• P&G opens third Family Home on edge of Olympic Park

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    Nick and Linda Goepper at Procter & Gamble's Family Home opening
    Photo by: PROCTER & GAMBLE
    Procter & Gamble yesterday opened its Family Home for friends and family of Olympians.

    The home, a 10,000-square-foot temporary structure built from plywood on the edge of Olympic Park, will bring the company’s “Thank You, Mom” campaign to life in Sochi by offering mothers and other family members of Olympians a place to rest, eat and watch the Games over the next 17 days. The company also will be giving away tickets to events and offering salon and shave services provided by its Olay and Gillette brands.

    “The moms who have been through have felt like, ‘Wow, this is a place we can come, relax, get ready and feel at home,’” said Jodi Allen, P&G’s vice president of North American marketing and brand operations.

    This is the third Family Home the company has built for an Olympics. In Vancouver, when P&G was a U.S. Olympic Committee sponsor, it rented a 50,000-square-foot space at a university. In London, after it had become an International Olympic Committee TOP partner, it rented a 65,000-square-foot space on the banks of the Thames River.

    P&G opted to build its home in the Olympic Park in Sochi because it wanted to offer families a place that was close to venues. The home is less than a 10-minute walk from the venues in Sochi’s Coastal Cluster, and P&G executives hope that will increase the frequency that families visit.

    Several national Olympic committees, including the USOC, built their hospitality centers in the park as well because Sochi doesn’t have enough large restaurants or facilities to serve as hospitality centers. Sources familiar with P&G’s planning process for the Family Home said it ran into the same issue.

    “In London, we learned that it was sometimes difficult for families to get to our Family Home, so this year we wanted the Family Home to be centrally located and convenient for families traveling to and from the competition venues,” said Kim Kraus, P&G brand manager, global Olympics, in an email before the Games.

    The Sochi P&G Family Home offers products and services from brands including Pantene, Gillette, Bounty, Puffs, Tide, Pampers, CoverGirl and Olay. The company stuck gold, silver and white stickers on the plywood walls of the home and put stickers of the brand’s logos in various places.

    “Our brands are everywhere throughout the home,” Allen said. “Whether it’s Puffs or the Pampers room, it’s really fun to see our brands come to life here.”

    P&G doesn’t have an estimate of how many guests it expects to host at the house during the Games. It hosted 19 moms at an opening night reception for the home, including American slopestyle freeskier Nick Goepper and his mom, Linda, and Russian Olympic ice dancing bronze medalist Oksana Domnina and her mom, Nadezhada.

    “Each and every Olympics has a little different flavor to it, but we feel very encouraged by what we’re going to experience here,” Allen said. “Our brands have really come to life in the Family Home, which is part of the experience of servicing mom, and at the end of the day, that’s what we’re all about.”

    Allen said that P&G hasn’t made a decision about whether or not it will do a Family Home for the 2016 Rio Games.

    Tags: Gillette, North America, Olympics, Procter and Gamble
  • NHL Shift: Sochi By The Numbers

