• White, Miller most recognizable U.S. athletes

    U.S. snowboarder Shaun White
    Photo by: Getty Images

    Despite pulling out of the slopestyle event Wednesday morning, snowboarder Shaun White is still the most recognizable athlete to the American audience.

    According to Repucom, 63 percent of the general U.S. population is, at the very least, aware of White. His score peaked in March 2010 with 76 percent awareness, shortly after winning his second Olympic gold medal at the Vancouver Games. His score has fallen since Vancouver.

    Bode Miller ranked second among competing athletes with 54 percent awareness. Miller also scored high in appeal, with 91 percent of those polled reporting that they like him, which is on par with, for example, golfer Phil Mickelson. At the same time, according to the research, a lot of people don’t consider Miller trustworthy.

    Potential Sochi breakout stars include alpine skiers Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin as well as figure skater Gracie Gold. Those athletes have awareness scores that could easily increase with medal contention. Shiffrin and Gold both score high in likability, while Ligety’s strongest attribute is his endorsing power.

    A lack of star power among U.S. athletes in Sochi is evident by the high scores found by Repucom among former winter Olympians. Apolo Ohno and Michelle Kwan both scored in the 70-75 percent range of awareness, significantly higher than any current Olympians. Skier Lindsey Vonn, who was not able to compete in Sochi because of a knee injury, also scored high in awareness with 55 percent.

    Tags: Repucom, Olympics
  • USA Hockey most popular governing body on social media

    On the eve of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, the USA Hockey team is by far the most popular governing body on social media with over 370,000 combined fans on Facebook and Twitter. The U.S. Ski team and U.S. Figure Skating are the next most popular governing bodies with each over 75,000 fans.

    Rounding out the top five most popular governing bodies are USA Curling and U.S. Snowboarding with both near 25,000 fans.

    When measuring properties involved in the 2014 Sochi Games, the official page and feed of the Olympics is most popular with almost 8 million fans. Next, the U.S. Olympic team has almost 3 million fans and is followed by the Olympics on NBC (over 1 million) and the Sochi Winter Games (almost 300,000).

    Listed below are the combined Facebook likes and Twitter followers for the official pages/feeds of Olympic properties and U.S governing bodies on Wednesday, Feb. 5, the day before competition started for the Sochi Olympics.

    Olympics 5,564,970 2,359,652 7,924,622
    U.S. Olympic Team 2,520,861 436,900 2,957,761
    NBC Olympics 693,603 432,459 1,126,062
    Sochi Winter Games 188,014 105,570 293,584
    USA Hockey 265,569 105,021 370,590
    U.S. Figure Skating 43,546 34,587 78,133
    USA Curling 22,401 2,184 24,585
    US Speedskating 13,152 5,905 19,057
    USA Bobsled and Skeleton 9,537 3,859 13,396
    U.S. Biathlon 2,090 3,427 5,517
    USA Luge 3,383 1,395 4,778
    U.S. Ski Team 60,136 24,986 85,122
    U.S. Snowboarding 15,843 8,977 24,820
    U.S. Freeskiing 3,497 4,146 7,643
    USSA Nordic 5,119 2,225 7,344
    U.S. Freestyle Ski 5,735 954 6,689
    USA Ski Jumping 2,315 0 2,315

    Tags: Olympics, Facebook, Twitter, Figure Skating
  • A mountain of challenges

    Coca-Cola officials felt good about their Olympic hospitality plans. The company secured a hotel for the Games nearly two years ago. It invited guests and felt good telling them they would be staying at a newly built hotel near the venues. Everything was in place. But then, during the Christmas holiday and less than two months before the Games, Coke received alarming news. Its new hotel wouldn’t be ready.

    The news jolted the company’s Olympic staff and sent them scrambling to salvage two years of work. Staffers immediately traveled to Sochi and explained to Sochi organizers and Russian officials what losing the hotel meant, and none of it was good. There would be a downsized hospitality program, canceled trips, a race to find other rooms.

    Russia is undertaking the largest infrastructure project in the history of the Olympics, transforming a summer retreat into the home of the Winter Games.
    Photo by: Getty Images

    The Russians responded by pulling construction staff off a sister hotel in the mountains and working around the clock to complete Coke’s hotel, sources said. Coke, which declined to comment, survived with its guest program intact. Its hotel is set to open for the Olympics, but portions of the mountain hotel won’t. Losing construction workers meant that hotel couldn’t be completed in time for the Games.

