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Volume 21 No. 1


Bridgestone is enthusiastic about its global Olympics sponsorship, but there’s no denying it makes more sense in the summer. The Japanese tire maker has always been focused on the 2020 Tokyo Games, and the simple fact is, people don’t buy tires in February.

So in its first Winter Olympics cycle, Bridgestone is turning to U.S. Figure Skating for help striking now, at the peak of the winter tire market.

In a one-year deal signed in September, the company secured title rights to Bridgestone Skate America this weekend in Lake Placid, N.Y., and an extensive array of on-site activation, on-camera signage, hospitality and media assets throughout the figure skating season.

Though Bridgestone did not initially intend to sponsor individual sport teams this year, figure skating has quickly turned into the centerpiece of its autumn strategy.

“Tire sales are so cyclical that you’ve got to capture it when you can,” said Phil Pacsi, Bridgestone Americas vice president of sports and events marketing. “February is not a good time to sell tires. That has not changed.”

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but major NGB sponsorships like this one are typically priced in the high six figures. The deal developed out of Bridgestone’s springtime signing of figure skaters Ashley Wagner and Nathan Chen, which led to talks this summer with U.S. Figure Skating and its marketing adviser, Van Wagner, over how to maximize those relationships.

Title rights to Skate America were vacant after Progressive’s deal expired, and Wagner and Chen were both committed to the event, which figures to draw a solid holiday weekend audience across NBC, NBCSN and the Olympic Channel. And Bridgestone already planned to buy media associated with the event.

Signing skater Ashley Wagner in the spring led to talks of a wider deal in the sport.
“It just seemed like a natural fit to take that extension a little bit further and entitle the event your two biggest skating athletes are going to be associated with,” said U.S. Figure Skating CMO Ramsey Baker. Pacsi agreed, and the deal closed in September.

Baker said Bridgestone already has impressed him as an eager, flexible sponsor that didn’t let the late development of the deal hold it back. A major presence in remote Lake Placid on Thanksgiving weekend is a big request, but in about 48 hours they agreed on an activation plan.

“We love that willingness to think outside of the traditional model of, ‘OK, we have to send in two to three staff members and hire an activation agency to pull this together, and have this long, drawn-out plan,’” Baker said. “We just simplified it for them, and they were willing to do it.”

Creatively, the tires/skating connection is straightforward: Figure skaters must execute precise maneuvers on ice, exactly what Bridgestone promises its winter tires will do through “clutch performance.”

A commercial starring Wagner promoting the Potenza tires started airing Oct. 22, and at Skate America there will be a fan skating contest called the “Clutch Performance Challenge” and the “Clutch Performance Preview,” a 45-minute “chalk talk” with USFS’s Ice Network hosts that was already happening anyway.

Because USFS owns domestic rights to International Skating Union events, it was able to give Bridgestone action footage of Chen and Wagner and also included a media schedule across numerous figure skating competitions this season. Bridgestone also will activate on site at the Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships beginning in late December.

Bridgestone joins USFS’s portfolio along with Prudential, Smucker’s, Toyota, Viking Cruises, Cabinets to Go, Consumer Cellular and Procter & Gamble.

Comcast owns the multibillion-dollar broadcast rights to the Olympics through NBCUniversal, and invented a new Xfinity cable interface last year specifically designed for the Rio Games. But at the time, competitor AT&T owned the communications category with Team USA, so Comcast couldn’t really execute a proper marketing campaign.

That changed last December when AT&T and the U.S. Olympic Committee parted ways, knowing Comcast was in the wings. Now the cable provider plans a major presence heading into the Pyeongchang Winter Games.

“We absolutely want to use these partnerships to raise the favorability and awareness of the Comcast brand, especially around our role in delivering the Olympics to the United States, whether that be through our Xfinity services or through our NBC involvement,” said Matt Lederer, executive director of sports brand strategy.

In 2016, NBC and Comcast executives talked about their new XFinity X1 tool that integrated NBC streaming coverage with linear TV coverage, along with statistics and advanced search tools, but, as Lederer said, “We had some restrictions, because we had no USOC rights.”

Team Comcast

Jamie Anderson, snowboarding
Gus Kenworthy, freeskiing
Jessie Diggins, cross country skiing
Elana Meyers Taylor, bobsled
Hilary Knight, hockey
Red Gerard, snowboarding
Danelle Umstead, Paralympic alpine skiing
Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, hockey
Monique Lamoureux, hockey
Rico Roman, Paralympic sled hockey
Declan Farmer, Paralympic sled hockey
Torin Yater-Wallace, freeskiing
Joey Mantia, speedskating

The company believes its tool can dramatically enhance the Olympics experience by allowing viewers to search coverage by country, sport or athlete, and navigate to any streaming or linear option from the same screen.

To build on its USOC rights, Comcast has signed a blue-chip roster of athlete endorsers, including snowboarder Jamie Anderson, freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy and bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor. The team was selected to cover a range of sports — Comcast wanted at least one team member competing on every day of the Games. The list includes three Paralympians, including 2014 Sochi gold medalist and Iraq War veteran Rico Roman.

The athletes will be part of an extensive television commercial campaign, which will focus on improving the Comcast brand, demonstrating why the Olympics are better with the Xfinity X1 technology, and convincing customers in Comcast service areas to switch, Lederer said.

GMR helped vet and sign the athletes. Los Angeles-based ad agency 72andSunny did the creative work.

One week earlier, Comcast became a sponsor of U.S. Ski & Snowboard, giving it title rights to the FIS Ski World Cup weekend at Vermont’s Killington Resort from Nov. 25-26, a logo patch on ski team uniforms at 74 events and further branding at 10 domestic events.

Dan Barnett, chief commercial officer at U.S. Ski & Snowboard, said Comcast will lend crucial help to his efforts to connect athletes to fans. “They have a pretty aggressive promotional strategy, particularly since it’s so athlete-driven. They’ll use all that media might to bring the stories of athletes to Americans.”

Comcast is the official provider of internet, video distribution, wireless, home security and business services for Team USA through 2020.