Contrary to popular belief, the athletes aren’t the only ones showcasing their talent out in PyeongChang. Beyond Chloe Kim’s big air and Lim Hyo-jun’s electrifying speed are a host of equally motivated sponsors that are leveraging the Winter Olympics’ global stage to promote their products to the world.
In South Korea, three new members of The Olympic Partner (TOP) programme - Alibaba, Intel and Toyota - are making their Games debuts as global sponsors of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The deals with tech-driven giants Alibaba and Intel in particular have seen the IOC derive US$493.2 million in revenue from its worldwide sponsorship programme in 2017, representing a significant increase on the US$410 million it received in 2016, and more than three times as much as the US$141.5 million that had been generated at the same stage in the last four-year Olympic cycle in 2013.
The evolving nature of sponsorship and what it entails also means that companies find themselves in a strange scenario of simultaneously collaborating and competing. There was a time when Olympic sponsorship would merely have guaranteed brand integration at event venues to go with a slate of hospitality packages, but opportunities to leverage new technology dictates that deals have become mutually beneficial, and the word ‘partnership’ now carries more weight for the IOC and its affiliated brands than it might have done 20 years ago.
With all that in mind, SportsPro takes a look at the 13 members of the IOC’s TOP sponsorship programme to see how four years of planning - for most, at least - are coming to life at this year’s Games.
Alibaba became a top-tier partner of the IOC at the beginning of 2017, securing a long-term deal that incorporates three editions of the Games being hosted in the Chinese e-commerce giant’s biggest market of Asia. The first of those is in PyeongChang, where the company is already looking for ways to modernise Olympic operations by making them more secure, efficient and cost effective - something that will be music to the ears of cautious potential host cities.
Alibaba’s chief marketing officer Chris Tung has spoken of the group’s desire to “digitally transform the Games”, and the organisation said it will be leveraging its cloud and e-commerce technology in PyeongChang to evaluate ticketing, media and video services. The company also wants to end the practice of building local data services and IT centres from scratch for each Olympic Games, while there has also been talk of enhancing the overall fan experience through facial recognition, travel guidance and re-imagined ecommerce capabilities for purchasing official merchandise.
Despite wanting to elevate the Games to the next level, Alibaba’s first Olympic advertising campaign has channelled the company’s humble beginnings, when it started as just 18 people operating out of founder and chief executive Jack Ma’s apartment in Hangzhou. Alibaba has sent between 200 and 300 employees to South Korea, but its ‘Greatness of Small’ initiative likens the journey of small businesses to that of an Olympic athlete, serving as a reminder that while its investment and technology services are more than welcome, aligned values still go a long way.
Alibaba will no doubt be tapping into the expertise of Atos, which has been the IOC’s worldwide IT partner since 2001. Like Alibaba, the French information technology company is hoping to inspire the Olympics’ digital transformation, and PyeongChang will mark the first time that all of the Games’ critical IT systems will be remotely managed and hosted on Atos’s cloud, which has become the most efficient way to distribute digital entertainment and is becoming increasingly mainstream across various markets.
Atos’s IT systems are essential for the day-to-day operations of the Games to run smoothly, and are covering everything from accreditations, sports entries and qualifications to the IOC’s volunteer portal and the distribution of results in real time. This year, the company hasn’t launched an advertising campaign to promote its affiliation with the Olympics, but has a website covering the event and is running a webinar for clients on the future of the Games.
Multinational tyre manufacturer Bridgestone is participating in its third Olympic Games in PyeongChang, and said in the lead-up to the opening ceremony that it would be supporting the event through a variety of product, athlete and education initiatives.
Beyond supplying winter tyres for the IOC’s fleet of vehicles, Bridgestone is also supporting its roster of Olympic and Paralympic athletes. They are the subject of its ‘Chase Your Dream’ campaign, which aims to inspire people to achieve their goals in the face of adversity, and has been the core of the company’s Olympic message since it partnered with the IOC in 2014.