    SBJ Podcast:
    Olympics writer Tripp Mickle and SBJ Olympics editor Tom Stinson discuss some of the concerns and issues facing the Sochi Olympics.

    Stories of delayed hotels aren’t uncommon before an Olympics, but the volume has been greater for the Sochi Games than any Winter Olympics in recent history. It’s been a major behind-the-scenes issue for sponsors, national governing bodies and national Olympic committees ahead of the Sochi Games.

    But it’s not only hotels that are an issue in Sochi. It’s food, dining and even things to do. And the list of challenges doesn’t stop at the trivial, like the quality of customer service and entertainment options for guests. It stretches to the serious, like potential terrorist attacks and protests of Russia’s anti-gay laws. The combination has created one of the most challenging Olympics in decades and stoked a degree of anxiety in Olympic circles few can recall.

    “Everyone’s looking forward to the competition and the new venues, but for those who work in the industry, we’re heading over there with a bit of trepidation,” said Dave Mingey, president of GlideSlope, which works with several Olympic sponsors.

    Jan Katzoff, head of global sports and entertainment consulting for GMR Marketing, added, “I can’t ever remember the convergence of this many issues hitting us at one time. I’m hopeful, but it’s certainly one of the more challenging environments we’ve had to work in.”

    Starting from scratch

    The Sochi Games represent an Olympics built from scratch. Not only were there no venues to host the Games when Sochi was awarded the event seven years ago, there were few hotels and no modern ski resorts.

    The Russians are undertaking the largest infrastructure project in the history of the Olympics — an enormous, $51 billion job. Russia not only is building venues and improving its airport, as many host cities do; it is building hotels, ski resorts, rail lines and a new highway system.

    “Russia did not only take the decision to establish a winter sport center,” said International Olympic Committee

    People walk along the hotels and restaurants in Rosa Khutor,
    Photo by: Getty Images

    President Thomas Bach. “They at the same time took the decision to transform an old-fashioned summer destination for some Russians into an international sports and conference and winter destination. It’s a huge transformation of the whole region for which the Games serve as a catalyst.”

    Any construction project that ambitious was bound to have problems, and Sochi has its share. Not everything will be completed in time. In Rosa Khutor, which will host alpine events, the Swissotel will have only three of its four buildings complete, and guests staying there said that they have been informed that a planned road to the hotel wasn’t constructed. Instead, they will have to take a gondola to reach their rooms.

    Sead Dizdarevic, founder of the Olympic hospitality company CoSport, said issues like that are common any time new hotels are constructed for an Olympics. During the 2010 Vancouver Games, he and his staff worked 24 straight hours at the Fairmont Hotel in order to get it prepared for Olympic guests arriving the next day.

    “In Sochi, it’s multiplied by those issues because of the number of new properties,” Dizdarevic said. “They have their own schedule, and no one can do anything about it.”

    The delays in completing hotels has stoked concerns that the hotels won’t be prepared to meet Western customer-service expectations. To assist with that, CoSport will have 40 people working at three hotels in Rosa Khutor aiding hotel staff with everything from room service to linen requests. The company has done the same thing at previous Olympics, including the London Games, Dizdarevic said. He added, “It’s just here, it’s much more, and there’s less time to train their staff to provide services at Olympic time.”

    The Olympics are being held in Adler, a city in the Sochi region with a population of 76,000. It had few restaurants and buildings before the Games. Many new restaurants and shops have been built for the Games, but not enough to accommodate all the corporate guests traveling to the area.

    “It’s been one of the biggest challenges we’ve had,” said Steve Skubic, executive vice president at GMR Marketing, which is working with Visa, Procter & Gamble and other Olympic sponsors. “We’re utilizing hotels more for [food and beverage] than we have in the past.”

    The lack of facilities in the area also affected planning for hospitality experiences like the Procter & Gamble Family Home, which will host athletes’ families, and USA House, which will host sponsors and U.S. guests. Adler doesn’t have the type of large restaurants and venue sites where those programs would usually set up. As a result, they opted to build temporary hospitality venues inside the Olympic Park.

