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The Powerhouse, the Specialist, and the Underdog: Examining Sponsor Activity with Three Different National Olympic Committees

The Powerhouse, the Specialist, and the Underdog: Examining Sponsor Activity with Three Different National Olympic Committees

5 minute read

  • National Olympic Committees provide sponsors with an opportunity to associate with a nation’s Olympic team
  • Depending on a variety of factors surrounding the Olympic Committee, the sponsors and their messaging can vary
  • Sponsors must understand the Olympic Committee’s attributes in order to create an effective partnership

Every four years, when the Summer Olympic Games take place, the world stops to cheer on their nation’s athletes as they compete on a global stage. The Summer Olympics are a much larger and more international completion then their winter counterpart. The Summer Olympic Games have twice the amount of nations, and almost five times as many athletes, as the Winter Olympic Games. With an international audience, many brands find value in associating with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in order to associate their brand with the Olympic movement. However, not all brands have the budget or resources to associate with the IOC’s Olympic Partner (TOP) programme. As an alternative, brands may look to their country’s national Olympic committee as a way to associate with the Olympic Games.

Each nation’s Olympic committee is responsible for sending their country’s athletes to the Olympic Games. The size of the Olympic team, their expected performance, amount of star athletes, and other factors, all contribute to the types of National Olympic Committee sponsors and their messaging surrounding their support of an Olympic team. MKTG examines three different types of National Olympic Committees, and how their different attributes affect the sponsors they attract and key sponsor messaging.

The United States Olympic Committee - The Powerhouse

The United States is sending the largest number of athletes to the Olympic Games with 555 competitors (almost 100 more athletes than host nation Brazil). The United States has historically done very well at the Olympics, winning the most gold medals and overall medals at the Summer Olympic Games. Having medaled in 18 different sports, the United States Olympic Committee also sends athletes competing in a wide variety of events. This year’s team features a number of marketable athletes that are known both domestically and throughout the world. Athletes like Michael Phelps, Alex Morgan, Ryan Lochte, and Misty Copeland are all are highly marketable stars which receive large amounts of media attention.

The size and success of a team attracts a number of high profile sponsors. Prominent international brands such as Hershey’s, Ralph Lauren, Kellogg’s, Hilton, and Nike are all sponsors of the United States Olympic Team. Coca-Cola has leveraged their sponsorship of Team USA to tie into their tagline for the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics - #THATSGOLD. While the tagline aims to look at the gold moments throughout life, Coca-Cola leverages their sponsorship to interview former gold medalists from Team USA to talk about their other “gold moments”. With Team USA being such a high performer at the Olympic Games, Coke is able to enhance their sponsorship with elite athletes in order to promote their #THATSGOLD messaging. The prestige of the property has given the property an ability to attract tier-1 sponsors who primarily activate around performance.

Jamaica Olympic Association - The Specialist

Jamaica has historically been a very strong nation in track events. Of the 68 athletes attending Rio on behalf of Jamaica, 52 of them are competing in track. In fact, all of the country’s medals from the London 2012 Summer Olympics were from track events. Although Jamaica does not send a large Olympic team like the United States, or compete in a wide variety of sports, Jamaica is still a valuable property for sponsors. Track has traditionally been one of the most popular events at the Olympics. During the London 2012 Olympic Games, an estimated global audience of 2 billion tuned-in to witness Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt win the 100m final. Bolt also provides Jamaica with one of the most recognizable stars at the Olympics. His elite performance at the previous two Olympics Games has made him a household name. This year, in what will likely be his final Olympics, Jamaica can once again expect a large television audience.

Success in track events has attracted significant sponsorship for Jamaica’s governing body for athletics - as opposed to their national Olympic Committee. In addition to multiple domestic Jamaican brands, apparel brand Puma is also a sponsor of the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA). As a result, Puma will outfit the Jamaican track team in Puma branded apparel. However, each athlete will wear the shoes of their own personal sponsor. As a sponsor of Bolt, Puma is able to double down on its investment in the star sprinter, and ensure when Bolt is at a peak awareness during the Olympics, he is fully covered in the brand. Unlike Bolt, however, track teammates Yohan Blake, will be seen wearing Adidas shoes at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The specialist nature of the country has attracted brands with a rich history in track as a way to protect and reinforce their position in the sport. 

Ghana Olympic Committee - The Underdog

The African country of Ghana has never sent a high number of athletes as only 14 athletes will be represented at Rio. Adding to this, Ghana has not captured at medal at an Olympic Games since 1992. Both of these factors play into the messaging of the main sponsor of the Ghana Olympic Committee, Cocoa from Ghana.

Cocoa from Ghana is an initiative on behalf of the Ghanaian cocoa industry that aims to raise awareness of the product. With the country’s low expectations in the medal standings, this initiative does not tell the message of winning, but instead one of improvement. They are also drawing the parallel that the qualities from sport can be transferred to the cocoa industry, such as commitment and collaboration. The head of the Ghana Olympic Committee has said that this partnership will help further optimize their performance. For a country with a small Olympic contingent that will likely not medal, this messaging is more authentic and effective as opposed to one of elite performance and winning. This sponsorship can also help promote the Ghanaian cocoa industry on the world stage at an event that is likely attended by multiple business leaders providing valuable exposure.

A National Olympic Committee can provide sponsors with a way to demonstrate their support for their nation’s Olympic team. However, as demonstrated by the sponsorship of National Olympic Committees above, brands must understand the property they invest in and recognize their abilities in order to create effective messaging, in order to position their sponsorship effectively.

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