We know staffs at Olympic committees around the world are revising their plans for Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 for both existing elite athletes and for the development of new Olympians.
In Canada, Christopher Overholt, CEO and secretary general of the Canadian Olympic Committee, has a number of things on his plate. First, he is dealing with the post-Olympic reality that accompanied Vancouver’s hosting of the 2010 Winter Games. Second, he has to ensure Canada continues to perform in the medal count like it did in British Columbia. And finally, but not solely, Overholt must play a role in determining whether Canada should bid again to host the Olympics either in Toronto (summer) or Quebec City (winter).
Overholt, whose career in professional sports has included senior positions with the Miami Dolphins, Florida Panthers and Toronto Raptors, began his work with the COC about a year ago. We asked him about the challenge of leading a national organization at such a crossroads.
Among the COC’s first moves was to adopt a professional sports view of the world. Although some in the Canadian press believed this was too slick for
“Our focus needed to be different,” he said. “We immediately began to focus on how we are known to Canadians, the emotional connection they have with the COC. We did research and observed, learning that this emotional connection was through the athletes. Our brand is the Canadian Olympic team, and the heart of our brand is the athletes. But following the Vancouver Games, we started to look at this new brand, and we moved to a Canadian team [trade] mark that was a mosaic of our athletes. This was a tactical decision to change how we portrayed ourselves to Canadians, to consumers and to our partners.”
We asked what specific tactics were undertaken to implement this shift.
“Second,” Overholt said, “we looked at our event schedule. I drew on my experience with the NFL, which used to be about just the schedule and the Super Bowl, but now they’ve built it
The key, as Overholt’s previous experiences have shown, is to fill the calendar and make the COC a platform that holds
The current marketing and branding efforts are built around the athletes and provide knowledge about them by telling their stories. Overholt describes the effort as “showing Canadians what it means to be an Olympian” by communicating the time,
|Overholt says the COC’s campaign tells athlete stories by “showing Canadians what it means to be an Olympian.”
Is it working?
Overholt pointed to an aggressive promotion at a subway station in Toronto that recently generated 8 million impressions, at a rate of 1 million per week. The COC’s Hall of Fame Gala in 2011 raised $2.1 million and, in the past year, its YouTube viewership has gone from less than 2,000 to more than 130,000. The current athlete-based marketing campaign has generated a 96 percent increase in Web traffic, nearly 300 million impressions, a Twitter reach of more than 11 million, and nearly 200,000 Facebook likes.
Overholt was quiet on the COC’s future plans on Olympic bids but he did note Canada’s solid reputation in the Olympic movement to deliver great Games. Our view is that the COC would be mistaken to not bid aggressively on future Summer and Winter Games given this reputation, his strategy, and the obvious benefits that have resulted.
Overholt would say his work is far from finished. Regardless of Canada’s performance in London and the outcome of Olympic host bidding, his squad is determined to change the dynamic of the “every four years” mentality.
Rick Burton (email@example.com) is the David B. Falk Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University and was chief marketing officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Norm O’Reilly (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate professor of sport business at the University of Ottawa and was a volunteer board member of the Canadian Olympic Committee from 1998-2004.