Though last week’s one-year-out date for the London Olympics was greeted with fanfare overseas, most Olympic sponsors are sticking to their traditional marketing timetable and waiting until 2012 to activate in the U.S.
Of 21 U.S. Olympic Committee and International Olympic Committee partners contacted, only eight had launched limited activation programs in the U.S. as of last week. Most sponsorship executives said they preferred to wait until the first or second quarter of 2012, when the 2012 London Games will be more top of mind, before moving ahead with more robust activation efforts.
The USOC has been encouraging its partners to promote the Olympics earlier. It held a one-year-out celebration at New York’s Lincoln Center last week and has had limited success in getting partners to participate and activate simultaneously. BMW announced its portfolio of athletes on the same day, and Citi held a press conference and ceremonial Team USA flag-raising ceremony outside of its headquarters. Both events were in New York.
“It’s hard for the sponsors to create a platform and maintain enthusiasm for the next 365 days,” said Gordon Kane, founder of Victory Sports Marketing, who is advising Deloitte on its Olympic sponsorship. “The USOC has tried to create some platforms. They’re making progress. It works for some sponsors but not for others.”
Social media is the platform of choice for sponsors who have begun activating in the U.S. BMW, 24 Hour Fitness and Budweiser have all incorporated Facebook and Twitter into their promotions. BMW has encouraged athletes to tweet and post to their Facebook pages about appearances at its dealerships; 24 Hour Fitness hosted a live question-and-answer session with U.S. Olympic track and field hopeful Rubin Williams; and Budweiser offered fans the chance to take Olympic-style photos at the Taste of Chicago and Fair St. Louis festivals and retrieve them from Facebook.
“Social media is going to have a much more dramatic impact on our activation,” said 24 Hour Fitness chief marketer Tony Wells. “We did not do a Facebook execution for Beijing, but we’re planning to do a lot of social around 2012.”
Wells said that 24 Hour Fitness also has seen more interest among Olympic sponsors in cross-promotional campaigns. Because marketing budgets are tight, sponsors have looked to work together to reach more consumers. He said many of those efforts remain in the works and will be finalized during a USOC sponsor summit in Colorado Springs, Colo., next month.
BMW, the USOC’s new auto partner, has launched one of the most robust campaigns. The auto manufacturer has had 276 dealerships participating in a Drive for Team USA program that sees the company donate $10 to the USOC for every test drive taken at a dealership through Aug. 13. It has 18,000 registered test drives to date, said Trudy Hardy, manager of BMW marketing communications and consumer events at BMW of North America.
Coca-Cola and Visa, two of the most storied Olympic partners, have stuck to a more traditional approach to their marketing. Coca-Cola signed eight athletes who will be featured on point-of-sale materials and advertising. Visa announced the signing of four new members of its team, including Jessica Long (Paralympic swimming) and Alicia Sacramone (gymnastics).
Several sponsors have limited their marketing to overseas promotions. Omega installed its official Omega Countdown Clock in Trafalgar Square earlier this year and last week unveiled a limited edition London 2012 watch. Procter & Gamble is giving away 90 percent of its ticket allocation for the 2012 Olympics to consumers who become eligible to win tickets by buying P&G products in the U.K.