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

The Sochi 2014 Marketing Olympics, Part 4: The #Sochialympics

Back in February 2012 when Synergy coined the term #Socialympics (which subsequently went viral and was even adopted by the IOC), it was clear that the mass-adoption of social media was going to have a profound effect on London 2012. So it proved, as we discussed at our two #Socialympics panel events either side of the 2012 Games. Two years on, the effect has been no less profound on Sochi 2014, so here's my take on some of the key moments and learnings of the #Sochialympics.

Social Ambush

As I wrote on Monday in the first of this series of posts, social media has replaced the international leg of the Torch Relay as the lightning rod for Olympic protest. For Olympic sponsors in particular, the hijacking of the McDonalds #cheerstosochi campaign should now be a key case study. (On which point, why is McDonald's still displaying the fact that the campaign has only attracted a few thousand cheers?)

The #Sochialympics also showed how effective social is for ambushers.

My ambush gold medal goes to Zippo: Sochi's first social ambush was also its best, a brilliant piece of reactive marketing and savvy "Who me?" PR.



Silver goes to USOC sponsor JCPenney's #tweetingwithmittens, for ambushing the Super Bowl with the Olympics.


And bronze goes to Crowdtilt for showcasing their platform to send the Jamaican bobsledders to Sochi and leverage probably the biggest feelgood story of the Sochi Games.



#SochiSelfies and #SochiProblems    

The #SelfieOlympics was the first big web meme of the year, as I wrote in January along with a few suggestions as to what the IOC and the Olympic Movement could learn from it.

As tens of thousands of these shots were taken in bathrooms, it was pleasingly symmetrical as well as hugely entertaining that the first big #Sochialympics meme was #sochiproblems, driven by journalists' pictures of their Sochi hotel experiences. This was then seized on by a 20 year old Canadian journalism major, whose savvy curation won his @SochiProblems Twitter handle over 330,000 followers - 60,000 more than @Sochi2014. A parable of our times.

But in the photos-in-bathroom stakes, no question that the big winner was US bobsledder Johnny Quinn, with this picture, which went viral, generated a blitz of media stories and has made him a household name in the US. 


And to bring us full circle in this particular loop, selfies have been a big thing at Sochi, with athletes - perhaps influenced by the #SelfieOlympics? - spontaneously adopting the #SochieSelfies hashtag, and many NOCs creating their own versions to drive engagement.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

With Facebook focused on its NBC tie-up, Twitter has pushed out a lot of Olympic-related content during the Games to drive attention and conversation, including collages of the most-shared photos, heatmaps of which countries are mentioning the Olympics most (I included one in my post on Monday), and infographics about medal-winning athletes' follower growth, such as this one for GB's Lizzie Yarnold:


In contrast to one-dimensional TV viewing figures, it's revealed fascinating insights into local and global consumer behaviour and engagement with the Games.

The IOC has predictably reported big growth in social numbers. With an Olympic TV channel very much on the agenda - for the periods between Games - nurturing this community becomes ever more important for IOC.

Sochi 2014 CEO Dmitry Cheryshenko (@DChernyshenko) has shown top Olympic officials - and sporting officialdom generally - how to use social for the job while staying real. Same goes for Ricardo Fort of Visa (@SportByFort) when it comes to sponsors.

Under Ricardo, Visa has put much more into social in Sochi than it did in London and has got a big uplift in interactivity.

Sochi has also seen a growing contrast between 'tweets for hire' athletes intent on growing their followers and happy for their streams to be scripted by sponsors, versus 'the naturals', such as Iouri Podladtchikov - aka 'I-Pod' - the halfpiper who dethroned Shaun White and said:

"I really don't care if it's 10,000 followers or 100,000. I just want it to be me ... even if it's not selling."      

At the other end of the scale is Maria Sharapova who, not content with her NBC and Torch-bearing duties and contractual appearances for long-term sponsors Nike and Samsung in Sochi, also cut a one-off deal for a series of posts for McDonald's from the Games.

But this hasn't been the #Sochialympics.

It's been the #Tinderlympics.

Or maybe the #Grindrlympics.

The Sochi 2014 Marketing Olympics, Part 3: X Games

Although it's often uncomfortable territory for sporting officialdom, the ability to nurture and evolve multiple brands has to be in their toolkit. English football has the Premier League / England team / FA Cup conundrum: cricket has the Test, One Day and Twenty20 formats; rugby fifteen-a-side and sevens; tennis singles, doubles and team. And so on.

When the Olympic brand is discussed, it's often overlooked that it's delivered to the world every other year via two very distinct events, two very different brands - Winter and Summer.

Yes, they operate under the same 'highest common denominator' Olympic brand values and a similar event template, but as events and brands they are very different: different sports, different feel, different appeal.

