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Volume 21 No. 13
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Park City, Lake Placid sites of USOC domestic hospitality during ’18 Games

The remote mountainsides of South Korea are challenging the Olympics hospitality industry this year, but the U.S. Olympic Committee thinks reluctance to travel could lead to a new line of business stateside.

After experimenting with one-day viewing parties during the 2014 and 2016 Olympics, the USOC will host two multiday excursions in February for sponsors, their guests and donors who aren’t going to Pyeongchang. Officials expect between 350 and 450 guests in separate programs in Park City, Utah, and Lake Placid, N.Y., the hosts of the last two U.S. Winter Games.

“Given the distance to Korea, we’ve decided this is the time to kind of really blow it out and see if we can make it a long-term, viable opportunity for our partners, and potentially a business for us,” said Mitch Poll, USOC managing director of partnership marketing.

The packages cost between $6,500 and $7,500 for a double occupancy room, and include food and beverage, ski lift tickets and rentals, sport demonstrations and activities with retired Olympians at old Olympic venues. In both cities, the program will coincide with planned stops on the publicly accessible Team USA WinterFest presented by Hershey’s tour, which include concerts and activations from Samsung, Mondelez, Hershey and others.

In Park City, the program runs Feb. 8-12, spanning the first few days of the Games. Attendees will have time with retired Olympians Meryl Davis, Charlie White, Vonetta Flowers, Shannon Bahrke, Jeremy Bloom and Picabo Street.

Among the retired Olympians who will spend time with guests in Park City, Utah, are 1998 Super-G gold medalist Picabo Street ...
and 2014 ice dancing gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
GETTY IMAGES (2)

 


In Lake Placid, the program will run Feb. 22-25, covering the final weekend of the Games. Guests will stay at the Mirror Lake Inn, a luxury resort owned by two-time Olympic alpine-skiing medalist Andrew Weibrecht’s family. Participating athletes in Lake Placid are speedskating legend Eric Heiden and hockey legend Jim Craig, as well as Davis, White and Flowers.

In Utah, the USOC is getting local help from the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, and in Lake Placid, the group is working with the Olympic Region Development Authority.

About half of the USOC’s sponsors are participating, Poll said.

The USOC’s domestic vision reflects a changing dynamic in the Olympic industry. For decades, VIP access to the Games has been a crown jewel sports hospitality asset, and a prime component of many sponsorship deals at both the domestic and global level.

But American fan interest in traveling to the Winter Games has been spotty in the last two cycles, which brought the event to southern Russia in 2014 and now to rural South Korea, a 17-hour trip from New York and just 50 miles from the North Korean border.

Even for those willing to head to Pyeongchang, high-quality accommodations are in short supply, forcing major Olympic partners like NBC to run a domestic program for advertisers in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

But the Olympics still have cache and sports hospitality is a growing business, Poll said, citing the growth of On Location Experiences and its Dec. 12 acquisition of PrimeSport.

“We have kind of a unique niche here in the Olympic world in giving people experiences that are different,” Poll said. “So I hope if there’s that kind of investment in sport, that we may be able to pull off a little bit of that for ourselves.”

But Don Dow, CEO of sports hospitality firm DowEvents, is skeptical. Earlier this year, he created a travel package to Whistler resort in British Columbia, where guests could experience the winter sports and watch the Games from the host venue of the 2010 Olympics. It drew little interest, he said.

He admits the USOC will be able to offer some unique selling points, but Dow thinks once you’ve taken away the actual Olympic venue, the appeal declines.

The USOC is servicing its sponsors first and foremost, though, offering a ready-made package they can make available to their guests, customers or partners. “It’s a good price point and you’ve got everything taken care of for your guests,” Poll said. Along with incremental revenue from those sponsors, he said, he believes the hospitality product itself could yield a profit over the years if the USOC keeps doing the experiences.

For now, the USOC is keeping the work in-house to best facilitate experimentation and flexibility, Poll said, citing marketing staffers Erin Daley and Nicki Duell for leading the work.

“My hope is we’ll make a little bit of money,” Poll said. “But this first time around, it’s more about seeing if we could do it, how it would work, and what people respond to. If it works, we think it’s a long-term business opportunity and a future potential revenue stream for us.”