Climbing Reaching New Heights With Olympic Spot

Shauna Coxsey, Tara Hayes, Matt Cousins and Nathan Phillips. Four names you’re probably not familiar with, but it might not be long before you are. All four are climbers and not just the best in Britain but some of the best in the world. With yesterday’s announcement from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that climbing is to be one of five new sports added to the Olympic programme, they could be set to take Tokyo 2020 by storm.
The progression of climbing from a sport regarded for eccentrics and adventurers to one on the fringes of mainstream consciousness has been swift. Yet the reasons behind its incredible growth are as diverse as the sport itself and the IOC’s decision could be another leap forward.

Entering the Mainstream

Arguably it was two climbers, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, who pushed climbing into the spotlight like never before, with their historic free climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan last year. Their epic 19 day ascent of the 3,000 metre Dawn Wall, drew media attention from around the world and made stars (if only reluctantly) of Caldwell and Jorgeson. Whilst the media’s gaze was only fleeting, it gave a unique look at a sport that has slowly been taking off around the world, particularly in the UK.According to the British Mountaineering Council the number of climbing walls in the UK has risen by over 100 in the last five years alone, with 350 public access walls listed in the BMC wall directory. The increase in walls is driven largely by an uptake of young people joining the sport, with the number of people taking part in the BMC Youth Climbing Series rising by 50% over the same period.

Technology, Technology, Technology

So the sport is a clearly a growing force but why and how has it become so, and more interestingly, how far can it go? The simple answer is technology. As with so many extreme sports new technology has allowed climbing to grow through improved equipment, providing a safer and more complete experience of a sport that inherently carries risk – without removing the thrill. Sport climbing is itself a descendant of the introduction of technology. Permanent anchors are secured to the rock face from which climbers can place protection to ensure survival from even the most eye watering falls.

The shift may appear to be a natural progression from the days of Royal Robbins placing steel pitons into the Yosemite cliffs, but the effect has been more wide-ranging. The improvements in rope, harnesses and other climbing gear has allowed the very best climbers to push the limits of what’s possible. The dynamic and occasionally terrifying nature of these new challenges has opened up the sport of climbing to a new thrill seeking audience, one that is looking to not only participate but create and consume as much content about the sport itself as possible.

Climbing Content

In 2006 film makers Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer created the first Reel Rock film tour, taking a collection of short climbing films to live audiences all around the world. Now in its 11th year the tour has been a huge success and attracts sponsors such as The North Face, National Geographic and Petzl, highlighting the growing appetite for climbing content. It appears the sport has become as much about capturing the ascent, as the ascent itself. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

It’s a question that a number of companies and brands are already looking to answer. Epic TV has been quick to provide a channel for the new band of climbers wishing to share their latest exploits, earning them not just an audience but an opportunity to create their own brand with which to attract sponsorship and turn professional. Climbers such as Alex Honnold and Sean McColl regularly share not just their climbing achievements, but their training regimes and other aspects of their lifestyle that hold as much interest to fans as the climbing.

So the sport is growing, with new stars, increasing brand presence and a highly engaged audience mostly made up of Generation Z and Millennials - surely then a place in the Olympics would be a positive next step for a sport on the rise? Yet there remain concerns, including those from professional climbers such as Adam Ondra, who feels the expected format of the competition may need to be amended to reward the more aesthetic aspects of the sport. It’s a concern that isn’t exclusive to climbing, with the much publicised trouble surrounding golf at this summer’s games proving that format is a difficult area to get right for even the biggest of mainstream sports.

Where Next?

Regardless of the concerns around format, it’s clear that climbing is entering another stage of its development and a place in the Olympics will act as validation to the thousands who compete in and watch the sport worldwide. It won’t be long before brands outside the outdoor and adventure space take notice and names such as Coxsey, Hayes, Cousins and Phillips move from the unknown to the everyday.

The PeRiodic Table – the Science of Sponsorship at Rio 2016

Getting an Olympic Games right is rare alchemy. The Road to Rio has been long and hard for athletes, organisers and sponsors alike. In the seven years since it won the bid to host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the country has experienced more than its fair share of drama: rioting around #changebrazil, a FIFA World Cup meltdown against Germany, the spectre of political corruption and the tragic emergence of Zika.Is the country really ready for the Games? Can the infrastructure hold up? Will the doping scandal forever tarnish Rio’s moment in the sun?

These will all have been questions and concerns for the sponsors of Rio 2016 – the 59 different brands that make up the four partnership tiers of the Games represent a unique ecosystem that has helped ROCOG meet its $570m target for sponsorship revenue and played a key role in making Rio a reality.

