — Running its “From Great Starts Come Great Things” campaign, which highlights the importance of eating breakfast. The program uses social and digital media to give free breakfasts to children in need. Kellogg’s is promoting it by featuring the stories of 11 athletes on a microsite.
    Liberty Mutual — Title sponsor of the Road to Sochi tour; signed 14 athletes; running a sweepstakes until Nov. 15 that awards Team USA merchandise and an all-expense-paid trip to the Games.
    McDonald’s — Five restaurants in Sochi debuting new items to Russia, including grilled chicken and smoothies. Running its “Champions of Play” program, which awards children worldwide trips to the Games.
    Oakley — Released a special-edition line of goggles and sunglasses.
    Ralph Lauren — Unveiled Team USA closing ceremony apparel on the “Today” show.
    Procter & Gamble — Running its “Thank you, Mom” campaign, which focuses on the stories of 20 athletes and the support their mothers provided them through the years; developed a “Raising an Olympian” film series to tell those athletes’ stories; giving $1,000 gift certificates to 357 moms of Team USA members.
    Samsung — Announced it will give Samsung Galaxy Note 3 phones to every athlete competing in the 2014 Olympics, a first for the company. Also developed a custom Wireless Olympic Works mobile application and interactive demos featuring Olympic winter sports.
    Smucker’s — Named eight athletes who will be featured in advertising and digital marketing across four brands.
    TD Ameritrade — Signed seven U.S. athletes and plans to roll out a marketing program closer to the Games.

    Note: Coca-Cola, AT&T, Budweiser, Chobani, Folgers, The Hartford, Hilton, Jif, Kellogg’s, United and Smucker’s jams are sponsoring the USOC’s Road to Sochi Tour; 24 Hour Fitness, Dow, Deloitte, DeVry, United and Visa haven’t announced official plans yet.

    — Compiled by Tripp Mickle
    The reasons for the earlier unveilings include the U.S. Olympic Committee’s creation of a 100-day-countdown event in New York, NBC’s expansion of its Olympic marketing efforts around that day, and sponsors’ ability to use social media to drive consumers to Olympic-themed websites with athlete-related content.

    The USOC created its first 100-days-out celebration in 2009 for the Vancouver Games. Seven sponsors committed to participate and set up booths around the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center in New York.

    For the London Games and Sochi Games, the USOC moved the event to Times Square and convinced more sponsors to participate. More than a dozen sponsors took part in the Sochi event last week. Anheuser-Busch brought its Clydesdales and Chobani passed out yogurt. The event was expected to draw 170,000 people, and several sponsor executives said it prompted them to roll out their activations last week.

    “Because the USOC is getting messaging out there, it does make consumers aware and creates a natural timing for programs to launch,” said Sandy Uridge, senior director of integrated consumer promotions at Kellogg’s, which didn’t do any marketing around the 100-day-out mark for the 2006 Torino Games.

    NBC’s approach to the 100-day-out mark adds to sponsors’ interest in doing something then. The Olympic broadcaster has treated the date as a marketing milestone, releasing additional commercials and scheduling Olympic-related programming on everything from the “Today” show to NBC Sports Network’s “SportsDash.” The noise it’s able to make has been amplified since the Comcast merger gave NBC six more channels to promote the Olympics across beginning that day.

    P&G took advantage of that last week, arranging for skier Lindsey Vonn to appear on the “Today” show and discuss the company’s “Thank you, Mom” campaign. That opportunity led P&G to roll out its Olympic marketing campaign last week.

    “We worked closely with the USOC and NBC to make sure our plans match with theirs,” said Jodi Allen, P&G North America vice president of marketing and brand operations. “Their best learnings are that starting [100 days out] then is the best way to build momentum.”

    Both Kellogg’s and P&G developed websites with digital videos that tell their athletes’ stories. Several other sponsors, including BP and Citi, did the same thing. The sites are inexpensive compared with the print and TV media that sponsors would have needed to buy years ago to support Olympic campaigns this early, and sponsors can use their athletes’ Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and Instagram accounts to push consumers to the sites before the Games.

    “Ten years ago, it would have been very expensive and highly ineffective to come out with an Olympic program now,” said Dave Mingey, president of GlideSlope, which works with Citi and Dow on their Olympic sponsorships. “But in terms of how we consume mass marketing these days, people are willing to accept the start of Olympic marketing now through digital and social. It flows into an overall marketing trend where people can customize the messages they receive, and you’re seeing that window [of Olympic marketing] becoming much broader.”

    Not every sponsor has bought into the idea of releasing its Olympic-marketing program 100 days before a Winter Games. Many executives look at the calendar and prefer to wait until after Thanksgiving and Christmas to release their programs.

    Ralph Lauren’s “Made in the U.S.A.” uniforms for Team USA are unveiled; freestyle skier Alex Schlopy sticks his landing; more than 170,000 fans were expected at the Times Square event.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES (3)
    Others have other sponsorships that they prefer to emphasize during the winter. For example, Visa, which used to be one of the first sponsors to go to market in the U.S., has opted to concentrate on its NFL sponsorship in the fall and wait to unveil its Olympic marketing program closer to the Winter Games. AT&T, a longtime USOC sponsor, is concentrating on college football until the end of that season.

