Olympic Sponsorship: what separates top sponsors from the rest?

Rio Olympics organisers are claiming a record-level of sponsorship investment. With top sponsors spending more than $100m each in sponsorship fees, and 3-4 times as much in activation, how can they be confident it is money well spent? Particularly when, this year, the games are taking place against a backdrop of allegations of cheating, Zika and domestic challenges. We asked several of the Brand Learning team, who have led Olympics sponsorship programmes in the past, what capabilities sponsors need to thrive and prosper at Rio 2016 and in future sponsorship programmes.

Whilst it is no secret that sponsorship is increasingly considered a core part of brand strategy – to be of value, it is critical that it delivers against your business objectives and drives long-term brand engagement.

To drive real business value - here are 3 capabilities every sponsor needs to put in place to ensure they will Be credible, Be relevant and Be contagious.

3Be Criteria for Customer Engagement

  1. The right operating model: activate globally but tailor locally

    The Olympics is a globally-recognised event – one which in 2012, with a combination of conventional broadcast media, and online and mobile platforms, made itself available to a global audience of 4.8 billion people[1]. 4.8 billion people who, in today’s customer-centred world, demand personalised content.

    To respond to this demand and drive the most value from investment, brand sponsors must ensure that their campaigns effectively balance global activation with local execution and not just during the Games themselves.

    Coca-Cola’s campaign #ThatsGold is built on the foundation of their wider ‘one-brand’ marketing strategy and focuses on timely promotional activity. They are partnering with both global and local athletes, such as GB’s Jodie Williams and North America’s Ashton Eaton, and have decided to make the Olympic experience more approachable. “They want to engage their audience beyond what they see on TV and create a Rio 2016 experience."

    Alongside their global TV and print campaign, Coca-Cola are also opening an ‘Olympic Station’ in Rio which will serve as an official ‘hang out’ for people to experience and engage with the Olympic Games through live music, athlete appearances and high-tech activations. Housing the Coca-Cola Rio 2016 newsroom, a group of global and local bloggers and social media influencers (such as Australian stars Cody and Alli Simpson, Canadian actress and fashion blogger Allie Evans, and British YouTuber Jake Boys) will collaborate with Coke’s real-time marketing team to create and distribute content, encouraging their followers to celebrate their own “gold” moments on social media.[2]

    It’s all about being crediblea core driver of customer engagement.
  2. Mobile and the ability to work across platforms

    Whilst London 2012 was considered the first Socialympics, Rio will take the breaking down of platform barriers to new heights. With 2016 being the first Olympic Games covered in virtual reality, live-streaming platforms readily available, an official Rio 2016 app and Samsung mobile phones created especially for Olympic athletes, will Rio 2016 prove to be the first ever Mobilympics?

    The technological advances are as much a part of the Olympic competition as the sports. Take NBC for example. 2 Olympics ago, it used a tape-delay system to push ‘live-broadcast’ events during a prime-time evening slot. These were only live in eastern US – for those living in pacific time, events were delayed by 3 hours[3]. For those wanting to enjoy ‘live’ footage, the results had to be actively avoided so as not to ruin the element of surprise when tuning in to see the thrill of winning or the agony of defeat. Now, NBC Universal is offering customers nearly 7,000 hours of action on live TV, online, and on-demand, and will have the option to search events and access real-time updates and statistics using an NBC mobile app.[4]

    Brand sponsors need to tap into the 2.08 billion smartphone users world-wide, be relevant and create for them a brand experience that works across platforms.
  3. Apply conscious speed 

    With so many rules and regulations the Olympics has, historically, always been difficult to exploit, especially for non-sponsor brands, but,for the first time in modern Olympic history, non-sponsors are allowed to use Olympic athletes in marketing campaigns surrounding the Games.

    Combine this with unprecedented access to live Olympic action and so many platforms and technologies at our disposal, brands have never been better equipped to deliver a personalised, in-the-moment and engaging customer experience. But, for any investment to be successful, brands must have the right structure in place in order to react to real-time moments quickly.

    Back in 2012, Cadbury’s allowed their Olympic sponsorship team different rules to the rest of the business, allowing them to act fast and efficiently when needed. They took full advantage of this and became the first brand to use a promoted trend in relation to the 2012 Olympics. A fast-moving act which saw them achieve a record 10,000 tweets in just one day.

    Brands like Paddy Power, whilst not an Olympic sponsor, apply conscious speed to all their marketing communications, reacting with timely content to the most unlikely events. They “have worked out the best way for their creative and internal teams to produce a slick piece of reactionary content as quickly as possible.”[5]

    It will be interesting to see how non-sponsor brands like Puma and UnderArmour successfully navigate the restrictions that still remain part of Rule 40, with their ability to push out customer-centred, engaging content at key moments.

    At the end of the day, whether you are sponsoring or ambushing the Games, tapping into the moment and enabling your content to be contagious will set your brand apart from the rest.

Are there any brands you’re going to be following during the Games? Do let us know and get involved in the conversation on Twitter and LinkedIn.

For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s customer engagement and marketing capabilities, please get in touch.

BRAND LEARNING: Inspiring people. Lifting capabilities. Growing organisations.


[1] https://stillmed.olympic.org/Documents/Reference_documents_Factsheets/London_2012_Facts_and_Figures-eng.pdf

[2] https://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/thatsgold-get-the-scoop-on-coke-s-global-campaign-for-the-rio-2016-olympic-games

[3] https://mobhappy.com/blog1/2008/08/13/

[4] https://stillmed.olympic.org/media/Document%20Library/OlympicOrg/Games/Summer-Games/Games-Rio-2016-Olympic-Games/Media-Guide-for-Rio-2016/IOC-Marketing-Media-Guide-Rio-2016.pdf

[5] https://www.thedrum.com/news/2016/04/27/how-sponsorship-has-and-hasn-t-changed-london-2012-olympics