Author archive for ‘Tim Crow’

Changing the Game for Women’s Sport

Although consensus on London 2012’s tangible legacies in the UK remains elusive, arguably the most high profile and certainly the most sustained legacy is the momentum behind greater recognition for women’s sport, created by the medal success of the Team GB women and their starring role at the Games.

It was clear before London 2012 that momentum was already building, with the public furore at the omission of women from the 2011 BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist a clear signal of things to come.

England women's rugby team celebrate world cup triumph

Now, post Games, nowhere is the legacy in the UK more evident than in the competition between the BBC, BT Sport and Sky to out-behave each other as champions of women’s sport.

BT and Sky both have dedicated editorial platforms and sportswomen of the year awards. BT Sport broadcasts Women’s Super League football and the BBC has ramped up its coverage of England women’s international football, in particular the most recent England v Germany friendly, which also out-sold – for the first time ever – the previous month’s men’s international.

And what a difference a few years has made to the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, with the 2014 Team of the Year award presented to the World Cup-winning England women’s rugby team.

But these are the exceptions that prove the rule, as consistently demonstrated by a long-running Women In Sport campaign, that women’s sport in the UK is overwhelmingly the poor relation to men’s, in terms of both media coverage and, as a result, sponsorship.

The transformative financial effect that media coverage can have can be clearly seen in women’s tennis. Billie-Jean King’s pioneering work in creating the WTA, and above all the dual men’s and women’s format of many major tennis events – in particular the Grand Slams – has kept women’s tennis and its stars in the spotlight, and as a result the money, for years. Other women’s sports, lacking the media spotlight, are playing catch-up, and the gap is growing.

Bridging it will not happen overnight, but in time, increased media visibility will come and will inevitably drive increased commercial viability for brands looking to sponsor women’s sport.

However, media coverage is only part of any viability equation for brands.

New behaviours will also be required. The inconvenient but undeniable truth is that much of the brand money invested through sponsorship in women’s sports is connected to sex appeal – what one might call the ‘Kournikova factor’.

It’s easy for brands to get quick wins by adding to the purses of the planet’s most glamorous stars – after all, sex sells, right? But sponsors that genuinely care about the advancement of women’s sport will look to celebrate women as athletes, not pin-ups, and to lead the way in promoting an attitudinal change.

Like a Girl

This is something that has been confronted by the brand Always, with its highly creative and engaging #LikeAGirl campaign. Based on the simple question of what it means to do something (such as run, throw or fight) ‘like a girl’, and demonstrating quite how loaded this phrase has really become, the campaign challenges both genders’ thinking, acting as an apt reminder of the effects adolescence has on both girls’ and boys’ perceptions of themselves and others.

And, as well as new behaviours, brands interested in using sport to market to women will also need to navigate two major and related disconnects between theory and reality in this space.

The first is the assumption that a higher profile for women’s sport will automatically drive greater women’s participation in sport. This is unproven. Famously, for example, after London 2012, sports participation in the UK actually decreased across all groups, including women.

Which leads on to the second disconnect. The fact is that many women, for a variety of reasons, are not sports fans. As such, another widely held assumption, that using women’s sport to promote exercise amongst women will be effective at scale, is also unproven.

This Girl Can

The new Sport England ‘This Girl Can’ campaign recognises this, attempting to drive attitudinal change to sport amongst women by confronting the fear of being judged, a key barrier for many women.

At Synergy, our understanding of these disconnects has led to successful campaigns for clients, proving that brands can make a difference if their activity is grounded in the appropriate insights.

Bupa’s ‘My First Run’ campaign demonstrated how crucial the right female ambassador is (in this instance, Jo Whiley) to drive coverage, engagement and ultimately behaviour change, which in this case led to an estimated 23,000 women being inspired to take part in their first ever organised run.

Bupa first run

Similarly, Coke Zero’s ParkLives programme, which offers free, fun, family activities in local parks, has seen great success, with communications specifically avoiding the ‘s-word’ to ensure female participants are not put off by a direct association with ‘sport’.