Bridgestone has also partnered with the PyeongChang organising committee (POCOG) to support the PyeongChang education programme, and is providing children from Shin Mang Won Orphanage the opportunity to experience the Games first hand through its VIP spectator initiative.
The IOC’s oldest partner - Coca Cola first served as a sponsor of the Olympics in 1928 - may not be able to offer the same level of innovation as some of its latest additions, but there is a comforting familiarity about seeing the soft drink giant’s trademark red and white cans being supped around Games venues. Indeed, as long as Coca-Cola remains the IOC’s non-alcoholic beverage partner, its role and service is unlikely to change.
Of more concern, however, might be Coca-Cola’s continued association with the Olympics, and how sustainable that association continues to be. Last year saw McDonald’s multi-million dollar partnership with the IOC come to a premature end, and it might not be too far-fetched to suggest that Coca-Cola could suffer a similar fate should it fail to convince consumers that its fizzy drinks can be incorporated into an active and healthy lifestyle.
For now, though, the partnership remains intact, and ahead of this year’s Games, Coca-Cola launched a ‘Together as one’ marketing campaign starring South Korean actor Park Bo-Gum and former figure skater Yuna Kim, who won gold for the host nation in 2010 and was honoured with lighting the Olympic cauldron at last Friday’s opening ceremony in her home country.
Having been a TOP Olympic sponsor since 2010, Dow Chemical Company enhanced its collaboration with the IOC in 2017 to become its official carbon partner, and has been charged with delivering a carbon mitigation programme to compensate for carbon emissions from the IOC's daily operations.
In PyeongChang, Dow’s insulation technologies and heat transfer fluids are in operation at the Olympic Sliding Centre and three ice skating venues in Gangneung in order to maintain the cold temperature and the consistency of the ice, while the company has also installed advanced insulation at the Olympic Village to protect the athletes from wind-chill temperatures predicted to drop as low as -25C.
American multinational conglomerate General Electric (GE) first became a TOP sponsor in 2006, and last year announced plans to make PyeongChang 2018 the greenest Winter Olympics yet.
GE’s suite of products include incubators, jet engines and power generators, but for this year’s Games specifically, the company is providing uninterruptable power supplies to all event venues, and has equipped the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) - the temporary hub which is in operation 24 hours a day during the 17-day event - with an advanced power distribution system which will help minimise the impact temperature has on equipment to reduce the likelihood of any malfunction.
Intel is the newest member of the IOC’s TOP programme after the technology giant finalised a multi-year deal last June in the wake of McDonald’s Olympic departure, and the company is wasting no time providing spectators and fans at home with a glimpse of the future.
PyeongChang's opening ceremony featured a light show from a record-breaking 1,218 Intel Shooting Star drones, as the company designed and developed custom animations featuring different sports and various Olympic-related logos including the formation of the Olympic rings.
Intel is also working with the KT Corporation to deliver the first 5G Olympics, which is expected to offer broadband speeds up to 100 times faster than the current 4G standard, allowing fans to enjoy 360-degree video streaming, VR and AR. On top of all that, Intel has provided two gaming experiences in PyeongChang, as the IOC dips its toe into esports in an attempt to reach out to a younger audience.
In the build-up to the Games, meanwhile, Intel partnered with NBC and Eurosport for its Intel True VR system to power both broadcasters’ virtual reality coverage in the US and Europe, respectively. It’s unsurprising, then, to see that VR technology is the subject of Intel’s Olympic advertising debut, which shows people in different countries watching the Games using the company’s VR headsets.
The IOC’s official timekeeper is in it for the long haul after extending its partnership with the IOC for another 12 years in 2017. At the first timed Winter Olympics, in Germany in 1936, Omega sent a solitary technician armed with 27 stopwatches. This year, the company has flown out 300 timekeepers, 350 trained volunteers and 230 tons of equipment to PyeongChang to record all athletes’ times and results.