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    NHL players participating in the hockey tournament at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
    The Sochi Games are the fifth consecutive Winter Olympics to feature NHL players. The first was Nagano in 1998.
    NHL coaches in charge of national teams at the Olympics: Dan Bylsma (Penguins, U.S.), Mike Babcock (Red Wings, Canada), Ted Nolan (Sabres, Latvia).
    Two-thirds of the 12-nation field are legitimate contenders for a medal; the other four countries will need a miracle greater than the one in Lake Placid. The contenders (in order, in this reporter’s opinion): Sweden, Canada, Russia, U.S., Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Switzerland. Best of luck to Latvia, Norway, Austria and Slovenia.
    Ryan Suter (left) and his father Bob, a 1980 Olympian, do a ceremonial shave for Gillette.
    Photo by: GILLETTE
    Time span, in years, between the Winter Olympics participation of Bob Suter — a member of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” gold medal-winning Team USA in Lake Placid — and his son, Ryan, a defenseman for the Minnesota Wild who is a member of Team USA in Sochi. Bob and Ryan participated in a photo shoot of the father and son shaving before the younger Suter left for Sochi. Ryan is a Gillette athlete ambassador, along with fellow NHL players Alexander Ovechkin and John Tavares.
    Duration, in minutes, of NHL Network’s “NHL Tonight: Sochi Edition,” a wrap-up of the day’s events from the hockey tournament with highlights, interviews and analysis. The show, which debuts on Wednesday, Feb. 12 — the first day of the hockey tournament — will air daily at 3 p.m. ET and loop until 8 p.m. ET.
    Games missed by Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who was excused by the team so he could leave early for Sochi in order to be the flag-bearer for Slovakia in the opening ceremony. Chara was the only NHL player to leave early for Sochi ,with the rest departing this weekend. Chara’s reaction to the Bruins’ decision to let him go? “Overwhelmed, I would say.”
    Media credentials shared by the NHL and NHL Players’ Association that will allow access to the Olympic Broadcast Center. As part of the league’s agreement to shut down the NHL season for two weeks so its players could participate in Sochi, the league negotiated for more access for its NHL.com and NHL Network reporters and production executives.
    NHL games this season between Feb. 9-24 because of the Olympics. That compares to …
    NHL games played between Feb. 9-24 during the 2013 season, which was shortened to a 48-game schedule for each team because of the lockout. Which compares to …
    Games during the same period in 2011-12, the most recent “traditional” season for the NHL.
    Miles traveled from Washington, D.C., to Sochi for Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin, who said he was determined to play in these Olympics in his homeland — whether the NHL agreed to participation or not.

    7:30 a.m. ET:
    That’s the start time for all three of Team USA’s pool play games, which are Thursday, Feb. 13, and next Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 15 and 16.
    Noon ET: That’s the start time for all three of defending gold-medalist Canada’s opening games, which are Thursday, Feb. 13, and next Friday and Sunday, Feb. 14 and 16.

    Tags: NHL, Hockey, Olympics
  • Who to follow on Twitter during Sochi

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    The Sochi Games are the most wired Olympics ever. All of the venues offer WiFi for athletes, press and IOC members. It’s a service that will make these Games more fun to follow on Twitter than even London, which was considered the first “Social Games.”

    That was evident this week before the Sochi Olympics even began as photos of cloudy water from hotel rooms and stray dogs went viral. The London Games had more than 150 million tweets over 16 days. It’s unlikely Sochi will top that. The Winter Olympics are smaller and attract less global interest.

    But there will be plenty of conversation about it on Twitter. Here’s a list of some people we’ll be following throughout the Games (see below). Of course, you also can keep up with sports business news through our staff writer Tripp Mickle @trippmickle.


    Dmitry Chernyshenko (@DChernyshenko) — The president of Sochi 2014 should top your list. He’s active on Twitter, interacting with people and sharing news about the organization hosting the big event.

    Jim Bell (@jfb) — Somehow in the midst of overseeing NBC’s Olympics coverage from Sochi, the executive producer is finding some time to share his own thoughts on these Games. Hard to imagine anyone did more background research and reading beforehand.

    Ricardo Fort (@SportByFort) — Visa’s head of global partnerships has gotten more and more active over the last year. He’s posting photos and updates from Sochi.

    Thierry Borra (@ThierryBorra) — The longtime Coca-Cola sponsorship executive has helped organize the company’s efforts in Sochi.

    Michael Payne (@MichaelRPayne1) — The former head of IOC marketing delivers an insider’s perspective on everything from IOC meetings to the organizing committee’s work.


    Hannah Teter (@hannahteter) — Because the selfie she posted from atop a mountain in Russia may be the best athlete photo to surface from what some are calling the “Selfie Olympics.”

    Maddie Bowman (@maddiebowman) — The 20-year-old freeskier has the type of first-time Olympic enthusiasm that underscores just how exciting going to a Games can be for an athlete.

    Yuki Saegusa (@YukiSNYC) — The IMG figure skating agent is representing Gracie Gold, one of Sports Illustrated’s cover girls this month. She’s posting behind-the-scenes clips on Gold and keeping people honest in their reporting on Sochi.