So, there’s no doubt there is a big opportunity for brands here. That said, they must beware of thinking about it solely in the context of sponsoring Women’s Sport – capital W, capital S. For us, the biggest opportunity lies in driving attitudinal and behaviour change in the context of women in sport and in women’s relationship with sport in its broadest sense: in building trust, providing inspiration, and creating the environment in which women can express themselves, and audiences and participants can connect without prejudice or agenda.

Tim’s blog comes from Synergy’s Now, New & Next sponsorship outlook for 2015, which can be viewed in full here.

By on March 10th, 2015

Tags: Female Sport, Sponsorship, Sport, Synergy, Women's Football, Women's Rugby, Women's Sport, Women's Tennis

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Corporate Japan Gets Behind Tokyo 2020 Olympic Sponsorship

Tokyo 2020

It’s been quite a week on the sponsorship front for Tokyo 2020, which announced three new Tier One sponsors – Canon, NEC and Fujitsu – in 48 hours. Here’s a quick take on the implications for Tokyo 2020 and Olympic sponsorship.

1. Tokyo 2020 already has five Tier 1 sponsors – NTT  and Asahi having signed up last month – putting it level with Rio 2016, which has however been marketing its domestic packages since 2009 whereas Tokyo has been in the market only since 2013. So it looks like Tokyo’s pace of sponsor acquisition is going to be more in line with London 2012 than with Rio 2016: as I’ve written previously, Rio 2016 has consistently lagged behind London 2012 in deal volume.

2. Early indications that Tokyo 2020 looks like living up to its bid promise of being a safe bet will no doubt prompt a collective sigh of relief at the IOC, given both Rio 2016′s well-publicised problems and the recent audit that revealed Pyeongchang 2018′s sponsorship and finances are in crisis. (Related point: Rio 2016 is yet to publish its accounts, in striking contrast to London 2012, which published annual financial statements. One to watch.)

3. Assuming that Tokyo 2020 is achieving its $128m Tier 1 sponsorship pricing, it has already surpassed the $568m Tier 1 revenue total projected in its candidature files, and is well on its way to surpassing its $958m total revenue projection. However, as I wrote back in September 2013 when Tokyo won the 2020 Games, these revenue projections were extremely cautious, and I continue to expect Tokyo to achieve sales of well over $1 billion, and perhaps as much as $2 billion if Japan’s economy remains stable. Remember however that these figures will include VIK, which Tokyo 2020 estimated would be 34% of sponsorship revenue, an unusually low VIK figure for a modern Games – London’s VIK figure was just under 55%.

4. Category boundaries are a key negotiating point in any sponsorship, but particularly in the Olympics, which always produces more than its fair share of obscure designations owing to the crowded dynamics of the Olympic sponsorship landscape. The latest batch of Tokyo 2020 sponsors continues proudly in this tradition – ‘Data Centre Hardware Provider’, ‘Specialist Public Equipment & Software Provider’ and so on – and a related curiosity is that none of the latest categories featured in Tokyo’s candidature file projections of what its Tier 1 categories would be, proving once again that bid books are more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Finally on categories, if I was a Panasonic shareholder I’d want to know why Panasonic’s new 2016-2024 TOP sponsorship agreement left the camera category open to Canon for Tokyo 2020, something that Canon is clearly already enjoying given its mischievous reference to ‘sharing the emotion’ in its Tokyo 2020 media releasePanasonic’s long-running Olympic tagline being ‘Sharing The Passion’.

5. Judging by Tokyo’s early success there will be many hotly-contested Tokyo 2020 sponsorship tenders, but arguably the most competitive will be for Tokyo’s automotive sponsorship, given the fiercely competitive Japanese auto marketplace, which grew 3.5% in 2014, and the numerous domestic and international brands operating in Japan. Only time will tell which brand emerges victorious, but candidates are sure to include Nissan, already heavily invested in the Olympics worldwide including in particular Rio 2016, and Japanese market leader Toyota, which made an untypically public and embarrassingly unfulfilled declaration that it intended to be Tokyo’s 2020′s first sponsor just before Tokyo’s final bid presentation. Watch this space…

By on February 19th, 2015

Tags: IOC, Olympic sponsorship, Olympic sponsorship consultants, Pyeonchang 2018, Rio 2016, Rio 2016 Sponsorship, Rio 2016 Sponsorship Consultants, Sponsorship, Sponsorship consultants, Tokyo 2020

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The 5 Key Olympic Sponsorship Implications of the IOC’s Agenda 2020


Earlier this week the IOC approved the 40 recommendations in new IOC President Thomas Bach’s Olympic Agenda 2020, the ‘strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement’. Although the overall implications have been extensively covered elsewhere – check out in particular this excellent piece by David Owen – no-one has yet looked in detail at the key implications for Olympic sponsorship. So, here’s my view.