    Kim Kraus, P&G’s director of global operations, said that locating the facility in the Olympic Park will make it more accessible to friends and family.

    “In London, we learned it was sometimes difficult for families to get to our Family Home, so this year we wanted [it] to be centrally located and convenient for families,” Kraus said.

    Historically, sponsors’ programs include trips to local tourist destinations, but hospitality organizers said there’s little to do in Sochi. The organizing committee is offsetting that by hosting nightly cultural events headlined by the State Symphony, dancers from Russia’s famed Bolshoi ballet and others. Hospitality organizers are arranging private events headlined by athlete appearances and local performers.

    “We’re always trying to find interesting things for people to do, and it was harder in Sochi,” said Adam Dailey, founder of Ludus Tours, which hosts many friends and families of U.S. athletes at the Olympics. “London, Vancouver and Beijing are used to having tourists all the time. Sochi is a summer resort. It’s not built to host people in the winter. We’re always trying to be creative and this is one of the more challenging places to be creative.”

    Security concerns

    Construction delays and hospitality issues have been overshadowed for months by security concerns, and those concerns only spiked following reports that female suicide bombers, known as “black widows,” may be in Sochi. Team USA athletes have been discouraged from wearing U.S. apparel, and national governing body executives say they are packing less team gear than they usually take to the Games.

    Security staff for Olympic sponsors such as Dow and McDonald’s have been in touch with the U.S. and Russian state departments and communicating with other Olympic sponsors about the terrorist threat in the region. Many sponsors have hired outside event-response groups like International SOS to support them with crisis planning.

    Security guards patrol Olympic Park in the Coastal Cluster.
    Photo by: Getty Images

    The time devoted to security and crisis planning is at a level and a degree that no one has seen since the 2004 Athens Games.

    “The 6 a.m. to midnight calls for the last month have been devoted to reviewing our crisis plan and elevating everything we’ve done compared to the past Olympics to be sure we take care of our clients,” Katzoff said.

    To ensure the Games are safe, Sochi organizers developed a security-pass system for ticket holders. They collected the names and information on ticket holders and provided them with credentials that will be checked along with tickets before spectators can enter the Olympic Park.

    It’s unclear how the extra security will affect the spectator experience. Sochi organizers have done modeling to determine how fast they will be able to process guests at security gates, said Doug Arnot, the former director of operations for the London Games, but new programs like that are always difficult to execute.

    “I suspect on the front end, the first couple of days and for high-demand events, it will be difficult and will require a lot of patience on the part of spectators,” Arnot said.

    In addition to security, there’s real concern among corporate sponsors and public relations officials about Russia’s anti-gay laws. The subject continues to dominate headlines, and officials remain concerned that an athlete will protest the law while on the medal stand.

    That concern is so pervasive that IOC President Bach discouraged athletes from using the podium to make a statement. Instead, he encouraged them to speak in a press conference.

    “The IOC will take, if necessary, individual decisions on the individual case,” Bach said when asked how the IOC would respond if an athlete protests during an event or medal ceremony. “It is clear, on the other hand, that the athletes enjoy the freedom of speech so that if in a press conference they want to make a political statement, they are free to do so.”

    Any protest would shine another spotlight on the issue, and that could devalue the Games at a time when sponsors are most tied to them through advertising in their home countries and activities on the ground in Russia.

    Hoping for the best

    Despite all the issues in Sochi, sponsors, the U.S. Olympic Committee, NBC and hospitality agencies say their guests haven’t canceled plans to attend the Games, and most remain optimistic that once the competition begins the issues dominating the headlines the last few months will fade away.

    If they do, then many are optimistic that the Sochi Games will provide one of the best Winter Olympic experiences in history. It will be the first Winter Games where all the city venues — from ice hockey to figure skating to curling — will be located within walking distance from each other.

    “We haven’t ever been able to do that,” Skubic said. “For guests, it could be a really positive experience.”

    Olympic sponsors already have seen business benefits from the Sochi Games and anticipate more could follow if the Games are a success.

