Sponsors have a chance to connect with a broad audience during Tokyo 2020, but that opportunity will be wasted if campaigns fail to achieve ‘staying power’ beyond the two weeks of competition.

Creating a sports sponsorship framework

This article is part of a series of articles on creating a sports sponsorship framework. Read more.

Olympic marketing: unique opportunities and challenges

The Olympics are very different to any other sport, and the core difference is really about audience. The audience for an Olympic Games will be a lot more holistic and can skew a lot more female, so how we approach sponsorship is a little bit different.

It’s also a relatively short time frame. With other sports seasons, in many cases you're looking at half the year, plus the off-season. When marketers are going in and looking at sponsorship as it relates to the Olympics, first and foremost we want to try and broaden that 18-day window between 24 July and 9 August, to ramp up and give some longevity at the tail-end.

The International Olympic Committee and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee have loosened the reins in terms of what's possible in working with athletes through adjustments to Rule 40. As a marketer, you still need to declare your association with that athlete. There's a lot of paperwork that needs to be done, and processes that need be followed. But the opportunity exists more now than it ever has before to go out and strike these types of partnership.

Selecting the right athlete

How do you work with an athlete that is relatively unknown? It takes a bit of a ramping up to get the audience familiarised with their backstories.

We’ve lost arguably the greatest Olympian of all time in Michael Phelps. With the exception of gymnast Simone Biles, who has the ability to be the greatest Olympian of all time, we are in a bit of a transition period. Outside of team sports – and whether LeBron James and Alex Morgan are going to be there – top-tier Olympic athletes are usually going to fall within the top-tier sports, which include swimming, beach volleyball, track and field, and gymnastics.

We will work with NBC to better understand where its focus is going to be. It is pretty detailed in its projections: by now, on the track and field side with someone like Christian Coleman or Sydney McLaughlin, it will have a bunch of different personas planned out.

The higher profile brands will want a ‘tier-one’ athlete to activate and start storytelling. They will start teasing these athletes and getting the public acclimated to who they are and what their potential is in Tokyo. But, beyond that, there's a tremendous amount of opportunity, especially when you think about it being Summer Games.

The US has a historic tradition of doing extremely well in the Summer Games. There are other sports for brands to break into, whether team sports, individual events or even some of the new sports, like surfing and skateboarding. For brands trying to attract the younger audience, those sports could be pretty valuable.

Across the board, it's really about finding the right athlete for your brand. A lot of these athletes will have stories that directly associate with the brand – we'll work with them, with their agent, with NBC, to try and find a story that is going to resonate best for that brand. And, in many cases, it doesn't need to be a tier-one athlete.

Telling the right story

Creativity is in the execution. I can't say too much about our specific brands, and the athletes they've chosen thus far, but what I will say is that they're digging extremely deep.

Procter & Gamble is an incredible example of that, with its ‘Thank you, Mom’ campaign and how it has been out there telling the stories behind the athletes. They have been going in and figuring out what those stories are. They have a story that directly correlates to brand messaging, from both a corporate standpoint and then the individual brands within the P&G umbrella.

New viewing habits

NBC is billing Tokyo 2020 as the biggest media event of all time, and there's a lot of different ways to look at that.

When you look at it from a total viewing hours standpoint, NBC is going to put 7,000-plus hours of coverage out there. How it extends that coverage into Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube is still to be decided, but what we do know is that it’s actively pursuing those partnerships. We can anticipate this will be the most social games of all time.

What we’re seeing is a reaction from NBC. It understands how consumers and target audiences are consuming media, and it wants to be able to push its content out. It wants to be able to tell those stories in social media. NBC will be able to grant marketing access in the social space in ways that it historically has not been able to.

Time zone considerations

Looking at the time zones, you would think it will be somewhat challenging. But the way it will work out is that we in the US will actually see a lot of primetime coverage.

Tokyo at 10am is going to translate to 9pm on the East Coast and 6pm on the West Coast, so there's going to be plenty of opportunity for tier one sports to run live across the US, including swimming and track and field.

Of course, all sports are going to be available live via streaming, but I think we'll also see a tremendous amount of live content on tier one sports on a linear basis as well. It all comes down to how much money that NBC Universal and Comcast is dropping from a broadcast rights standpoint, and the longevity of that deal. It offers them leverage in terms of what events are going on put on at what time of day.

Measuring success

Brands will want to have staying power. The Games will run from 24 July to the closing ceremony on 9 August. When you look at that from a timing standpoint, NBC is selling this as an opportunity to bring the country together between the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. I think that's true.

At the same time, that’s a lot of noise prior to the Games, and a lot of noise after the Games. We will need to have a voice leading up to and leading out of the Games in order to be successful, and that could be a challenge. So if our brands can navigate around the political tensions that are going to surround the Games, I think that'll be a nice measure of success.

The other thing is how we’re viewing the audience for the Games. The average audience for sports is usually somewhere around 70:30 for male and female viewers. For the major events, like the Super Bowl, maybe it gets around 60:40. Not only will this Olympics skew female [from an audience perspective], but I also think we'll see a lot of female athletes emerge as well.

To be able to tell some of these female athletes’ stories will be really remarkable, at a time where most nationally-televised professional sports and college sports will have an extremely male focus. NBC has actually come out and said that as much as 55% or more of its prime coverage will be dedicated to female athletes – obviously gymnastics, and on the soccer pitch as well. Some of the biggest names to emerge from Tokyo will female, which is pretty cool.