1. Buyability: Bach puts clear water between the IOC and FIFA

The Agenda 2020 white paper was published a few days after FIFA once again descended into chaos. Although this was coincidental, it emphasised both how open the Agenda 2020 process was, and how clearly it was designed to make the IOC and the Olympics fit for the future – both in stark contrast to FIFA. The key word here is buyability. Agenda 2020 is not only re-assuring for existing Olympic sponsors: it also makes the IOC and the Olympics far more buyable than FIFA and the World Cup – the IOC’s primary competition for potential global sponsors. In Agenda 2020, President Bach has put an ocean of buyability between himself and FIFA.

2. Partnership: actions speak louder than words

In our experience, most rights holders genuinely want to create partnerships with sponsors, but all too often find it tough to make it happen. In this respect it was very good to see how integrated IOC TOPs were in Agenda 2020, with representatives on several of the working groups. How often have you seen a rights holder embark on a process as far reaching as Agenda 2020 with its sponsors embedded in the development and execution of the recommendations? The IOC has created a new gold standard.

3. The IOC’s youth strategy is still in a mess

The average age of an Olympics consumer – as defined by broadcast TV, the Olympics’ primary distribution channel and revenue source – is now over fifty and rising. This is now a crisis for the IOC, which must find a way to engage with younger audiences to ensure its future and to retain and attract sponsors, and is thus a key theme of Agenda 2020. And the plain fact is that Agenda 2020 revealed that the IOC youth strategy is a long-running mess. The Youth Olympic Games – the Rogge-era IOC’s ill-conceived attempt to solve the problem – has demonstrably failed in its current format, and the total re-boot approved in Agenda 2020 was long overdue. The new Olympic Channel – of which more below – is key to solving the problem. But above all it was good to see Agenda 2020 acknowledge the need that it needs strategic partners from outside the Olympic Movement, and to involve its sponsors far more, in its youth marketing strategy.

4. The Olympic Channel is all about content, not distribution

The newly-approved Olympic Channel should have been launched years ago, but wasn’t for fear of damaging the IOC’s cash cow, its broadcasters, particularly in the US. But now it is here, it is to be welcomed. It’s a vital enabler in enabling the IOC to to take the Olympics to digital-first younger audiences. But this is not about what screens it lands on, but what lands on the screens. When the Olympic channel was first mooted I advocated strongly that the IOC should look to co-create content with its sponsors, and it was good to see that this featured (albeit with the usual IOC caveats about branding) in Agenda 2020. Above all, I hope that the IOC takes an enlightened approach to its content strategy, way beyond the archive and Olympic sports coverage. How about, for example, a strand dedicated to eSports, the Millennial gaming phenomenon, with an Olympic theme?

5. Sponsors’ activation footprints should remain discretionary, not mandatory

The most potentially controversial sponsorship-specific Agenda 2020 recommendation was to introduce a programme designed to increase local activation by TOPs. This is a longstanding issue in Olympic circles. Understandably, every NOC wants TOPs to activate at scale in their country, and becomes frustrated if they don’t. Equally understandably, and quite rightly, TOPs want to control the geographic footprint of their activation programmes and align them to their business priorities. This must continue, and as such in my view TOPs should resist the IOC suggestion of contractual obligations. Meanwhile, the new marketing capability programme for NOCs – to be run, interestingly, by P&G – promises to ease, if not remove, the issue.