    Coca-Cola has built a new bottling plant in the area and used the Games to gain market share and promote its local juice brands. GE has sold two gas turbines to Sochi to provide power for the Olympics. McDonald’s has used the Games as a catalyst to open its first restaurants in the region and introduce new products, such as smoothies and yogurt parfaits, to the Russian menus. And Visa has installed 1,500 new terminals in the Sochi region and upgraded many others.

    “It’s the fastest-growing market for Visa globally, and having the Games there, it’s accelerated the growth of our business,” said Ricardo Fort, Visa’s senior vice president of global partnerships.

    But the gains haven’t come easy. Sochi had power outages last year, though they weren’t tied to GE’s turbines, and McDonald’s was later getting into its restaurants at the media center and athletes village than it anticipated.

    “[The Sochi organizing committee] had its challenge getting things turned over to us, but we had enough contingency built in that we’ll be up and running fine,” said John Lewicki, McDonald’s head of global alliances.

    The hope now is that there is no terrorist event and the Games are remembered for the competition and their first return to Russia since the 1980 Moscow Games. There’s optimism that will happen.

    “Everybody’s getting an ulcer about things being done on time and terrorism, but that’s going to be over and the Games will be great,” Dizdarevic said. “I have never seen anything like the Olympics. It’s beautiful.”

    How to spend $51 billion

    It has been widely reported that staging the Winter Olympics in Russia will cost the region’s governments roughly $51 billion, a figure far exceeding the $42 billion spent by China on the 2008 Summer Olympics, which had more venues, more events and more athletes. Here are a few other things that $51 billion could cover:

    Dinner and a movie: Could buy Netflix AND Yum! Brands, which includes Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell

    Jamaica + Madagascar + Fiji = $51 billion in GDP

    Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona FC, New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Redskins AND Twitter

    Winter Olympics rights fees from 1960 through 2018: $4.8 billion

    NFL and NHL combined franchise values (according to Forbes): $51.3 billion

    Clayton Kershaw’s salary for 1,700 years (new contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers: 7 years/$215 million)

    Tags: Coca-Cola, Media, Russia, Olympics
  • NBC’s digital approach goes well beyond streaming

    NBC’s digital plan for Sochi will be as radically different from the network’s digital plan in Vancouver as the digital world of 2014 differs from the digital world of 2010.

    “The iPad did not exist in Vancouver,” NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said at a news conference last month. “Think about how much the world has changed. … One of the things we’ve found is that if you want to have the biggest event in television, which the London Olympics were, you need to use all forms of distribution and technology.”

    A Red Zone-style channel called Gold Zone will provide live look-ins at events.
    The view that NBC will push programming through all forms of technology appears to be the network’s guiding philosophy around the Sochi Games. As it did in London, NBC plans to stream every event live online — minus the opening ceremony — to authenticated users.

    SBJ Podcast:
    Olympics writer Tripp Mickle and SBJ Olympics editor Tom Stinson discuss some of the concerns and issues facing the Sochi Olympics.

    NBC’s plan encompasses much more than streaming live events. The network will produce original programming for digital audiences around these events that will be available through its website and apps.

    The network announced plans to have a Red Zone-style channel called Gold Zone that will provide live look-ins at events as they are happening. NBC hired Andrew Siciliano to host; he’s the host of DirecTV’s Red Zone Channel, which was the original channel providing live look-ins for NFL games.

    Gold Zone will go live between 7 and 8 a.m. ET and run until 3 p.m. ET each day during the Olympics.

    “We think the Gold Zone is simply another way in which the Olympics can be consumed,” NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel said. “For those who want a more lean-back experience and allow us to take you and walk you through what is cresting at that moment in Sochi is what this product is all about.”

    Another digital offering will be an Olympic news desk, a hosted show online that will give periodic updates of what’s happening in London. NBC also will produce “Olympic Ice,” a 30-minute digital show that will run live at 5:30 p.m., on days when figure skating competitions occur. Russ Thaler will host, and NBC has hired figure skater Sarah Hughes as an analyst.

    NBC has released two apps around the Games. Its NBC Sports Live Extra will have access to more than 1,500 events. NBC also has a highlights and results app that will allow users to call up timely programming. If, for example, Lolo Jones is about to compete in the bobsled during NBC’s prime-time coverage, the app will highlight stories NBC produced on the athlete from Beijing and London.

