August 24 2016

Rio 2016 – 10 key takeaways for sports marketers

Thought Leadership, Insights, Olympics, Europe, UK

As we bask in the glory of an unprecedented sporting performance by Team GB, it’s the perfect time to look at some key observations and learnings from the Games for the sports marketing industry.

Here are 10 key takeaways from Octagon SVP Strategy, Joel Seymour-Hyde:

1. London 2012 made us underestimate the opportunity of an “away” Olympics.

London 2012 was a huge success by any metric, including commercial activity – both in terms of LOCOG partners, athlete endorsement deals and NGB supporters.

For Rio 2016, whilst Team GB was able to secure an impressive roster of partners, there is a sense of missed opportunity at athlete and NGB level, with not as many brands able to capitalise on the success of the athletes as could have been the case.
This may well be driven by the UK market almost forgetting the power that an “away” Olympics can have; we were spoilt by having the Games in our own back yard. Rio 2016 should serve as a reminder that despite time differences and distance, the magic and stories of the games can transcend, particularly when supported by the full BBC machine.

2. Rule 40 can be pushed further

The relaxation of the IOC provision known as Rule 40 did not cause the anarchy some hoped and others feared. Under Armour in particular probably did as much as anyone to benefit – launching the fully compliant “Rule Yourself” campaign in March, with Octagon’s own Michael Phelps front and centre ensuring ongoing visibility. This dovetailed nicely with their Rio activity – renting a series of outdoor gyms to set up marketing outposts and host daily workouts for fans during the games.
However, the creative boundaries of Rule 40 were only rarely pushed, one of the best examples being Cycle’s use of Memes, including this featuring Simone Biles which didn’t use any IOC IP yet sums up the suspension of disbelief that Biles is able to achieve. The bar has been set for Toyko 2020.

3. Team GB saves “brand Britain”…for now

The heady days of Queen’s jubilees, Cool Britannia and London 2012 have felt a lifetime away in 2016, mainly thanks to the poisonous campaign that was Brexit.

Team GB and the BOA have done a truly magnificent job of repairing this damage, with British Airways taking advantage of this by bringing back the spirit of Home Advantage with their “welcome home” activity. The challenge now is to maintain this momentum. How can the BOA work with NGBs, athletes and Sport England for example, to ensure we don’t have to wait until 2020 to feel this positivity again?

Team GB partners such as Nissan, Aldi, DFS and Muller have activated heavily around Rio 2016, so it will be interesting to see their plans for Pyeongchang 2018, where Team GB may not feature so highly on the medal table.

4. Athlete Endorsement: The paradox of choice

Jason Kenny, Laura Trott, Mo Farah, Nicola Adams, Max Whitlock, Adam Peaty, Alistair Brownlee…the list goes on. As we await the inevitable stream of “athletes set to make millions” articles that follow such success, any agent will tell you that the reality is very different.

Matthew Pinsent also made a valid point on the BBC wrap up show on Sunday night (in between BBC montages number 7 and 8), which was that when he and Steve Redgrave won their gold in Atlanta ’96…they were Team GB’s only golds. Brands now have an unprecedented choice in terms of potential partners to front campaigns, so athlete selection is about to become more competitive than ever; despite the medal haul, not every athlete may reap the commercial benefit. The role of strategic selection, such as our very own Ambassador Selection Index (ASI), will be crucial in ensuring brands make the right investment.

5. “Winners and losers” can’t be picked easily

In addition the aforementioned articles on athlete commercial power, the other popular piece post Games is the ever popular “brand winners and losers.”
I have always said this is a very risky topic to comment on, in any context, but more than ever in relation to the Olympics. I can speak from personal experience of Olympic sponsors who have generated ROI on their rights fee investment of over 10:1 due to their B2B programmes around the Games.

However, because of a foreseen lack of B2C activity, their success can be underestimated, and they may even end up being described as a “loser” which is appallingly inaccurate.
In addition, more than any other event, the Olympics operates in marketing silos. There are global campaigns like “Thank You Mum” 2.0 by P&G which everyone sees; there are campaigns from global sponsors which are huge successes in markets that we have less line of sight of – e.g. Coke ON, which saw massive engagement in Japan; and they are local market campaigns, both in the host country and as we have seen in the UK, by local sponsors of the Olympic Team. So trying to assess the winners (or more pertinently the losers) is a risky game, and better to be avoided if one can.