Further reading:

Olympic Agenda 2020 Recommendations

Olympic Agenda 2020 Context and Background


By on December 11th, 2014

Tags: Default, IOC, Olympic sponsorship, Olympic sponsorship consultants, Rio 2016, Rio 2016 Sponsorship, Rio 2016 Sponsorship Consultants, Socialympics, Sponsorship, Sponsorship consultants, Tokyo 2020, World Cup, World Cup Sponsorship, World Cup Sponsorship Consultants

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Maxwell, Manchester, Glasgow: My Commonwealth Games Memories

I couldn’t have been more excited for Glasgow 2014. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to spend a lot of time working for clients in Glasgow. It’s a special, special place, and I very quickly grew to love it and it’s people. I had no doubt that Glasgow would stage a great Games, and that the city and it’s people will be stars of the show.

This is the third edition of the Commonwealth Games in the UK that I’ve worked on: the first two created some vivid, and highly contrasting, memories.

In 1986 I was working at the Mirror Group, and became part of the team responsible for delivering the Mirror’s last-minute sponsorship of the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games. The Mirror sponsorship positioned Mirror owner Robert Maxwell and the Mirror Group as coming to the rescue of the Games, which was already in a financial crisis subsequently compounded by a boycott by over half of the Commonwealth countries in protest at the UK’s links with apartheid South Africa. It’s difficult to argue that the promotional and organisational momentum Maxwell brought to the Games saved it from humiliation. But the reality was that it was an aggressive takeover – arguably the biggest ambush marketing job in history – which was, like most things at the Mirror, a vehicle for Maxwell backed by empty financial promises.


This is the definitive article on Maxwell and Edinburgh ’86, by Brian Oliver, extracted from his forthcoming book on the Commonwealth Games. Some of the stories in there may sound incredible, but I can assure you that they’re true – I was there for most of them, and more besides (such as the time he invaded the track during the Opening Ceremony). Working for Maxwell on Edinburgh ’86 was often chaotic and surreal, but it taught me very valuable lessons about sponsorship – both how to do it and how not to do it – which I still use today.

Fast forward sixteen years  to Manchester 2002, a very different Games and Games experience, but with, for me at least, one similarity to Edinburgh ’86; another sponsorship of the Commonwealth Games by a media company, in this case the Guardian Media Group (GMG). But it could not have been more different to the Mirror’s.

By this time I was at Synergy (or Karen Earl Sponsorship as it was then known) and we advised and led the delivery of GMG’s Manchester 2002 sponsorship, which was an award-winning success. GMG’s print and digital media provided vital support and promotion for the Games; showcased GMG’s diverse media titles; demonstrated GMG’s commitment to and historic links with Manchester; and also provided a highly successful internal platform to build GMG employee pride and engagement, an area in which Synergy continues to specialise today.

And of course, unlike Edinburgh 1986, Manchester 2002 was hailed by all as a huge success, in particular in showcasing and accelerating Manchester’s transformation, delivering tangible legacies, and confounding the sceptics by showing the world that the UK could successfully stage a major multi-sport event – in many ways paving the way for London’s successful bid for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Fast forward to Glasgow 2014, which Synergy has been working on for SSE, the Games’ first Tier One sponsor, since last year. You can find out all about the SSE Glasgow 2014 sponsorship here and here,  and get involved with the SSE GoGlasgow campaign here by tweeting your support for one of the home nations teams by using either #GoEngland, #GoNI, #GoScotland or #GoWales.


Every hashtagged tweet registered on SSE’s GoGlasgow Twitter leaderboard and generates extra funding for the stars of the future via the SSE Next Generation programme.

Go Glasgow!

By on July 23rd, 2014

Tags: Commonwealth Games, Default, Sponsorship, Sponsorship Activation, Sponsorship consultants, Synergy, Twitter

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Passion points sell, 42% more often. Google it.

How often do we hear rights holders, brands and sponsorship agencies talk of ‘engaging consumers through their passion points’, or similar, to justify sponsorship investments? It has become the de facto rationale. But what substantiates that principle?

Synergy’s Tom Gladstone wrote that back in 2011 in this great post on how to use sponsorship to create meaningful emotional engagement, and then as now I couldn’t agree more. I can’t count the times I’ve heard or read sponsorship practitioners talk about passion points as a de facto rationale, but rarely heard it supported by the fact-based evidence of effectiveness that CMOs would require as standard.

That’s one of many reasons why at Synergy we focus so much on effectiveness driven by innovation, and why, if you’re in the sponsorship business, Google’s new research on why consumers strongly prefer passion point based marketing is worth your time.