    “A section of this app is the prime-time companion,” said Rick Cordella, NBC Sports Group’s senior vice president and general manager of digital media. “During prime time, there’s no content being streamed. You can pull this up and [view] the content we have produced at the right time.”

    NBC is spending so much effort on its digital platforms for a simple reason.

    “What we have seen is that the more consumption of the Olympics during the day, ultimately the more prime-time viewing,” Zenkel said. “As technology advances, so does the way in which we distribute our coverage.”

    Tags: NBC, Olympics
  • Mission to medal: Athletes to watch in Sochi

    The Sochi Games will be dominated by returning Olympians like speedskaters J.R. Celski and Shani Davis, skiers Ted Ligety and Julia Mancuso, snowboarders Shaun White and Kelly Clark, figure skaters Meryl Davis and Charlie White, as well as hurdler-turned-bobsledder Lolo Jones. But plenty of first-time Olympians and global stars are expected to distinguish themselves once competition begins. Here’s a look at some of those athletes and the brands behind them:

    David Wise
    Photo by: Getty Images

    Ski halfpipe makes its debut at the Olympics, and Wise has proved to have gold-medal potential. The two-time X Games champion is a different type of freeskier. He’s 23, married and has a daughter. His sponsors include Monster Energy, Visa and Procter & Gamble.
    Agency: The Morant Agency

    Photo by: Getty Images
    Sarah Hendrickson

    Success over the last two years has made Sarah Hendrickson a favorite to win gold in women’s ski jumping, which debuts at the Sochi Games. She’s already the star of a Visa Olympics commercial. Her sponsors include Visa, Red Bull, Kellogg’s and Nike.
    Agency: Wasserman Media Group

    Jamie Anderson
    Photo by: Getty Images

    The South Lake Tahoe product has been one of the top snowboard slopestyle riders since she was a teenager. With the discipline making its debut in Sochi, she has a chance to add an Olympic medal to her four X Games gold medals. Her sponsors include Monster Energy, Billabong and Procter & Gamble.
    Agency: Octagon

    Photo by: Getty Images
    Eddy Alvarez

    One of the five members of the U.S. Speedskating’s short track team, the Cuban-American is coming off a major injury. He’ll join teammates J.R. Celski and Chris Creveling in the effort to replace Apolo Ohno as the face of the sport in the U.S.
    Agency: Wasserman Media Group

    Mikaela Shiffrin
    Photo by: Getty Images

    With Lindsey Vonn pulling out of the Olympics and Julia Mancuso struggling this World Cup season, the 18-year-old skiing prodigy from Vermont has a chance to cement her position as the future of the U.S. women’s ski team. Her sponsors include Oakley, Barilla and Procter & Gamble’s Pantene.
    Agency: Kilian Albrecht

    Photo by: Getty Images
    Sven Kramer (Netherlands)

    The Dutch long-track speedskater came up short in his effort to win three gold medals at the Vancouver Games. He’ll be looking to give speedskating-mad Dutch fans a first-place finish in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter competitions. His sponsors include Procter & Gamble, Dutch insurer TVM and Dutch telecom company KPN.
    Agency: Management House of Sports

    Ayumu Hirano (Japan)
    Photo by: Getty Images

    The 15-year-old Japanese snowboarder finished second to Shaun White at the X Games in 2013. He’s expected to challenge him again in the halfpipe in Sochi. His sponsors include Monster Energy, Oakley and Burton.
    Agency: IMG

    Photo by: Getty Images
    Tina Maze (Slovenia)

    The reigning World Cup champion has had a slow start this year, but she amassed more points than any female skier in history a year ago. Look for her, German Maria Hoefl-Riesch or Switzerland’s Lara Gut to reach the podium in Sochi. Maze’s sponsors include Milka and Fila.
    Agency: Not available

    Rosalind Groenewoud (Canada)
    Photo by: Getty Images

    The freestyle skier affectionately known as “Roz G” offers one of Canada’s best hopes for gold at the Sochi Games. She won the X Games superpipe competition in 2013 and is known for her big airs. Her sponsors include Target and Spyder.
    Agency: CAA

    Photo by: Getty Images
    Alexander Zubkov (Russia)

    The bobsled driver is one of the host country’s best chances to win gold. He’ll be leading teams in both the two- and four-man competitions.
    Agency: Not available

    Tags: Olympics
  • Comcast's X1 gets NBC Sports' Sochi streaming

    Comcast is expanding its X1 interactive video platform to allow its subscribers to see NBC Sports’ online streaming coverage of the Sochi Olympics on televisions.