In addition, competitors have been fitted with Omega’s motion sensors, which interact with antennas placed at event venues to feed back a variety of in-race information, including live speeds and comparative performance data, timed to the nearest thousandth of a second.
To celebrate its association with the Games, the Swiss manufacturer also launched a limited-edition line of Seamaster watches, which are being presented to all medal-winning athletes during podium ceremonies.
Electronics giant Panasonic is one of the founding members of the TOP programme, and has supplied the Games with its broadcast equipment since 1998. The company is providing PyeongChang with an array of audio-visual gear, including LED large-screen display systems (below) at live sites which will allow spectators to share their excitement and emotions to create a more interactive experience.
It would be surprising, though, if Panasonic didn’t already have one eye on 2020, when its native Japan will stage the Summer Olympics, and the company is hosting a three-day event in Tokyo later this month to outline its marketing activities and begin building excitement for the event.
Procter & Gamble
The world’s largest consumer goods corporation Procter & Gamble (P&G) has just two years remaining on its Olympic sponsorship deal after signing off on a ten-year contract with the IOC back in 2010. This year, P&G has been working closely with POCOG on the ‘Reply 50 million’ campaign, which has seen the company collect messages of encouragement from members of South Korea’s soaring population to deliver to participating athletes.
On top of that, P&G is once again providing athletes with a home away from home, just as it has done since the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010. The P&G House is a centre for the athletes, their families and friends to relax and eat a hot meal, while the company has also been tapping into its family of grooming brands with male Olympians. US freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy, who is openly gay, has become one of the faces of P&G’s ‘Thank you Mom’ Olympic advertising campaign, which documents athletes’ struggles with prejudice.
US snowboarding sensation Chloe Kim made the headlines early in the Games’ first week when she tweeted about being ‘hangry’ in the middle of the women’s halfpipe snowboarding final, which she promptly went on to win at a canter. That particular tweet was likely sent from a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 limited edition smartphone (right), which all athletes have been given by the IOC’s wireless communication equipment and computing equipment partner in order to capture their excitement and share it with fans.
As well as powering the PyeongChang 2018 official app, Samsung also equipped two Dutch speed skaters - Sjinkie Knegt and Suzanne Schulting - with Samsung Smartsuits, which contain sensors that send real-time data about their body positions to their coach’s smartphones.
Additionally, the South Korean firm is running a series of nine Samsung Olympic Showcases featuring a mix of cultural, technological and immersive fan experiences to encourage spectators and athletes to ‘Do What You Can’t’.
Japanese carmaker Toyota is celebrating its first Games as a worldwide Olympic partner by doing very little at all. The company has sent only a few dozen representatives to South Korea, its cars are absent from Olympic fleets and its logo is nowhere to be seen.
That’s largely because Toyota acknowledged long before the Games that this year’s edition would be dominated by local rivals Hyundai and Kia, the South Korean manufacturers that backed a ten-year campaign for PyeongChang to host the Winter Olympics, and in 2015 agreed a deal with POCOG to sponsor the event. While Toyota might still have the right to use the Olympic rings in its advertising elsewhere in the world, it is Hyundai and its affiliate Kia that have erected pavilions at PyeongChang’s venues to promote their latest vehicles.
Financial services giant Visa is featuring at its 17th Olympics after celebrating its 30th anniversary with the IOC two years ago in Rio. The company’s contribution tends to go largely unnoticed, but is essential to the smooth running of the Games. In PyeongChang, Visa has implemented more than 1,000 payment terminals throughout event venues, allowing fans to pay for necessities ranging from snacks to souvenirs.
In keeping with the theme of tech and innovation, Visa is also rolling out three wearable payment products - a commemorative sticker, a pair of gloves (below) and an Olympic pin - in South Korea, all of which are allowing fans and athletes to complete secure payments with a simple tap at any contactless-enabled terminal.