    Brant Feldman (@AGMSports) — “The Senator,” as he’s known, works with U.S. hockey player Julie Chu and several other Olympians. He’s been posting photos and Vines since he arrived.

    More U.S. Sochi athletes — NPR Olympic News created a public list — a one-stop shop — for all U.S. Olympians tweeting from Sochi.


    Paul Sonne (@paulsonne) — The Wall Street Journal’s Moscow correspondent has been a source for unexpected updates on Russia during the run-up to the Games. In the midst of concerns about cloudy water, he posted a link to a story about Putin saying he has the same problems at home sometimes.

    Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) — The NBC reporter is the go-to source on news that should concern you about Sochi. He first reported the details of the black widows and followed that with a story about computer hacking at coffee shops in town.

    Nick Zaccardi (@nzaccardi) — The former USOC employee has become NBC’s star Olympic aggregator. Nothing of interest in the Olympic world gets past him.

    Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) — The Yahoo sports columnist has been chronicling Sochi’s hotel woes as well as anyone. But really, he’s on here because he offered to trade light bulbs for a door handle and changed his Twitter avatar to a photo of Putin with a leopard.

    Alan Abrahamson (@alanabrahamson) — The former L.A. Times reporter knows the ins and outs of the IOC as well as anyone and has taken the lead on criticizing the Obama administration for the delegation it sent to Sochi.

    Tags: Twitter, Olympics
  • Olympic audience skews older; Visa most recognized sponsor

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    Out of the 65 percent of American adults who plan to watch the Sochi Olympics, most will be over 55 years of age, while the 18- to 34-year-old demographic will make up the smallest fraction of the adult audience, according to research by Repucom.

    Repucom reports that 37 percent of adults polled that are 55 and over said they plan to watch the Winter Games, while just 31 percent of those between 18 and 34 said the same. This is typical, as the average Olympic viewer is slightly older than the average sports fan.

    The most-watched event is expected to be figure skating, followed by ski jumping, speedskating, bobsledding, alpine skiing and snowboarding.

    Visa is overwhelmingly the most-recognized Olympic sponsor, which may be attributed to a slightly older audience according to Repucom. Forty-nine percent of people in the U.S. were able to identify Visa as an Olympic partner, with Coca-Cola coming in second at 7 percent. McDonald’s was third with 4 percent.

    Tags: Visa, Olympics, Repucom
  • TV Timeout: Sochi still getting sacked

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    With competition underway and the Opening Ceremony just a day off, much of the conversation in the U.S. remains focused on Sochi's ill-prepared living quarters for the media. THE DAILY offers a sampling of the criticism over the last 24 hours.

    CBS Sports Network's Jim Rome said, "The Olympics have already started and the first event is surviving your accommodations" (“Rome,” CBSSN, 2/5).

    ESPN Radio’s Mike Greenberg: "Everything away from the athletes and the competition itself is horrific. There is no other way to put it. But once the Games go on, we'll watch the Games" (“Mike & Mike,” ESPN Radio, 2/6).

    SNY's Mark Malusis said Sochi is "not set and ready to go to put on this Olympic competition and they're embarrassing themselves. I think it's probably going to go down as the worst-held Olympics ever" ("Daily News Live," SNY, 2/5).

    ESPN's Bomani Jones: "Journalists are the ones who get the information and then share it with everyone. You'd think that if anybody was going to get clean water, it would be the people that would tell the world if they gave them brown water. Yet you see people saying they can't take showers. … If that's what it is for journalists, I wonder what it's like for everyone else there" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 2/5).

    CNN's Ivan Watson said the IOC and Russian authorities "insist everything is going to be ready." He added the Sochi Games are "the most expensive Olympics in history, and what we're definitely seeing is that some of the kinks have clearly not been worked out" ("Anderson Cooper 360," CNN, 2/5). 

    Tags: On the Ground, Olympics
  • USOC moving forward with potential 2024 Games bid

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    The USOC is pushing ahead with a potential bid for the 2024 Olympics.

    Speaking at a pre-Olympics press conference, CEO Scott Blackmun said that IOC members have encouraged it to bid for either the 2024 Summer Games or the 2026 Winter Games. He added that it’s more likely the U.S. will bid for the Summer Olympics.