While sponsorship is never an exact science, Synergy’s PeRiodic Table is an interactive graphic that allows you to explore a little more about each of the brands that are part of the Games. From sponsorship category to Twitter following, our interactive infographic – designed to be sorted and filtered as you see fit – provides the chance to discover some of the stories hidden beneath the surface of Rio 2016’s sponsorship landscape. Click here for the full table.

Heritage Matters: whilst the entire list of brands is typically sorted in alphabetical order, it’s notable that Coca-Cola sits before either Atos or Bridgestone in the TOP sponsor hierarchy. This is a quirk of Coke’s gift of rights: they will always be the first-mentioned brand in the IOC’s sponsorship recognition programme, acknowledging a relationship stretching back to 1928.

If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It: at time of publishing this, only 11 of the 46 brands with an active Twitter handle featured Rio 2016 marques on their profile. A potential missed opportunity for lager brand Skol, whose Twitter presence has perhaps the most overt Olympic theme, but lacks any actual recognition of its officialdom.

Missing The Tweet Spot: although it’s true that not every brand has to have a Twitter footprint, it’s interesting to note the official sponsors without a social presence, or those that have failed to build one ahead of the Games. For international brands with only a local relationship (anyone outside the TOP sponsor tier) like Nike, Nissan or Airbnb, the use of Brazil-focused feeds is also worth noting. While likely to be down to the IOC’s commercial restrictions around the use of social media, it will be interesting to see how many of the global Twitter handles end up giving a RT to their local market counterparts.

Toyota Revs Up For Tokyo: although the brand signed up as one of the IOC’s new TOP sponsors back in 2015, Nissan were already a Tier 1 sponsor of Rio 2016. This means Toyota can only talk about Rio in Japan (something Nissan cannot officially do), before turning their global attention to Tokyo 2020 following the conclusion of the current Games.

Necessity Is The Mother Of Investment: the outbreak of Zika not only created valid concern amongst athletes and spectators, but also led to the signing of OFF! – the Games first ever insect repellent partner. It probably depends on your level of cynicism whether you think this was to ensure a consistent quality control in terms of the level of safety provided to participants and attendees, or simply to head off commercial concerns around ambush of the category by unofficial brands.

Have a play with the various filters and sorting methods at the top of the screen, and see what stories you can unearth within the PeRiodic Table.

10 Themes To Watch At Rio 2016

The tears of joy that marked Rio’s winning Games bid are a distant memory, replaced by troubled preparations, crisis in Brazil and the spectre of doping. But it’s going to be a great party – right?

1. Back in 2009, Rio’s winning bid was sold as a showcase for Brazil’s booming economy and the Carioca vibe. Seven years on, Brazil’s economy has tanked, the Petrobras scandal has engulfed the Government and big business, and civil discontent is raging. And if all that wasn’t enough, along came Zika. No modern Games has been staged against such a crisis-riven domestic backdrop. The showcase has become a spotlight on a country in crisis.2. Athletics is uniquely important to the Olympics’ image and credibility. And the spectre that haunts the Olympics is doping – in particular of athletics. So, following the IAAF’s disgrace and the exposure of Russia’s state-sponsored doping, the IAAF decision later this month on whether to allow Russia to compete in Rio is of huge significance. Whichever way it goes, it will be key to the Games story – and the Games’ credibility.3. On the track, one man above all will once again carry athletics, and the Games itself, on his shoulders: Usain Bolt. Rio’s story will also be the story of Bolt’s last Games. Few, if any, have been as important to the Games, to their sport, and to sport itself, as Bolt. Rio will quite rightly be a celebration of that. But the Olympics post-Bolt? Big shoes to fill.4. A great Games off as well as on the track is critical for the IOC. Worldwide, cities and their citizens are increasingly sceptical about the benefits of hosting the Games, leading to fewer and fewer bidders. Rio’s legacy – chiefly, its effect on the city’s image and infrastructure – will therefore be a major talking point. But the biggest scrutiny will be on Games-time operations. Organisational failures continue to dog the preparations: failure at Games Time however is simply not an option.

5. Famously, the 'Olympic Ethos' is that the most important thing is not winning but taking part. Whereas, if you know Brazil, you’ll know that for Brazilians, sport is all about winning! The interplay between these two contrasting philosophies will be fascinating, especially given the huge importance to Brazilians of winning the Olympic football tournament — the only major football title they’ve never won — and the probability of Brazil winning far more Paralympic than Olympic medals.