Google snapshot

Here’s the stat that sums it all up (my highlights): 

Consumers choose the brands that engage them on their passions and interests 42% more often than they do those that simply urge them to buy the product being advertised.

But there’s a warning too (again, my highlights):

Consumers are hungry to live their passions. The brands that can satisfy that appetite will reap the rewards. To do that, they’ll need to keep their focus firmly on their brand’s core and how it relates to their consumers’ passions. 

Wise words. After all, how often do you see sponsorship campaigns that invoke passion, but not only lack passion but also, crucially, any meaningful link to the brand?

Discuss, dispassionately – as Unofficial Partner would and indeed has said, on the same subject.

By on July 2nd, 2014

Tags: Advertising, Brand marketing, Default, Innovation, Sponsorship, Sponsorship consultants, Synergy

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Five Real Time Marketing Lessons From #Suarez

So, the World Cup has just had what you might call its first Oreo moment, in the shape of Luis Suarez’s alleged bite mark on Giorgio Chiellini, the subsequent social media explosion (there were two million tweets mentioning Suarez in the hour after the game), and numerous brands’ social media attempts to exploit the opportunity. Given all the pre-tournament buzz about Brazil 2014 being the first real-time World Cup and the readiness of brands to leverage moments like Suarez’s bite real time, it’s interesting to take a look at what actually happened. Here are five things I noticed in the 24 hours since the incident.

1. Despite the significant number of brands who attempted to leverage #Suarez, very few achieved mass levels of engagement. Here are the two most successful I’ve come across so far.

(Translation: Hi Luis Suarez, if you are still hungry, come take a bite out of a Big Mac).

I doubt that either of them will win any awards for creativity, or humour, any time soon. There are more creative, and much funnier executions out there. This, by Bud Light, for example.

But look at the number of re-tweets compared to McDonald’s and Nando’s, and most importantly the time it took to publish the tweet after the event. Bud Light, like most, didn’t react quickly enough. McDonald’s and Nando’s did. And in real time, above all, speed wins.

See also Evander Holyfield. Fast (over an hour quicker than Bud Light), relevant and funny.


2. Talking of funny, there was some absolutely brilliant stuff out there created by outliers, but none of it went big because they didn’t have the distribution skills or the platforms.

For brands, crowd-sourcing from outliers is an untapped opportunity in real time.

3. By far the majority of the brands that did try to gatecrash the party were non-sponsors. Search for Suarez on Twitter, or check out the innumerable lists of Suarez executions that are flying around in the media, and you’ll see what I mean.

Bye bye Bavaria et al. Ambush marketing has gone social and real-time.

4. Of the sponsors, McDonald’s was the big winner, but most of the sponsors didn’t play, in all likelihood because they couldn’t come up with something good enough fast enough that was relevant to their brands. All those brand World Cup war-rooms would have been an interesting place to be last night. But I noticed several of the bigger brands buying Suarez as a term on Twitter.

If you can’t think your way in, buy your way in. Fair enough, but nowhere near as good as becoming part of the conversation organically.

5. There was a lot of hilarity in the sports marketing ecosystem when Listerine, a World Cup sponsor via Johnson & Johnson’s FIFA deal, unveiled its #PowerTo YourMouth campaign, in particular this quote from a senior Listerine exec in the launch PR:

“The World Cup is a good opportunity to get people to reconsider the importance of oral care beyond cleaning your teeth, and to consider what a mouth goes through.”

Really? But when the Suarez incident happened last night, the first thing I thought of was #PowerToYourMouth and the gilt-edged real-time opportunity it presented for Listerine, and I tweeted as much.

Now I can’t say that what Listerine came up with really did justice to the opportunity, especially compared to the likes of McDonalds:


But I loved the fact that they took the time and trouble to reply to my tweet with a customised line.

Now that’s great marketing.

By on June 25th, 2014

Tags: Ambush Marketing, Branded content, Brazil 2014, Brazil 2014 Sponsorship, Default, Football Sponsorship, Real Time Marketing, Social Media, Sponsorship Activation, Sponsorship consultants, World Cup, World Cup Sponsorship, World Cup Sponsorship Consultants

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Synergy’s 2014 Marketing World Cup Infographic

With the greatest football show on earth now having kicked off in Brazil, we’ve delved into the past, present and future of the FIFA World Cup off the field to bring you Synergy’s 2014 Marketing World Cup Infographic. Enjoy.

