February’s Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City are proving a major attraction for marketers, despite the sluggish economy.

According to the US Olympic Committee, the Games have drawn in $869 million in sponsorship money – way ahead of the previous winter event in Nagano, Japan four years ago ($212m), as well as the last two summer games in Atlanta in 1996 ($480m) and Sydney in 2000 ($350m).

In addition, NBC – which has Olympic broadcasting rights until 2008 – says it has sold 92% of its ad time during the event, which runs February 8–24. The network charges an estimated $600,000 for a prime-time thirty-second slot, compared to nearly $2m expected for ads during the Super Bowl on February 3.

“The moment is very right,” commented Richard Notarianni, media director for DDB Worldwide in New York. “You think historically there are times when sort of the nationalist side of the Olympics re-emerges … You can argue now that the tone of the country has definitely turned toward a nationalistic moment.” Nevertheless, some advertisers – such as Bank of America – have eschewed patriotism in favour of a more humorous approach.

The Games have 65 sponsors, broken down into several groupings. At the top are Olympic Partners (e.g. Coca-Cola, Visa USA, McDonald’s), paying $100m-plus for global Olympic marketing rights to 2004 and beyond. Then come Olympic Properties of the United States (OPUS) Partners (e.g. AT&T, General Motors, Texaco), shelling out some $50m per games for American marketing rights.

The next two tiers are OPUS Sponsors (e.g. Monster.com, Delta Air Lines), paying $25m–$40m, and OPUS Suppliers, such as Marriott International, who hand over goods and services worth around $5m–$20m. The bottom two categories encompass licensees and donors. Sponsors get first refusal on NBC’s Olympic ad time.

Advertisers buying spots during the Games include AT&T, Visa USA and McDonald’s. “For those who obviously have the financial wherewithal to do it, there can’t be a better time to be associated with an event like the Olympics,” declared Rich Kronengold, chief marketing officer at New York’s BBDO. “When your competition is scaling back, this is a time when leading brands can dominate the marketplace. Frankly, I can’t imagine a better Olympics to be involved in.”

News source: AdAge.com