6. Rights Holders can control GIFS

The IOC was in the news for many reasons pre Games, butbanning GIFS didn’t send quite the same shockwaves as their policy on Russian athletes.
Whether one agrees with this decision to protect broadcasters or not (for the record it is a frustration that official sponsors cannot access such content when their rights are already limited), what was notable was the lack of animated GIFs that were created by the usual publishing houses. Fans didn’t fill the void and most of the content was Vine videos of TV setsinstead. The utopian future remains one where rights holders find a way to allow this content to be produced in a way that doesn’t make broadcasters feeling they are losing out, but in the meantime it was interesting to see how effective policing has become.

7. The line between TV and live streaming is blurring (which is good for advertisers)…

“Millennials watch less TV” is another common thread when reviewing major events, and is often used as a stick to beat sponsors with if they are accused of being too traditional in their activation.
“Millennials watch less sport” is however a lesser spotted phrase – and for good reason…the volume of content (sport included), that 18-34s watch is higher than ever, it’s just the platform that has changed.
However, the volume of content (sport included), that 18-34s watch is higher than ever, it’s just the platform that has changed Live streaming, whether on the BBC in the UK or NBC in the US, was fundamental to the Rio 2016 experience, but accurate measurement of audience numbers is patchy, as is the ability for seamless media buying.
As streaming becomes a bigger part of all live events, the opportunity is there to ensure that brand advertising works on different platforms and devices consistently, in sync, and is valued accurately – for example, what is the value of a broadcast view versus a streamed view?

Long term we can expert broadcasters not to differentiate between the platforms – they will deliver a video view, running ads on both broadcast and streaming. This will ensure brands continue to access the high value audiences they crave around sport, and almost as excitingly, put an end to “youth audiences in decline” commentary.

8. …Because commercial broadcasts are still hugely important for cut through

Part of the reason this is so important, is because, despite the naysayers, ATL can still play a huge role for brand activation. Samsung’s “School of Rugby” campaign around RWC 2015 was considered by many to be one of the stand-out activations. This was primarily a combination of high-quality content (Jack Whitehall v Dallaglio et al) combined with good media buying around the ITV RWC programming.

Samsung revisited the execution for Rio 2016, updated with Olympians rather than rugby players. Creatively the content was again strong (particularly the Whitehall / Wiggins exchanges), and although unable to buy media around the host broadcaster, the brand still committed ATL spend to the campaign, and the figures generated are impressive. It acts as a reminder for sports marketers, reinforcing the key role an integrated ATL approach continues to play in delivering cut through.

9. The opportunity for Women’s sport may be about being specific

The conversation around women’s sport and equality versus their male counterparts is one that continues to develop, and the performance of both female athletes and teams at Rio 2016 adds fuel to the fire. Sponsors in particular often feel commentators’ wrath on the topic, not helped by statistics that demonstrate the gender gap when it comes to sponsorship revenue between male and female sports.

Part of the answer, certainly in the short term, may be to identify certain opportunities and focus on those. There seems little point trying to appeal to equality between men’s and women’s football, at a time when the Premier League goes from strength to strength, and out performs all other football properties in the world, male included.
However, if one takes the example of women’s hockey – surely there is a much more compelling opportunity to push the equality story here? The women out performed the men, stars like Kate Richardson-Walsh and Maddie Hinch are on their way to being household names, and a prime time audience of 4.6msaw the victory over the Netherlands. All of which should mean brands considering investing in Hockey as a platform would be in no doubt to the value of the women’s team versus the men for their sponsorship investment.

10. One for the kids: don’t lie to your Mum

Finally, if #lochtegate has taught us anything, it is that telling tales never pays.
Amidst all the talk of inspiring the next generation of children, surely that message is as a good a legacy as anything else we have seen from Rio 2016…