By on June 13th, 2014

Tags: Brazil, Brazil 2014, Brazil 2014 Sponsorship, Football Sponsorship, Sponsorship, Sponsorship consultants, Synergy, Synfographic, World Cup, World Cup Sponsorship

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Tim Crow’s World Cup adwatch for Campaign

With Brazil 2014 kicking off this week, Tim Crow reviews five major brands’ World Cup ads for Campaign magazine, including Adidas, Nike and Pepsi.

Click here for the article.   

By on June 9th, 2014

Tags: Advertising, Brazil 2014, Creative, Football Sponsorship, Press Clipping, Sponsorship, Sponsorship Activation, Sponsorship consultants, World Cup, World Cup Sponsorship, World Cup Sponsorship Consultants

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What’s the Best Sponsorship of the last 20 Years?

It’s awards season in sponsorship in the UK, and everyone at Synergy Towers is pleased as punch to have multiple nominations again in the UK Sponsorship Awards and the Sport Industry Awards, both as an agency and for our work for BMW on England Rugby, Bupa for the My First Run campaign featuring Jo Whiley, Capital One for the Capital One Cup and RBS for the RBS 6 Nations.

We’re also incredibly proud that the Coca-Cola title sponsorship of the Football League, which ran from 2005-2010 and which Synergy conceived, negotiated and managed for Coca-Cola, and the British Airways London 2012 sponsorship, which Synergy partnered BA in negotiating, have both been nominated for ‘Best Sponsorship of the Last 20 years’, a one-off category to celebrate the UK Sponsorship Awards 20th anniversary, and which in a great innovation will decided by a voting process which is open to all.

Coca-Cola Club Colours

Coca-Cola’s activation of the Football League featured a series of groundbreaking campaigns, led by Coke changing its colours, for the first time in its history, to match the colours of the 72 Football League clubs.

The full list of nominees for the Best Sponsorship of the Last 20 Years award is:

British Airways London 2012, Cadbury’s Coronation Street, Carling Premiership & Carling Cup, Coca-Cola Football League, Domino’s Pizza Simpsons on Sky, John Smith’s Grand National, Lloyds TSB London 2012, The O2, O2 England Rugby, Orange Wednesdays, Sky Cycling, T in The Park and Unilever Series at Tate Modern.

Congratulations to all the brands, agencies and people involved, there’s some truly brilliant work in here.

To vote for your choice, email with your choice (make sure you vote by the deadline of March 5) and to see how the voting is going follow @SponsNews on Twitter.

By on February 27th, 2014

Tags: Awards, Default, Football Sponsorship, London 2012, Olympic sponsorship, Olympic sponsorship consultants, Sponsorship, Sponsorship consultants, Synergy

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#Synergy30: Michael Payne on the future of Olympic sponsorship

Foreword by Tim Crow, CEO Synergy 

To mark Synergy’s 30th year in business, throughout 2014 we’re going to look at the future of sports and entertainment marketing with specially-created pieces of #Synergy30 content, some made by us, some made by friends of the company. 

Last month Patrick Nally looked at the future of sponsorship, calling for a radical re-think of the global sporting ecosystem that his pioneering sponsorship model did so much to create.

This month, to coincide with the end of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, we’re delighted to have our old friend Michael Payne, former Marketing Director of the International Olympic Committee, share his views on the future of Olympic sponsorship.


Michael Payne

Like Synergy, the The Olympic Partners (TOP) global sponsorship programme is 30 years old this year and continues to be held up by many as the gold standard, the ultimate proof being the renewal rates and the nature of the commitments TOP sponsors are making. Most have committed through to 2020 and in Sochi the IOC announced that Panasonic had committed to 2024. That was a surprise for many – the Japanese company has rarely been a first mover: to sponsor Tokyo 2020 was to be expected, but to extend out to 2024 with a rumoured doubling of rights fees, was not. Something about TOP is clearly working to make major corporations like Panasonic, Coca-Cola, Visa and so on commit on a multi- decade basis. 