6. Creatively, this Games could be special. The creative collisions between Brazil and Rio and the Olympics and Paralympics should be really inspirational for all the brands involved in the Games. I’m hoping they rise to the occasion, particularly the global Olympic Partners, and raise the bar for Olympic and Paralympic Marketing.

7. With the average age of an Olympics fan now over fifty and rising, 2016 is Year Zero for the IOC’s new digital channel – an attempt, above all, to sell the Olympics to the young. How well the Olympic Channel performs in reaching new audiences will, in terms of the future of the Games, be the story of this Olympic year.

8. Rio will be a testing ground for one of the biggest changes to the Olympic sponsorship ecosystem in years – non-sponsors of the Games being officially allowed to use athletes in marketing campaigns around Rio, following the IOC’s decision to bow to athlete pressure and relax Rule 40. Which brands are given waivers, and to what extent their activity impacts Games sponsors will be one of the biggest Rio sponsorship stories to follow.

9. London 2012 was the first truly Socialympics, but Rio will take this to new heights given how social Brazilians are – Brazil leads the world in time spent on social media. And for the Brazilian consumer, one platform will be an incredibly influential force during the Games – WhatsApp, which is used by 100 million Brazilians. Rio will be the first WhatsApp Games.

10. Every Games evolves the Olympic and Paralympic brands. Some leave particularly fond memories — LA, Barcelona, Sydney, London. Some, for varying reasons, the reverse — Munich, Moscow, Atlanta, Athens. All the signs are that Rio will have a more profound effect than most, with the outcome uncertain. Rarely has so much been at stake for the Games, for its host city, and for the IOC. Rarely, if ever, has sport been in such crisis. So let’s hope that when we look back on Rio, we remember it for all the right reasons.

And for being a great party too.

This article originally appeared in the 2016 edition of ‘Now, New & Next’, Synergy’s annual look ahead at key issues in sports and entertainment marketing.

Rule 40 Guessing Game For Brazil’s Rio 2016 Athletes

Here in Brazil, as we reach 100 Days To Go to Rio 2016, the Games buzz is growing, albeit overshadowed by the ongoing political and economic crisis and the latest and most Games-related tragedy in Rio.

Giovane Gavio, two-time Olympic champion and first Brazilian to carry the Rio 2016 torch (Embed from Getty Images)

But day in and day out, Brazilian TV channels are broadcasting test events, qualification events and press conferences. The Olympic Torch Relay starts next week. And of course, Brazilian athletes all over the country are getting ready for the Games.

But on one important front, our athletes face massive uncertainty. While the USOC and their counterparts around the world have released their new Rule 40 positioning, the Brazilian Olympic Committee has yet to confirm its policy. Even by Brazilian standards, this is very late.

With the Games being staged in their home country, many of our athletes have been able to land lucrative personal sponsorships, with some having signed ten or more brands as partners. However, right now, the athletes and their brand partners don’t know what they will be able to do – or not do – to activate their sponsorships before and during the Games.

So with 100 days to go to Rio 2016 and counting, you can add to all the uncertainties about the Games those of the Brazilian athletes, their agents, and sponsors about Rule 40. Watch this space.


Guilherme is the founder of Ativa Esporte, the Brazilian sports marketing consultancy, which is Synergy’s partner in Brazil.

The Next Big Evolution In Rugby World Cup Sponsorship

Japanese brands have history with the Rugby World Cup. Attracted by a big Japanese TV deal, in 1987 they accounted for almost all of the handful of sponsors of the first tournament. I suspect we will see something similar when we get to RWC 2019. Except there will be more Japanese sponsors - a lot more.Well before Japan's electrifying performances in the current RWC, Japan 2019 was always going to be a safe sponsorship bet for World Rugby.First, there's the size and strength of the Japanese economy - the world's third largest, much bigger than any of the Tier 1 rugby countries. Next, as I wrote at the time, back in 2013 when Tokyo won the right to stage the 2020 Olympics it had the unintended consequence of making Rugby World Cup sponsorship more strategically attractive, especially to Olympic sponsors and to their rivals. Then there's the way that Corporate Japan has got behind Tokyo 2020. Tokyo was clearly a big factor in Panasonic and Toyota agreeing huge new global sponsorships with the IOC. And Tokyo is on course to achieve the most successful domestic sponsorship sales programme in Olympic history.And all this was before Japan's three breakthrough RWC 2015 wins, which have created unquestionably the marketing factoid of this Rugby World Cup. The total cumulative TV audience in Japan for the whole of RWC 2011 was just under 25 million. Whereas the live TV audience in Japan just for the Japan v Samoa RWC 2015 match was 25 million.Zilch to 25 million. Zilch to 20 per cent of the Japanese population. Zilch to a world record national viewing audience for rugby.I think that's what they call growth.