    SBJ Podcast:
    Olympics writer Tripp Mickle and SBJ Olympics editor Tom Stinson discuss some of the concerns and issues facing the Sochi Olympics.

    NBC Sports is streaming every event in Sochi live, a first for the Winter Olympics and expanding on what it did two years ago in London for the Summer Games. That streaming video for tablets, smartphones and computers will be televised for Comcast video subscribers through a repurposing of the NBC Sports Live Extra app.

    It will come with interactive menus, searchable listings and on-demand features.

    Operating under a tag line of “Every Minute, Every Medal, Every Screen,” Comcast’s Olympic efforts represent a push by the operator to create additional synergy through its corporate holding NBC.

    Comcast also is testing a new on-demand feature in which viewers joining the prime-time Olympics coverage in progress can restart it from the beginning. The feature will be available in several Northeastern U.S. markets.

    The company also is planning for the Olympics an aggressive deployment of its SeeiT feature, a Twitter-based function in which viewers can choose to watch or record video directly from conversations on the microblogging platform.

    “The London Games were really a watershed moment for the concept of TV Everywhere, and for many people, that was the first time they live-streamed something,” said Matt Strauss, Comcast Cable senior vice president and general manager of video services. “We think Sochi will be a similar watershed for the X1 platform.”

    NBC Sports did offer to other cable and satellite providers the same option to televise its live Olympic streaming, but Comcast was the only one that accepted. The cost of the service to providers was not revealed.

    The company has put considerable resources behind X1, a cloud-based video platform, and Comcast has been in talks with other cable providers about licensing its technology on a white-label basis.

    The televising of the Sochi streaming to Comcast homes will contain the same ads seen online and on mobile devices.

    Tags: Comcast, NBC, Olympics, SBJSBD Podcast
  • Guinness makes big impression in short time

    The Guinness commercial featuring Olympic biathletes Tracy and Lanny Barnes lasted 65 seconds and lived 48 hours, but it attracted 600,000 views and more than 4 million media impressions.

    The Diageo brand developed the spot in less than 10 days. It is the first, real-life story about people’s character that Guinness marketers plan to use to underscore the “character” of their product highlighted by its “made of more” slogan. The brand had told its agencies, Taylor, BBDO and others, about its vision for using real-life stories to promote its slogan. The staff at Taylor heard the story of the Barnes sisters and approached Guinness marketers about it.

    The Barnes were both competing to make the Sochi Olympic team. Tracy, a 2006 Olympian, qualified, but Lanny — who made the U.S. team in both 2006 and 2010 — was sick and dropped out of the last event. Tracy gave up her spot on the team for her sister.

    “Coincidentally, we’d been working on ad concepts that weren’t too far off this real instance,” said Guinness Brand Director Doug Campbell.

    The brand contacted the sisters to see if they were open to being in an ad. They agreed, and BBDO New York designed a spot featuring a still image of the sisters side by side. It recounts their story with subtitles in Guinness gold and culminates with the on-screen words: The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character.

    Guinness debuted the ad on Jan. 28 but had to take it down by Jan. 30 to comply with the IOC’s rule 40, which kicked that day and prevents non-Olympic sponsors from featuring Olympians in promotions.

    “When it came in, I don’t remember who said, ‘There’s this (IOC rule) we might need to be conscious of,’” Campbell said. “It could have been someone in legal or with an agency. (But) we would have done the story whether there had been an Olympics or not. The Olympics makes it more complicated, but that’s OK. The fact that it was the pinnacle of the sport is part of what gives the story its power.”

    Guinness’ media buying firm, Carat, bought inventory on ESPN, Comedy Central and USA for the ad. Its digital agency secured space on Facebook. Between Facebook and Guinness’ YouTube page, the ad was viewed 600,000 times. It also netted 4 million media impressions.