Panasonic President Kazuhira Tsuga and IOC President Thomas Bach at the Signing Ceremony in Sochi for the new Panasonic Olympic sponsorship. Its extension to 2024 took observers by surprise. (Photo: Business Wire)

Panasonic President Kazuhira Tsuga and IOC President Thomas Bach at the Signing Ceremony in Sochi for the new Panasonic Olympic sponsorship. Its extension to 2024 took observers by surprise. (Photo: Business Wire)

That’s the positive side. Less positively, if you look at the rights and benefits that are offered, nothing has changed materially in the last 15 years. There is a challenge and a debate as to how you evolve the rights offering so that it is more in tune with the marketing programmes of major business-to-consumer and business-to-business brands today.

You could argue that there is no need, because the TOP sponsors are renewing without change, but there is a challenge in how you are going to grow the TOP revenue base, which frankly is getting very flat, by clearly expanding the window of opportunity and the platform – taking it beyond the traditional ‘Games and Teams’ environment and opening up areas the Olympics brand has tremendous potential in – in particular education and health.

With the changing of the guard and the new president of the IOC, who clearly is starting to shake things up, there has never been a better time to look at how TOP can evolve and step up to a new level. Bach’s Agenda 2020, which was laid forth at the IOC Session in Sochi and due for ratification by end of 2014, has the potential to totally transform the landscape – people are only just beginning to realize the full extent of the revolution in play.

Take education as an example. The big brands have explored the educational space over the years, but generally only on an ad hoc basis in host countries. But how you could take the Olympic brand and values as an overall theme and use them as a vehicle to teach everything from maths and history – that’s a really interesting, untapped opportunity. There are others of course, whether it’s doing a better job in showcasing technology stories, whether it’s properly realising the potential of the digital environment, where very little has been done from a structural standpoint. But the bottom line is that the TOPs, and potential TOPs, are up for this type of territory now and the IOC, if it wants to maintain the gold standard, needs to push these and other boundaries.

The same leap in thinking is needed as when the programme was founded in 1984, because every sponsors’ category has evolved so much. In 1984 the whole focus of the sponsorship industry was exposure. And the IOC knew the scale of the challenge: the one thing that the IOC couldn’t deliver for sponsors was exposure, because it was never going bring advertising into the venues. So the challenge was to create a programme that was meaningful to the companies without exposure. Today, the challenge is the total transformation of the various sponsors’ industries and the rise of digital and social media, and the IOC needs to raise the bar again.

Much can be done to extend the platform beyond the traditional two weeks. Not only through the amount of stories and content that the Games creates as incredible context, but also the opportunities for events and networking all year round, that USOC does very well for example. If I look back at London 2012, not in any way to take anything away from the success of the Games, but from the marketing standpoint there was zero new thinking in terms of rights and benefits. Everything new came from the sponsors, there was no innovation from LOCOG, and the IOC didn’t challenge its organising committee to raise the game.

And as well as a leap in the content of the package, there must be a leap in revenues too. From a financial perspective, if you compare TOP programme revenues now with host country revenues, there is a big disparity: local sponsors are paying much higher fees and that isn’t a one-off – the last three or four Games have all demonstrated this.

If the programme stays static on revenue and stale on content, by 2020 there will be a serious problem.

Michael Payne, February 2014.


About Michael Payne  

Michael has been at the forefront of the sports marketing industry for over thirty years. From 1983 to 2004 he led the global marketing effort for the Olympic Movement as the IOC’s first Marketing and Broadcast Rights Director, and now runs his own strategic advisory business serving a diverse group of clients including Formula 1 and Crystal Digital, where he serves as Chair of international operations.

His book ‘Olympic Turnaround’, which tells the definitive story of how the Olympic Games stepped back from the brink of bankruptcy to become a multi-billion dollar brand, has been translated into 14 languages and sold over one million copies.

By on February 25th, 2014

Tags: Beijing 2008, Default, IOC, London 2012 sponsorship, Olympic sponsorship, Pyeonchang 2018, Rio 2016, Rio 2016 Sponsorship, Sponsorship, Sponsorship consultants, Tokyo 2020, Winter Olympics

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