With nation branding - or re-branding - being fundamental to modern Olympic hosting, for the Putin administration Sochi has always been designed to showcase a new Russia to the world.

But from the IOC's point of view, what it has been about in particular is to drive up the Games' appeal to the youth market, by adding new, 'cooler' events with The X Games in their DNA - a process which, as The Economist recently pointed out, has been gathering in momentum since the addition of snowboarding in 1998.

It's too early to judge to what extent the IOC has been successful, and too simplistic to say that youth marketing is all about adding cool new sports to the Winter and Summer Games (or for that matter to the struggling Youth Olympics). But as Ashling O'Connor wrote in a very good piece in The Independent last week, this could be a seminal moment for the IOC:It has not escaped the attention of the IOC marketing department that there is a huge crossover between those who play video games and those who watch the X Games. Certainly, both wear their trousers a lot lower than they do in Lausanne. Slopestyle skiing/snowboarding and the half-pipe events, of which the ski version was also included for the first time in Sochi, are the bridge. A new generation must fall in love with the Olympics if the movement is to survive. Adapt or die. The IOC knows this full well.

IOC Sports Director Christopher Dubi had this to say on the same theme in an interview with Tripp Mickle in SportsBusiness Daily yesterday which mooted adding skateboarding and BMX halfpipe and park to Tokyo 2020:

“We should not move away from those sports that appear to be more traditional...You need probably a blend of urban-extreme sport and at the same time making sure that we have the ground covered with all the (traditional) others” Dubi said, adding slopestyle and freeskiing had been a huge benefit to the program in Sochi. Dubi said internet consumption globally was up 300 percent for the Sochi Games and viewership for slopestyle had been “tremendous...What I find interesting is it’s strong on TV, which is a good thing because it’s (where) our traditional viewers (are), but it’s also good on the internet, which is the younger generation, and these age groups have a big pickup."
All eyes then on the IOC session in Monaco in December which will debate which sports should be added to Tokyo, and on the next chapter in new IOC President Bach's reformist Agenda 2020, which features the Olympic programme and new approaches to Olympic audiences as key pillars.
The is the third of a 5-part series this week looking at Sochi 2014's key marketing trends. Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

The Sochi 2014 Marketing Olympics, Part 1: The (One) Issue Games

...Beijing, Vancouver, London, Sochi. Every Olympics Games evolves the Olympic brand, and evolves Olympic Marketing. With Sochi 2014 now into its second week, every day this week I'll be taking a look at the key marketing issues, campaigns and stories of the latest edition of the Marketing Olympics, kicking off today with the LBGT controversy and the latest developments in IOC sponsorship.

The (One) Issue Games 

The run-up to every Olympics is always full of negative headlines and controversy, and Sochi was no exception, but with one issue absolutely dominant: the global protests against Russia's anti-gay legislation, led by POTUS's decision back in December to stay away from Sochi and to nominate Billie-Jean King in the US delegation, rising to a crescendo of campaigns and stories in the final weeks pre-Games.

Inevitably, these saw Games sponsors targeted both by campaigners and the media, in particular McDonalds, whose global #CheersToSochi campaign was hijacked so powerfully on social media that McDonalds has effectively withdrawn it, now barely referencing it in its comms, with the campaign website registering only a few thousand cheers - not exactly what McDonalds would have had in mind.

Cheers To Sochi website

Re-wind to Beijing 2008, the last 'issue' Games, when global protests about China's human rights record targeted the international sections of Olympic Torch Relay, prompting the IOC to limit the Torch Relay to host countries only.But who needs Torch Relay demos when you now have globally-distributed social media?And why has the IOC done so little to publicly engage with the issue? President Bach's Opening Ceremony speech was to be applauded, but was too little, too late.

Problem not solved.

And protests not going away.

The ethics of how Mega Events are awarded, where they are staged, and what they are for, is not going away for the IOC or FIFA. Next after the Sochi Olympics comes the 2014 FIFA World Cup, already highly controversial in Brazil and sure to see more of the protests which marked last year's Confederations Cup and saw FIFA sponsors' and other brands' campaigns hijacked. Following which we have Rio 2016 and Russia 2018, with Qatar 2022 - already the most controversial World Cup of all time - ever-present in the background.

What Sochi 2014 has again proved, if further proof were needed, is that the IOC must radically overhaul its approach to protest and how it handles controversy, if it is to safeguard and evolve the Olympic brand and create a positive environment for its sponsors and NOC sponsors worldwide. Not to mention justify an increased price tag for TOP deals, of which more below.

Meanwhile, not much doubt that the LBGT protests have produced the ad of the Games, Luge. When I first spotted and tweeted it a couple of weeks back it had only 4,000 views on YouTube: now, that's grown to over 5 million and quite right too. Sensational.

2024 At The Double

The IOC has announced two extensions to TOP deals during Sochi: Atos, to 2020, and Panasonic, in a move which took everybody by surprise, to 2024.