    “You could look at it (as a lot of effort for a very short window of time),” Campbell said, “or you could look at it as a real-life story wrote an ad for us. Guinness is a small brand. Any opportunity we can get to showcase our values we want to pursue. The fact that it has to come down after 48 hours is regrettable, but looking at what we invested compared to what we get out of it is an easy trade. It’s part of the model of marketing. You’re looking for, arguably, bigger or smaller moments in culture where there’s your brand story.”

    Tags: Media, Olympics
  • Government gives Sochi investors some relief

    Russia's state-run bank Vnesheconombank is to give an extension to investors at Sochi Olympics venues.

    RIA Novosti quoted Deputy PM Dmitry Kozak, who is in charge of the Sochi Olympics, as saying that Sochi investors will not have to make any credit payments until the fall of 2015.

    "Let's see what revenues will be generated (from the Olympics), and in the fall of 2015 we'll make decisions," Kozak said.

    The move comes in response to longtime complaints from Sochi investors, including Basic Element, Gazprom, Sberbank, Interros and other major corporations, that the Olympic venues are potentially loss-making and the government should extend privileges to the investors to keep them from incurring losses.

    The investors welcomed the decision but said that the measure is not going to be sufficient.

    A Basic Elements spokesperson told SBD Global, “As investors, we are interested in restructuring of Vnesheconombank loans and welcome the extension of the repayment date to late 2015. However, we believe that just extensions on loan repayments are not sufficient. In addition to that, a program of subsidizing interest rates on all Vnesheconombank loans over the entire loan period should be adopted.”

    He added that tax privileges on the operation of Olympic venues also should be introduced. Vnesheconombank extended 241 billion rubles ($6.8 billion) in loans to Sochi investors. In addition to sports venues, huge investments were made in the transport and hotel infrastructure.

    Vladimir Kozlov is a writer in Moscow.

    Tags: Russia, Olympics
  • Vonn’s Olympic role starts with a whimper on “Today”

    If I’m an executive at NBC Sports, I’m certainly hoping Lindsey Vonn brings more energy and enthusiasm to her new role as an Olympic on-air correspondent than she did during this morning’s promotional interview with Matt Lauer.

    She appeared via satellite on her couch in a knee brace and bandages while petting her dog, Leo, on her lap. Truthfully, I can’t even imagine how difficult it is for Vonn to deal with the bitter disappointment of not being able to ski in Sochi, and it was clearly evident that pain remains during this morning’s interview. 

    Showing little emotion or enthusiasm, she flatly responded that she was “recovering well” from her recent surgery. She was honest while admitting, “It’s going to be really, really hard to watch the alpine events.” She said, “It’s already hard enough. You guys run commercials about Sochi every two minutes, and it’s killing me.”

    Lauer tried to lighten the mood by adding a humorous, “You’re welcome.” But Vonn didn’t take the bait. When he transitioned to promoting her role during the Games, instead of saying what she was looking forward to, she instead flipped it, “I’m NOT looking forward to waking up this early. That’s not going to be fun.” 

    Again, Lauer tried to make light by saying, “You’re welcome.” She finally concluded saying, “I’m looking forward to this new challenge.” Maybe it was the early wake-up call, or still struggling with the immense disappointment of not going to Sochi, but Vonn didn’t bring her “A” game for this one. Following Twitter after, I thought this person, Diane Kaufman, summed it up well:

    Tags: NBC, Olympics
  • Security takes the spotlight

    News around the Sochi Olympics last week began with reports of “black widows” and ended with a flurry of stories about families of athletes and fans canceling trips to the Games.

    Hospitality agencies and Olympic sponsors said it was the first time since the 2004 Athens Games that they could recall this much concern about terror threats. Agency and sponsor executives said the recent bombings in Volgograd, Russia, and reports of female suicide bombers in Sochi hadn’t resulted in any canceled trips — at least not yet — but they acknowledged that it has affected preparations for these Games.

    “It’s the most talked-about thing in many circles,” said Dave Mingey, president of GlideSlope, a consulting group that works with several Olympic sponsors. “There’s been heightened communication around various entities in terms of crisis needs should something occur. It’s questions like: Should an incident occur, how many planes could take off and get out? Should they strike down the mobile network, what is the viability of landlines? You’re seeing crisis plans go to a different degree.”

