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Volume 21 No. 1


If you’re interested in the business issues surrounding the Olympic Games, there will be no better hub of news and information than our network of offerings — SBJ/SBD/SBD Global and our Olympics micro-site — during the next three weeks. From aggregating business coverage around the world, to daily ratings analysis, to on-site original reporting, we’ll have you covered.

We have two of our ace reporters who have a history with London covering the Games: Olympics writer Tripp Mickle will be there through Aug. 10, and media reporter John Ourand will be there from Thursday to Aug. 2. At the age of 31, Tripp’s already a veteran, as this is his third Olympic Games. For John, this marks his initial voyage, and he’ll try to disprove the notion that covering the Olympics is a young person’s game. For the youthful Mickle to be showing the ropes to the gray-haired Ourand also marks a nice change of pace. (Mind you, this is all good-natured ribbing).

I caught up with the two before they left for London about what they were expecting from the XXX Olympiad.

From your friends and colleagues, what’s been the pre-Games buzz?

Mickle (left) and Ourand will be reporting from the Olympic Games.
MICKLE: Women, Ralph Lauren’s uniforms and security. Several people have asked about why Team USA is sending more women than men for the first time. A slew of people caught ABC’s initial report on Ralph Lauren’s made-in-China uniforms for Team USA. And last week’s stories about insufficient security and the potential ineptitude of civilian security guards generated a lot of talk.

OURAND: Tripp’s right. Among friends, the controversy about the U.S. uniform being made in China has really resonated. But my media sources are most interested in NBC’s plans to authenticate all the people who watch the Olympics live online. The hope is that a big event like the Olympics will help show people how to authenticate, making it easier going forward. Of course, the fear is that it becomes such a cumbersome process that people are even more confused about it than before.

What’s the story you’re most interested in following?

MICKLE: Oddly enough, the medal count. Experts believe that this will be the Games that China tops the U.S. in the medal count, and the USOC’s previous administration worried that losing that No. 1 status would trigger declines in Olympic enthusiasm, which would hurt sponsorship and fundraising efforts. Will that really be the case?

OURAND: For me, it starts and ends with NBC. This will be the first Olympics in a generation where Dick Ebersol is not calling the shots. The new executive producer, Jim Bell, learned the craft from Ebersol and has said that he doesn’t plan to change NBC’s coverage much. I’ll be watching to see how Bell makes his mark. Already, NBC is doing things that Ebersol never would have done: It is streaming all of the Olympics live. Ebersol resisted doing that, fearing that it would detract from the ratings of NBC’s prime-time telecast. We will find out this summer if Ebersol’s view was correct.

What’s the biggest threat to the success of these Games?

MICKLE: Security. No questions asked. London won the right to host the Olympics on July 6, 2005. A day later, a series of coordinated suicide attacks swept across the city. There hasn’t been a comparable incident since, but the combination of the riots that gripped the city a year ago and questions about the competency of civilian security guards has the city and government on edge.

OURAND: I still go back to NBC. It already has said that it expects to lose money on the London Games. What happens if NBC can’t turn this around and begin to turn profits in Sochi and Rio? What happens the next time Olympic rights are tendered? Will they decrease?

Going in, the biggest opportunity and challenge for London in your mind is …?

MICKLE: Safety and transportation are going to be the biggest challenges for London organizers. The city will be tested on both fronts by the influx of 9 million spectators. The biggest opportunity is showing those 9 million spectators a good time. Beijing was such a sterile Olympics. It was held in an isolated, undeveloped part of town. London is a vibrant city that most people feel a connection to, and that has the potential to make this a very memorable Games.

OURAND: With missiles on buildings and a battleship stationed on the Thames, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the city’s security concerns. But I’ll focus on a different concern than Tripp. I’ve seen more complaints about ticketing around these Olympics than ever before. It’s not just prices, which in some cases are running into five figures for a single event. There’s also the sense that the London Games have turned into a corporate event that’s not available to the British public. This is an image that runs counter to the Olympic ideal and one that the International Olympic Committee should try hard to shed.

The element you’re most looking forward to in London?

MICKLE: I studied abroad in London and worked for a small football club called Brentford. I hope to get back to their stadium, Griffin Park. Other than that, I’m looking forward to hearing Londoners’ take on the Olympics. Will Londoners enjoy, tolerate or hate being hosts? In terms of odd things I’m looking forward to: Seeing Boris Johnson’s hair. I just finished his new book, “Johnson’s Life of London,” and every time I flipped to the author photo and looked at his mop, I couldn’t help but think, “Really?!? That guy’s the mayor of London?”

OURAND: I used to live in North London, in a neighborhood called Crouch End, for four years. I can’t wait to see my old haunts and hoist some pints. I can’t wait to see how such a great old city will be able to handle the crush of people associated with the Olympics.

What’s the element you’re most dreading in London?

MICKLE: Getting around. The prospect of cramming into the tube and getting to events and meetings on time already makes me uneasy. And the rain. Everything I pack I picture being soaked with water over the next few weeks.

OURAND: I expect tighter security for the London Games than for any other event I’ve attended. That means long lines and short tempers — a combination for fun, especially given the cold, damp British summers that I remember.