No surprise then that Brett Gosper, World Rugby's CEO, said last week that for RWC 2019 World Rugby "will make some adjustments to allow more local brands to take part [as sponsors]...ones that sit well with our global partners". Whether this means an increase in some or all of the four current tiers of RWC sponsorship remains to be seen. But I suspect the question is not how many Japanese brands will be sponsors of Japan 2019, but whether there'll be any space left for anyone else.

Synergy Loves…The Changing Face of Women’s Sport

Here are a few arresting stats for you from Sport England:

- In the UK, 1.75m fewer women than men regularly play sport

- Commercial investment in women’s sport is 0.4% of the total investment in sport

- By age 14, just under 10% of girls achieve the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day

Disappointing, huh? Have a couple more:

- Since 2010, 12 nominees (out of 42) for BBC Sports Personality of the Year have been female. All winners have been male

- This season's men's FA Cup winners will secure £1.8m in prize money, while the team who lift the women's Cup will net £5,000

So let’s not beat around the bush (ahem), it seems fair to say that women’s sport, both at an elite level and within general participation, still has a way to go to reach the same level of popularity and success as male sport. Within these two categories, there appear to be clear barriers:

  1. Barrier for general participation: Involvement - women don’t feel confident enough to get involved in sport, and are not aware of the opportunities available to them
  2. Barriers for professionals: Representation. Whether it be the level of TV coverage or the funding available, professional sportswomen seem to get the raw end of the deal in comparison to their male counterparts



These barriers are clearly significant but there is no disputing that the landscape is shifting, and at an increasingly rapid rate. Indeed, 2015 has proved to be a watershed year in the changing the face of women’s sport, and it’s about time!

So what’s changed? There have been numerous rule amendments, brand campaigns and incentives programmes, backed by professional bodies, which are excitingly changing perceptions in women’s sport. Below I have outlined a few of our favourite examples:

“This Girl Can”

A nationwide campaign across TV, outdoor media and print, launched by Sport England, featured REAL women sweating and jiggling to get women and girls moving, regardless of shape, size and ability.

The campaign is striking, using strong photography and film to articulate an important message and say to women that it doesn’t matter if you are big or small, tall or short, fit or unfit, everyone can and should get involved!


The campaign film has already had 13 million views online, with Sport England about to launch a second phase in the campaign off the back of its popularity.

As well as the impressive view numbers, another positive outcome that Sport England reported was the female community coming together online to support the campaign. Whilst the ads didn’t experience much internet trolling (depressing that this was potentially surprising), when they did, Sport England didn’t need to respond, because real women did it for them.

England Cricket Board

Following the success of the 'This Girl Can' campaign, the ECB is aligning with Sport England through a series of exciting opportunities and initiatives to help inspire and motivate more women and girls across the country to play cricket.

The ECB is encouraging cricket clubs up and down the country to be part of a nationwide push to inspire more women and girls to get into the game. By signing up, clubs will be able to access bespoke guidance documents and resources recommending new ways to attract women to the sport.

“Inspiring The Future” 

'Inspiring Women' is asking women who work in the sports sector to pledge one hour a year to go to a local school and chat to girls about what it is like to work in the industry.  They are looking for women working in all types of sport doing all kinds of jobs – including athletes, coaches, HR officers, physios, journalists and accountants.

Once again, many high-profile sporting organisations have already given their backing, including 'Women in Sport', the British Olympic Association, the FA and BT Sport, whose presenter Clare Balding is taking a leading role in the campaign:

FIFA 2016

In an exciting turn of events, EA Sports created positive headlines for FIFA (not many of them around currently) by announcing that it will be introducing female footballers into its video game series, beginning with the forthcoming FIFA 16 edition.

The game features 12 international all-female teams, 11 of whom will appear at next month’s World Cup finals.


The FA

At the start of 'Women's Sports Week' and with the FIFA Women's World Cup just days away, The FA has launched a month of free football sessions for girls and women.

From after school skills sessions for 5-11 year olds to coaching sessions for 12-17 year olds - not forgetting social football for adults - there is a way to get into football for women and girls of all ages.

The Boat Race

In 2015, for the first time in 88 years, the Women’s Boat Race was shown and staged for the first time on the course that has for so long been the sole preserve of the men.

Glamour Magazine - "Say No To Sexism In Sport"

Glamour are also getting behind the women in sport revolution with their “Say No To Sexism In Sport” campaign.