    What’s different about these Games from any other is that there’s been an announced and specific threat, said Doug Arnot, the director of Games operations for the 2012 London Olympics. A little over a week ago an Islamist militant group released a video taking credit for two recent suicide bombings in Volgograd that killed 34 people. They also said that there would be a “present” in Sochi.

    “If you’re a sponsor and you’ve seen a threat like this, and God forbid something does happen, and one of your principals or guests is impacted, you have a lot of explaining to do because effectively you’ve been warned and have disregarded the warning,” Arnot said. “Even if security advisers don’t feel the threat is all that significant, merely the fact that it’s been announced forces them to be doubly cautious in advising clients.”

    Most corporate sponsors have their own security staff assisting with planning. McDonald’s security staff, for example, talks regularly with the U.S. State Department and other Olympic sponsors about the threats. Last week, the security team briefed company executives on the state of security in Sochi and its contingency plans. But John Lewicki, McDonald’s head of global alliances, said the company is not making any changes to the size of its guest and employee program due to the escalated security threats in Sochi.

    “Every Games there are security matters, and this one seems to be more elevated,” Lewicki said. “At this point, we’re not changing anything. Diligence is the word of the day. We’ve got risk assessments and contingency plans.”

    A spokesman with Dow Chemical, which has been hosting hospitality programs at the Olympics since 1996, said the company has had some inquiries from guests about security. The company plans to have a security operations center in Sochi to support its guests and will be in regular communication with Russian officials and the U.S. State Department as well as other sponsors and the International Olympic Committee.

    Several sponsors, including McDonald’s, are supplementing their security staff with support from global emergency and security companies. Both Global Rescue, which is working with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, and International SOS, which is working with 350 organizations representing more than 10,000 travelers to Sochi, plan to have planes available in Sochi for medical or emergency evacuation.

    John Rendeiro, vice president of global security and intelligence for International SOS, said the company fielded calls from clients regarding Sochi security last week. Clients wanted to review contingency plans and discuss what to do if something happens. Concern, he said, was “above average” and exceeded anything the company had seen since the 2004 Athens Games.

    “There was some concern about terrorism in Athens, but you weren’t talking about the terrorists having an operating base so close, so this is pretty high on the scale of concern and caution and requiring sophisticated preparation,” Rendeiro said. “You want to know where you’re going, how you’re getting there and be prepared with … a response plan if something happens.”

    A Russian officer searches a driver while his car is checked at an entrance in Sochi.
    Photo by: AP IMAGES
    Russia reportedly is spending more than $2 billion on its security operation and will have more than 60,000 security personnel in the area. There will be almost a 1-to-10 ratio of security personnel to guests.

    “We have never seen the type of security that we are now seeing in Russia at any prior Olympic Games in terms of credentialing, surveillance and amount of resources that have been committed,” said Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics, which is sending a staff of more than 900 to Sochi.

    Arnot, the London Games’ operations chief who is consulting with Sochi organizers, said that the specific threats ahead of these Games actually should help security.

    “In many cases, you spend so much time preparing that you become almost numb, but these incidents and videotapes have served as a wake-up call that this is very real,” Arnot said. “I don’t mean that security forces don’t realize that, but it puts them on a higher state of alert. It also sort of makes everyone else a part of the security team. Spectators, volunteers and others will be a bit more vigilant and a bit more careful. They can be helpful.”

    While many companies aren’t changing travel plans, security concerns have caused some sports industry veterans to reconsider their trips to Sochi. Circe Wallace of Wasserman Media Group, who represents Australian gold-medal snowboarder Torah Bright, was planning to bring her 12-year-old daughter, Ava, to the Sochi Games. It would have been Ava’s first Olympics, and Wallace was looking forward to sharing the cultural experience with her. But last October, amid reports about hotels not being completed and construction being delayed, she decided to leave Ava home.

    When reports surfaced last week that a female suicide bomber described as a “black widow” was in Sochi, Wallace felt good about her choice.

    “It didn’t sound fun anymore,” she said. “It didn’t sound like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It sounded difficult.”

    Staff writer John Ourand contributed to this report.

    Tags: Olympics, Russia
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