    “We want to keep focused on one message,” said Ryan Luckey, AT&T’s assistant vice president, corporate sponsorships. “The Olympics can be phased in later, probably early next year.”

    Tags: Torino, Olympics, Kellogg, USOC
  • Ralph Lauren ensures Games togs are all-USA

    When news broke last year that Ralph Lauren made Team USA’s Olympic opening ceremony uniforms in China, the company was trashed on social media and blasted on Capitol Hill. It responded by pledging that the uniforms it supplies to athletes competing in the 2014 Sochi Games would be made in the United States.
    But the company went several steps further.

    The U.S. team marched in at London wearing uniforms made in China, prompting criticism.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    It not only manufactured Team USA’s uniforms for Sochi’s opening and closing ceremonies in the U.S., but it also made the outfits entirely from U.S. fabrics. It did the same for its entire line of Team USA licensed product, which will be available at retail soon.

    The effort forced Ralph Lauren to make changes to its manufacturing and sourcing process. For example, it found sheep for its wool sweaters in Oregon.

    Ralph Lauren declined to make an executive available to discuss the changes. A company executive is expected to appear on NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday to unveil the uniforms and talk about how the company overhauled its sourcing and manufacturing process.

    Returning to NBC’s “Today” show to introduce the new, made-in-the-USA uniforms is fitting. It was there in July of 2012 that the company unveiled Team USA’s uniforms for the London Games.

    A day later, ABC News, which competes with NBC, did a story on the fact that the labels in the uniform said “Made in China.” Congress latched onto the story. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the U.S. Olympic Committee should be “ashamed of themselves” and suggested the organization burn the uniforms and “start over again.”

    Ralph Lauren initially declined to respond to the criticism, but it eventually released a statement saying it would manufacture future Team USA uniforms in the U.S. It added, “Ralph Lauren promises to lead the conversation within our industry and our government to address the issue to increase manufacturing in the United States.”

    Securing a “Made in the USA” label is not easy. The Federal Trade Commission has guidelines for using the label that say that it should be reserved for a product that’s “all or virtually all” made in the U.S. That means that all of “significant parts and processing that go in the product must be of U.S. origin.” For apparel, that means that the fabric used must be from the U.S., as well.

    Immediately after the London Games controversy, Ralph Lauren began working to find fabrics and manufacturers that would allow it to put a “Made in the USA” tag in its USOC-related apparel. That was the only effective way the company could avoid facing similar public and political criticism ahead of the Sochi Games, said Ann Wool, managing director of Ketchum Sports and Entertainment, which doesn’t work with Ralph Lauren but works with Olympic sponsors such as Procter & Gamble and Liberty Mutual.

    “There are no other options that would give them this type of positive public perception,” Wool said. “Having a ‘Made in the USA’ tag inside a uniform is the right thing to have. It’s absolutely a good PR move. It may beg the question from an industry standpoint: What about the rest of production? But for Team USA merchandise and opening ceremony uniforms, it’s great.”

    Tags: China, Media, Olympics
  • Q&A: Sandy Uridge, senior director of integrated consumer promotions, Kellogg Co.

    No Olympic marketing challenge is greater than the transition from a Summer Games to a Winter Games. Marketers have less than 18 months to develop and launch a campaign. Sandy Uridge, senior director of integrated consumer promotions at Kellogg Co., is putting the finishing touches on that brand’s efforts for the 2014 Sochi Games, with plans to launch the program next week.


    With professional sports, it’s all about Q Scores. With Olympians, a lot of times consumers don’t know them at all. It’s more about the story than that they’re the most well-known. What’s charming about them is how consumers connect with the fact that these athletes have worked so hard to get to the Games. They connect with those personal stories, and that’s what we try to bring to consumers — that connection.

    Winter vs. Summer:
    The “100 days out” occurs around Halloween, and the retail selling season is focused on many other things [before a Winter Games], like holidays, football and March Madness, whereas for a Summer Games, you start in April and have a much clearer window.

    The best ideas:
    We have worked very hard to build an idea culture. The best testament to that is that our idea for our Olympic campaign actually came through a process called “pitch day.” That’s where anyone from innovation to marketing to our research team to any of our agencies can come in and pitch ideas to a panel of judges. … The whole idea of “From Great Starts Come Great Things” [the company’s Olympics campaign] came from our first pitch day.

    Changes in Olympic marketing: Mostly, if you’re with a CPG company, that’s related to how we’re able to affect the situation with our retail customers. The USOC has been able to pull together CPG companies and drive scale at retail. It used to be retailers would say, “The Olympics are every two years. People are at home watching TV and not in my store. Why should I give you space?” The idea [USOC CMO] Lisa Baird and her team came up with to bring together P&G, Smucker’s and others at retail is making a huge difference.

    Admirable brands: I really like Nike. They’re brave. They do some unexpected things. The TV spot from 2012 and “Find Your Greatness” was amazing. It was unexpected but so right for their brand.

    Tags: Kellogg, Olympics
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