Looking ahead, in a month, we’ll be saying the legacy of the London Games will be …?

MICKLE: Transportation was a headache, security was tight and it rained a ton, but the combination of the world’s most diverse city hosting this huge international sporting event made the 2012 Olympics an event where everyone felt at home celebrating some incredible moments in sports.

OURAND: In the United States, the London Games will be known as the first truly digital Olympics. There’s no question that there will be more online viewing this year than for any other Olympics. I know TV ratings depend on story lines (like Michael Phelps in 2008), but I’d be surprised if NBC didn’t show some increase from Beijing. I don’t think NBC’s online strategy will hurt its television ratings at all.

Look for Tripp and John filing from London in addition to all the other business news offerings across our different publications during the fortnight. And don’t hesitate to share your thoughts of the London Games with me.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at

Michael Phelps has danced in his underwear for “Guitar Hero,” washed his hair for Head & Shoulders, and climbed up peg walls for Under Armour. Eight years ago, he swam from Greece to the Statue of Liberty as a voice asked, “How do you get to the Athens 2004 Olympic Games? Practice. Or you can use Visa.”

Phelps was no certainty to become a legend, but even before his first eight medals in Athens, brands like Visa wanted to connect to the attributes that he and other Olympians possess: hard work, determination and perseverance, among others. 

For companies and agencies that do their homework, aligning their brand attributes with the right athlete is the easy part. Maximizing that association and moving beyond a transactional relationship to a long-term partnership requires great effort on behalf of both parties. Not all Olympians and brands are positioned to be part of a lengthy relationship, but those that are typically have the following five commonalities:

1. Have a well-defined brand.

There will be more than 10,000 competitors at the London Games, and only those athletes who are able to communicate their personal brands will

Visa took a chance on Phelps in 2004, and he became the centerpiece of its sponsorship.
attract significant interest from multiple suitors. An Olympian needs to understand what sets him or her apart as an athlete and what makes him or her fit with a brand and its marketing. One major factor here is an athlete’s back story: What makes this person unique?

In the same sense, brands must be able to articulate their attributes and values in a way that translates to how the athlete can bring them to life and express them in a variety of ways, whether it’s creative, social media or public relations. A brand’s relationship with an athlete will continue to be transactional if it can’t tie its long-term positioning to his or her identity.

2. Seek out partnerships, not  sponsorships. 

Olympians and their agents who make the planning stages of a brand’s marketing activities a priority generally foster the best relationships. They take active interest in the creative campaign and supporting elements and see how their role can evolve throughout a campaign to the betterment of both parties.

It’s nice when brands have the money for prime-time television commercials, but there are plenty of tangible benefits outside of ad campaigns. How can a company leverage the athlete partnership additionally? Office rallies and appearances, investor or industry events, cause-marketing efforts, and support for green initiatives are all opportunities that can drive relationship value.
3. Put digital and social media to work. 

The new rules of engagement during the Olympics strictly limit commercial messages. Smart athletes will open their feeds to authentic brand messages prior to the Games and, while in London, use their feeds to provide fan access and insightful content — without breaking the rules. Coming out of the Games, an increased following on Twitter and Facebook will only serve to build an athlete’s brand appeal to consumers, something that can be leveraged into real dollars moving forward.

For brands, the new rules require additional planning and approvals well in advance of the Games. It also means being prepared to leverage an athlete’s success immediately coming out of London. Brands must have a plan in place today in order to benefit from an athlete’s performance in London.
4. Hire solution-driven people.

It sounds simple, but agents and representatives who are interested in mutual benefit make the best partners. Brands want team players and contributors and not gatekeepers and transaction holders. It’s paramount that managers who want long-term relationships for their athletes understand a brand’s business objective for the partnership.  

Brand managers and agents work together much more than the athletes directly, so it’s vitally important that the relationship is built on solid ground. Brands must set expectations and establish open, honest communication, and fully understand the commitment to training and competitive requirements made of Olympic athletes. Seeing each other as allies, not adversaries, is critical to the overall success and length of the relationship.
5. Perform when in the limelight.

Being memorable is the most elusive achievement and arguably the most important attribute. Gold-medal-winning swimmers, gymnasts and sprinters will always reap the most commercial dollars, but there are still plenty of non-endemic opportunities for other athletes whose success is backed by memorable stories and imagery. Joey Cheek won a speed skating medal, but his dedication to charity turned him into a major story after the Turin Games in 2006.

Brands must heed the same advice. It’s not enough to plan and execute marketing activities before and during the Games. What comes next? There must be a comprehensive “win plan” in place to leverage an athlete’s performance coming out of the games when his or her popularity will be at its highest levels for the next four years.

The Olympics are a journey for athletes and brands. Not all accomplishments receive awards, and longevity is sometimes more rewarding than a single great performance. To be successful, you would be wise to follow the lead of Phelps: build a brand, form true partnerships, get social, hire great people, perform well and be memorable.

Jonathan Norman ( is senior director of client strategy at GMR Marketing. Follow him on Twitter @jonathan_norman.