Patrick Nally hit the nail on the head.


Panasonic was widely expected to extend, particularly after Tokyo won the right to host the 2020 Games, but only to 2020, in line with the other global Olympic sponsors, and to allow for a much-mooted IOC review of the TOP programme post-Sochi.Where the Panasonic extension leaves all that is now the big issue in Olympic sponsorship, particularly as it is also now being reported by SportsBusiness Journal (SBJ) that the contract is worth $350m-$400m, thereby doubling TOP prices in the most recent deal cycle.

SBJ has underlined its position as the must-read for anyone in the business with some great reporting from Sochi by Tripp Mickle on IOC sponsorship issues. Both these are worth a read: outgoing chair of the IOC Marketing Commission Gerhard Heiberg interviewed - interestingly, he calls out Samsung as the deal which has added the most value to a TOP sponsor; and the IOC has stopped the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee from projecting sponsors' logos on the outside of some of the Sochi arenas in view of TV broadcasters' cameras.

Tripp also had some nice takes on Twitter on new IOC President Thomas Bach's appearances at sponsors' showcases in Sochi:

Tripp Bach Sochi tweets

The days of Jacques Rogge are well and truly over.

Five Things The IOC Can Learn From The #SelfieOlympics

In early 2012, to denote the collision between mass-adoption social media and the Olympics, Synergy coined the term 'Socialympics', which subsequently went viral (even being adopted by the IOC), and staged two panel sessions in front of invited audiences either side of London 2012 to discuss the Socialympics phenomenon. (If you missed them, you can find a round-up of Socialympics 1 here and Socialympics 2 here).Fast forward to today, and in the days leading up to Sochi 2014, the first big internet meme of 2014 is the #SelfieOlympics, which has seen teens and young adults compete to top one another with selfies which vary from the extreme to the bizarre and everything in between. You haven't seen one? ('WHAT ARE YOU 30?!' as MTV wrote recently). Here's an early example: 


I can't say that we predicted the #SelfieOlympics back in our 2012 Socialympics sessions (now that would have been something), but I can say that we focused on an issue highlighted by the #SelfieOlympics: the enormous potential of social media to help the IOC address one of its biggest challenges - making the Olympics relevant and accessible to teens and young adults, and reverse the ageing Olympic demographic worldwide.

So, here's five things I'd suggest that the IOC and the Olympic Movement could learn from the #SelfieOlympics about marketing to the young.

1. The young get 'Faster, Higher, Stronger'. For any brand manager that would be good news: for the IOC, in a world full of brands with much bigger budgets competing for the young's attention and understanding, it's amazing news.

2. If you want the young to get into your brand, above all let them have some fun with it. This is not natural territory for the IOC, which has a tendency to be over-worthy, but it's territory they need to embrace.       

3. Your best marketers are your consumers. If the next generation is capable of spontaneously creating and spreading an idea as entertaining and viral as the #SelfieOlympics, who knows what else they can come up with? Invite them to play around some more with your brand.

4. If you want to market the Olympics to the young, think beyond sport. The #SelfieOlympics has done as much for the Olympic brand with the young as the Youth Olympic Games, which hasn't ever come close to going viral.

5. If the Olympic brand can go viral in this way once, it can do it again. The IOC and its stakeholders can make this happen: start with athletes posting #SelfieOlympics pics at Sochi, say.

What Tokyo 2020 Will Mean For Olympic & Paralympic Sponsorship

Following up on my analysis last week of the Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo sponsorship proposals in their 2020 bids, here's my take on what Tokyo’s emphatic victory in Buenos Aires on Saturday will mean for Olympic and Paralympic sponsorship.

1. Olympic Marketing will move into a distinctly Asian cycle after Rio 2016, with Rio being followed by Pyeongchang 2018 and now Tokyo 2020, offering Games partners the opportunity, as the Pyeongchang Games' leader pointed out in an interview with Reuters on Monday, to 'awaken Asia's great potential'.

2. An unintended consequence of Tokyo's win is that the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan now becomes much more strategically important. Brands locked out of Tokyo 2020 by category-exclusive global and domestic Olympic deals will view the RWC as a counter-attacking opportunity, and in turn I suspect many Tokyo Games sponsors will be tempted to add the RWC to their portfolios to block this.

3. As I noted last week, Tokyo’s business case, underpinned by the size and strength of the Japanese economy, was one of the trump cards in its bid, and it played a key part in its final presentation, with Tokyo bid leader Masato Mizuno skilfully emphasising the scale and commercial potential of the Asian and Japanese markets for the IOC and its stakeholders:"The Games will deliver the biggest live primetime TV audience in history, the biggest local ticketing market, and the greatest possible commercial success. Already, our bid has 21 corporate sponsors, and the IOC can focus on your own crucial programmes to promote Olympism worldwide."