The aims of the campaign are as follows:

  1. Raise the profile of women's sport
  2. Lobby for more coverage in mainstream media
  3. Increase the number of women involved in sport at every level - from those who watch it, to those playing it, all the way to those in the boardroom

If you want to get involved, you should pledge to regularly watch women’s sport games in 2015, be it on TV, at a stadium or on the sidelines.


Always - #LikeAGirl

Our final example comes from the US. The #LikeAGirl campaign from Always aims to change the perception of what “like a girl” means. The powerful ad was shown for the first time during the Super Bowl ad break, and was viewed online an impressive 56 million times.

In fact it was so successful, that they have made a sequel showing how the meaning of the phrase is already changing.
Why can’t “running like a girl” also mean winning the race?

The answer is, it absolutely can! I challenge anyone in 2015 to argue against this statement - before immediately running fast in the opposite direction.

Whilst this year is key, the change needs to continue uninterrupted. The women’s World Cup in Canada and 2016 Olympic Games in Rio provide two key opportunities for further brand campaigns and involvement. Rio itself already has over 25 brand partners, and only time will tell which are brave enough to join the party and prove that running like a girl can most definitely mean winning the race.

Corporate Japan Gets Behind Tokyo 2020 Olympic Sponsorship

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…

Should Sponsors Resist Contractual Activation Guarantees?

In modern sponsorship, success is most frequently characterised as being about win-win partnerships, where both sponsor and rights holder benefit from the shared value created - in other words, the synergies - by activation at scale. When this happens in the UK, it's usually the result of the sponsor delivering on a generally non-contractual commitment to activate.

However, at Synergy, we work on sponsorship contracts with rights holders around the world, and it's not uncommon to see contractual activation guarantees, particularly in the US. These can take several forms, including guaranteed activation spends, 'activation pots' (where the brand can choose from a menu of items provided by the rights holder) and/or  activation commitments, such as leveraging on-pack to a minimum scale or dictating mandatory markets to activate within.

There is further complexity when rights holders dictate the channels that sponsors must use as part of their media buy. This typically takes the form of minimum media spend with the official broadcast partner, as part of a wider deal between the broadcaster and the rights holder. And in the latest potential evolution, the NBA is exploring mandating jersey sponsors, as part of any deals brokered in the future, to spending guarantees with its broadcast partners Turner and ESPN. Although terms of this are still very much under consideration, it is in response to fears from the broadcasters that brands with jersey sponsorships won't need to buy as much of their media.  Of course it is not directly comparable, but imagine if Chevrolet, Emirates, Standard Chartered or Samsung were contractually obliged to buy a minimum number of commercial spots on Sky as part of their Premier League shirt sponsorship deals.

We are now beginning to see more and more of these type of clauses creep into contracts in the UK. So, what are the benefits and disadvantages to rights holder and sponsor?

It is easy to see the benefit to rights holders of being contractually guaranteed an active sponsor, who will take on the financial burden of promoting the asset, thereby increasing its visibility and value.

Contractual terms also protect rights holders at the end of longer deals, when it is not unusual for sponsors' interest in activation to wane.

It is less easy to see the wins from the sponsors' perspective. By being forced down certain paths, sponsors have less choice and flexibility on how they activate their sponsorship.

A minimum spend in itself could also be construed as counterproductive, as spend levels are not necessarily a proxy for reach or efficiency of messaging. Digital and Social in particular, can be highly targeted, with less wastage than channels such as Out of Home or TV, and are generally considered to be more cost efficient. If activated smartly, sponsorships can be leveraged on a tight budget.

Dictating a minimum spend in broadcast can also limit a brand's ability to activate creatively across other channels, with budget tied up in costly media buys. It can also be strongly argued that brands know their own audiences and how to interact with them better than anyone, so are best placed to select their media strategy.

As Tim Crow suggested recently in his blog on the IOC’s Agenda 2020, imposing geographical obligations is equally unpalatable for sponsors. The IOC is contemplating this to stimulate local activation by TOPs, and whilst National Organising Committees naturally want to see these global brands activate at scale in their territories, sponsors have their business priorities across the globe, which demand the focus of their marketing budgets.

In truth, it is a very fine line between ensuring that partners are, and remain, active and simply trusting them to activate effectively. Rights holders will argue that they are simply safeguarding themselves against being used as a media buy, with little incremental benefit to themselves. The balance needs to be found where clauses are included with contracts to ensure that this doesn’t unduly restrict sponsors' freedom of choice.

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