    “We have a proud tradition on the summer side, and we’ve hosted the winter more recently than summer, so that’s going to be our initial focus,” Blackmun said.

    The USOC will host IOC members and international sports federation at USA House on Monday night. It is a regular event the USOC hosts at the Olympics, but it carries added significance this time as the organization weighs a 2024 Olympic bid.

    U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun
    The organization will spend this year evaluating potential candidate cities. Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington are among cities interested in bidding for the Games. The USOC is on track to select a city by the end of this year. The IOC will select the 2024 host city in 2017.

    With the cost of the Sochi Games estimated to be $51 billion, Blackmun was asked whether or not hosting the Olympics was worth it for a city. He acknowledged that bringing the Games back to the U.S. would require local spending on security and infrastructure.

    “I certainly hope it’d be less than $51 billion, because the federal government doesn’t get involved beyond security,” Blackmun said. “It’s a big, heavy burden on cities and states. The payoff is what it does to transform sport in their community and what it does for the nation. Bringing the Olympics back to the United States helps us be sure interest in (Olympic) sports remains high.”

    Blackmun added that’s particularly important for inspiring young athletes to pursue Olympic sports. Those athletes can then go on to compete in college, which acts as a feeder system for Team USA.

    In addition to discussing a 2024 bid, Blackmun responded to questions about security and Russia’s anti-gay law. He downplayed concerns about U.S. athletes wearing Team USA gear outside the Olympic Park.

    “We actually didn’t ask them not to wear that,” Blackmun said. “We just want them to be aware that it does attract attention from time to time.”

    USOC chief marketer Lisa Baird was asked if security concerns or protests of Russia’s anti-gay legislation had eroded the organization’s revenue for this Olympics at all. She said it hadn’t.

    Several USOC sponsors, including AT&T, Devry, and Chobani, recently released statements criticizing Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law.

    Tags: USOC, Olympics, IOC
  • Panasonic to sponsor IOC through 2024

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    Panasonic extended its global Olympic sponsorship through 2024, making it the first of the International Olympic Committee’s TOP sponsors to sign a deal beyond 2020.

    Financial terms of the deal weren’t available. TOP deals are typically valued at more than $100 million over four years, which would make Panasonic’s deal worth more than $200 million.

    Panasonic today held an official signing ceremony for the extension in Sochi. The agreement comes six months after Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Olympics. Panasonic, which is headquartered in Osaka, Japan, was interested in supporting the Olympics in its home country, and the IOC was able to leverage that interest to secure a long-term deal.

    “As a Japanese company with a long, global Olympic experience, I’m sure (the sponsorship) will be of great assistance, in particular for the organization of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games,” IOC Marketing Chairman Gerhard Heiberg said in a statement.

    The deal is the first the IOC has signed beyond the 2017-20 quadrennium. The organization’s other TOP sponsors — Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, GE, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble and Visa — are signed through 2020. The IOC remains in renewal conversations with Samsung, which has a deal through 2016.

    Until signing with Panasonic, the IOC had capped its sponsorship extensions until 2020. It did so in order to allow it to negotiate a new revenue-sharing agreement with the U.S. Olympic Committee. The IOC and USOC signed a new revenue-sharing agreement in 2012, curtailing the amount of new sponsorship revenue the USOC receives.

    The IOC also had planned to re-evaluate its TOP program after 2020. It was considering changing the way the program is structured and increasing the price of sponsorships. Heiberg, who will step down as chairman of the IOC marketing commission, said last week that his successor would make those decisions and suggested changes could be introduced as soon as 2021. But the deal with Panasonic appears to push potential changes back until 2025.

    Panasonic is providing the Sochi Organizing Committee with LED displays, TVs and the largest supply of security cameras in the history of the Olympics. Unlike at the Vancouver Games and London Games, Panasonic does not have a showcase pavilion in Sochi’s Olympic Park.

    Tags: Panasonic, IOC, Olympics, Japan
  • White, Miller most recognizable U.S. athletes

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    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

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    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

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    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
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