4. For an early indication of some of the companies likely to populate the Tokyo 2020 domestic sponsorship programme, Tokyo's 21 corporate sponsors are a good primer as they were so closely aligned to many of the proposed categories in the Tokyo Candidate File.


5. Close the book on which category Tokyo 2020 will sign up first - but not which brand. One of Tokyo's bid sponsors, Toyota, stated last week that they intended to become the first Tokyo 2020 domestic sponsor if Tokyo won. A great gesture of support for the Tokyo bid, which will also have rung the bells at Nissan, sponsors of Rio 2016. Watch that space.

6. With that kind of competition likely in numerous categories, I'm sticking to the prediction I made last week that Tokyo will sell well over $1 billion of domestic sponsorship, and perhaps as much as $2 billion given favourable economic conditions.

7. There’s not much doubt which of the three rival cities Panasonic would have been rooting for, or that they will now be looking to quickly extend their IOC sponsorship to 2020: currently they are one of three of the ten IOC global sponsors whose current contract ends in 2016 rather than 2020. But with Sony's FIFA contract ending in 2014, and Russia and Qatar, er, beckoning if they renew, we could see Sony taking a run at Panasonic's IOC category.

8. The IOC's ten global sponsors always remain neutral about Host City bids, but I suspect that a poll of them on which city they preferred would have resulted in a split for first choice between Istanbul and Tokyo, with the B2C brands preferring Istanbul because of Turkey’s burgeoning youth market, the B2B brands favouring Tokyo as Japan is home to so many big businesses, and Madrid very much third owing to the weakness of the Spanish economy.

9. My colleague Alex Balfour, former London 2012 Head of New Media and now our Chief Digital Officer here at Engine, made these predictions on Twitter just after the IOC vote about what new technologies we were likely to see at the Tokyo Games:



10. I mentioned last week that I felt Tokyo stole a march on its rivals by looking at Paralympic sponsorship separately in its bid, earning it plaudits from IOC. This came strongly to mind when the wonderful Japanese Paralympian Mami Sato gave the most uplifting and inspirational of all the speeches in the 2020 bid presentations, about how sport saved her from despair after losing her leg to cancer. Japanese brands will no doubt have taken note, and as a result I'm sure that after the unprecedented success of London 2012, Tokyo 2020 will take the Paralympics to new marketing and sponsorship heights.


The Invisible Olympic Sponsors – And Why The Games Couldn’t Happen Without Sponsorship

There is a large group of Olympic sponsors whose primary objective over the next 17 days is to be brilliant, but invisible: the companies who provide vital Games Time services.

For brands like Atos (IT), BT (communications), Cisco (networks), Omega (timing) and UPS (logistics) the starter’s pistol on their sponsorship fires today. Everything they have done previously has mattered only in being preparation for this point. And if they make headlines in the next 17 days, it will be for one reason only: the Games being badly affected by a problem with their services.

To illustrate the point, all I need to write is G4S. Until a few weeks ago, G4S was familiar only to the big public and private sector buyers of its services, and was hoping to use London 2012 as a showcase to that small but highly lucrative audience. Now, of course, G4S is a household name because it failed to deliver, and the resulting fall-out has been calamitous for its reputation and share price.

In this space, it pays to be invisible. Get it right, and you have a trump card case study in the high-stakes world of big B2B contracts: “If we can do this for the Olympics, the biggest most complex event in the world, imagine what we can do for you.” Get it wrong and you’re where G4S is right now.

All of which reveals other aspects of the widely misunderstood Olympic sponsorship model, and why sponsorship is far more important to the Olympics than is commonly perceived.

The media convey the impression that the Olympic sponsorship model is the same as World Cup sponsorship and the like – a small group of consumer brands paying big money only for marketing rights.

The reality is very different. The Olympic sponsorship model is actually a giant joint venture, with the IOC and the local organising committee outsourcing critical expertise from multiple partners.

Because the Games is the world’s biggest and most complex peacetime operation, it takes far more to deliver it than pure cash. This Atos Olympics ad evokes that perfectly.

That’s why there are so many Olympic sponsors, and why the majority are B2B brands - although every Olympic sponsor, B2C brands included, provides important products and services as part of its sponsorship, without which the Games couldn’t happen.

And it’s why the majority of Games sponsorship is delivered in the form of ‘value in kind’ (VIK) products and services that are budget-relieving. In the modern era, VIK has consistently contributed the majority of domestic Games sponsorship, and I expect LOCOG’s final accounts to show VIK at 60% of its £700m domestic sponsorship total.

So if you’re ever tempted to join the vociferous chorus of those who criticise Olympic sponsorship, ask yourself this: if the sponsors weren’t there, contributing so importantly behind the scenes, how else would the Greatest Show On Earth be as big and brilliant as it is going to be, once again, in London?