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Volume 20 No. 42

Olympics

The easing of tensions with North Korea could make a difference for Pyeongchang organizers hoping to sell more tickets.
Photo: Getty Images

In a matter of weeks, the risk of war on the Korean peninsula during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics has all but evaporated.

That’s cause for a big sigh of relief for NBC, corporate sponsors, their workers and guests, and it might even goose heretofore sluggish ticket sales in the region, experts said.

 

“I think the de-escalation of tension has been most welcome, by the world and our employees,” said Jim Bell, president of NBC Olympics production and programming. NBC will bring about 2,000 workers to the Games.

 

South Koreans and veteran Olympics planners have never thought an incident with the North was very likely, but ballistic missile tests and escalating rhetoric throughout 2017 cast a pall over Pyeongchang preparations. It even led to confusing threats, since rescinded, from the Trump administration to prohibit Team USA from participating.

 

In the new year, however, North Korea has committed to sending at least a 230-person delegation to Pyeongchang and a still-unknown number of athletes, who will march together with the South under a single flag at the opening ceremony. However ephemeral the thaw in international relations may be, it frees up the Olympic world for more pleasant matters.

 

The change in tenor comes too late to make much of a difference for international travelers and corporate hospitality guests, and the low interest from U.S. fans has always been driven by several factors in addition to a security risk. But it could make a difference on the margins.

“To the extent that anyone was still on the fence, that would be a good enough reason to get them off the fence and on the side of ‘Let’s go, let’s do it,” said Tony Fowler, senior vice president of GMR Marketing, which represents eight clients at the Games and hasn’t changed anything about its planning in light of the rapprochement with the North. “But we’re a couple of weeks away, so it’s hard to imagine too many people that are on the fence.”

 

Hayle Chun, vice president of partnerships and Olympics at Endeavor Global Marketing, said North Korean involvement likely will make the Games resonate more with some South Koreans, particularly those with more tolerant attitudes toward the North.

 

“The 1988 Seoul Olympics hold a special place in the hearts of many Koreans, who saw the Games as South Korea’s global coming-out party,” said Chun, a Korean-American who lived in Korea from 2014-17 as an employee of Samsung’s Olympic Marketing Group. “So for younger Koreans, who trend more liberal and open to reconciliation, they may view this as their own Olympic moment.”

 

Chun doubted it would cause a major surge in ticket sales, but he added: “I can see some Koreans wanting to be witness to history.”

 

Anything that shines a new, positive light on the Games in South Korea will be most welcome by Pyeongchang organizers, who had sold only 655,000 tickets, or 61 percent of their target, as of late December.

 

“[There are] still plenty of tickets for opening ceremony, which one would expect to become high demand with North and South marching under a unified flag,” said Ken Hanscom, chief operating officer of Invite Manager, a corporate hospitality CRM software provider. Hanscom has been closely tracking ticket availability for the Games. “Even the opening ceremony Category D [$200] tickets are available right now. Not sure that has ever happened this close before.”

Is a credit card company just the biggest name on the plastic rectangle in your pocket? Or is it an indispensable connection point between you and the entire economy?

Visa believes it’s making progress in convincing the world it’s the latter, but the global Olympic sponsor will again drive that message home in its campaign around the Pyeongchang Winter Games campaign — and also take new efforts to make sure its own role in the new payment world isn’t diminished.

U.S. Olympic hockey player Hilary Knight uses Visa’s 2018 Pyeongchang payment pin.
Photo: courtesy of visa

“I think people for the most part understand that you can pay for things on your phone, on your tablet or on your watch, and it’s all in some way, shape or form a Visa transaction,” said Chris Curtin, chief brand and innovation marketing officer. “I think three or four years ago, that was not a popular understanding.”

After winning accolades for its lofty, brand-focused “Go World” campaign at the 2012 London Games, Visa returned to its “Everywhere you want to be” for Sochi in 2014.

But in Rio 2016, Visa turned back to its technology, placing a heavy emphasis on e-commerce, touchless payments and wearables that can trigger a transaction. Now 18 months later as the Pyeongchang Winter Games loom, it’s doing the same, with some tweaks.

Visa unveiled two new “form factors” — an Olympic pin and winter gloves that can both trigger transactions — and is distributing them to about 20 sponsored athletes to try out and publicize.

But also, Visa spent a year developing a “signature sound” that’s triggered when a user makes a payment with a mobile device or at a cash register. The under-one-second tone is debuting in a commercial starring Team Visa athletes Mikaela Shiffrin, Chloe Kim and others, and it’s meant to keep the Visa brand at the forefront even if you’re not using the card.

Visa-endorsed athletes began posting the commercial on their own social media accounts Jan. 18 and it will debut on television during the NBC broadcast of the opening ceremony. BBDO developed the ad.

Visa’s wearable pin payment system for the Games
Photo: courtesy of visa

“We know there are new form factors, and it’s no longer on the horizon, it’s becoming every day,” Curtin said. “We want to make sure people know when they’ve had a Visa transaction and value that.”

Also, Visa and U.S. Olympic Committee online retail backend provider Fanatics have created an Olympics store that will be coordinated with NBC’s live coverage to encourage purchases of Team USA gear that’s being worn during the broadcast.

Globally, Visa signed 54 athletes from 21 countries this year, and has put special focus on the Nigerian women’s bobsled team, which it first discovered from its online crowdfunding campaign.