How the Olympics Set the Standard for Sport Marketing
The Olympics is one of the most-watched, most-recognizable sporting events in the world. Its enduring popularity is owed as much to the worldwide, decades-old popularity of the event as to the skill of the Madison Avenue advertising and marketing teams and the television networks that help make the Olympics a success. That’s why anyone interested in sports or even in pursuing a sport management degree can learn from the history of promoting the Olympics and Olympic athletes.
The Olympic rings come together to make one of the world’s most-recognizable brand icons. A 1995 survey conducted by Sponsorship Research International showed that 92 percent of respondents in five different nations correctly identified the symbol. The International Olympics Committee (IOC) has gone out of its way to ensure the brand is not tarnished, restricting marketing use of its symbol to eight to 10 companies, and requiring each brand to agree to long-term contracts. The companies themselves must also have a strong marketing track record, such as Coca-Cola or Samsung Electronics.
The Role of the Host Country
Every four years, the host country also creates a marketing symbol, the Olympic mascot. These marketing efforts have seen less success. They’ve ranged from cartoony bears to odd abstracts. The challenge, according to intellectual property lawyer Alan Behr, is in creating a symbol that appeals to a worldwide audience. The mascot for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo could break the string of mascot failures as the Japanese have a proven record of accomplishment in creating iconic characters that sell. One of them, Super Mario of the Nintendo video games, helped close the 2016 Rio games.
Creating Legends in Unexpected Ways
It may be annoying to some, but since NBC has been broadcasting the games, they’ve perfected the human-interest stories that promote athletes. Any hardship, any obstacle a medal contender faces is magnified tenfold by NBC sports reporting. This is to get the casual fan to pay closer attention to the games and keep everyone watching. It creates an adversity-to-success narrative that viewers find irresistible.
This broadcasting style has often paid dividends for the individual athletes, too. In the past, the most an Olympic gold medal winner could hope for is a contract with General Mills (Wheaties). This all changed after the 1976 Olympics, when winning athletes became advertising success stories. The brand association has gone beyond cereal boxes now, with everyone from automakers to fast food companies wanting to be associated with a winner.
During Usain Bolt’s record-breaking 2008 year, his management offered a sport management master class in capitalizing on the immediate notoriety that comes from winning. Before the games ended, stories were already linking him with one of the sports world’s most well known brand names, the Manchester United Football Club. The story was that he wanted to play for them. It was a rather comical idea, but the organization wisely played along, inviting Bolt to their stadium and giving him a personalized jersey.
Why This Matters
The IOC has used modern tools to keep an age-old tradition alive and make it a viable commercial enterprise. The participating athletes have also used these tools to make their hard work pay dividends. Any candidate for a degree in sport marketing can learn from the Olympic example. To learn more about successful sport marketing techniques and the impact of large scale events like the Olympic games, visit Adelphi University online.