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