Olympics' end just the beginning of athlete marketing

The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver will come to a close on February 28, but the marketing blitz featuring new and old celebrated athletes will continue long after that.

The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver will come to a close on February 28, but the marketing blitz featuring new and old celebrated athletes will continue long after that. Social media's major role in these Olympic Games provides the partnerships and marketing deals between athletes and brands a greater opportunity to extend their reach.

"It's really about trying to help the companies take advantage of that window of excitement and relevance," explains Peter Carlisle, MD of Olympics and action sports for sponsorship consulting company Octagon.

That window can last anywhere from the two weeks right after the Games or can "bridge the Games" four years later, he adds.

"When Speedo evaluates sponsorships with Olympic athletes, we consider three elements: their medal possibility, their personal story, and assistance with product development," says Craig Brommers, SVP of marketing for Speedo, which has worked with Summer Olympic athletes including Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin.

Ann Wool, partner and MD of Ketchum Sports and Entertainment, adds that brands must also think about their objectives and "then try to link their brands with the athlete that has the closest brand essence."

PR pros say the athletes to watch this year are snowboarder Shaun White and skier Lindsey Vonn, speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno, snowboarder Seth Wescott, and Nordic Combined competitor Johnny Spillane.

Ohno's corporate partners include Vick's, AT&T, and Coca-Cola, while both Vonn and White work with Red Bull, among others.

Social media is one way to keep Olympic athletes relevant year round, and one that brands and athletes are already using. The US Speedskating team launched a social media campaign this year, to raise awareness of the sport. And athletes like White and Vonn have large groups of followers via sites like Facebook and Twitter, which can allow for a “stronger connection with the consumer to the athlete, which trickles over to the brand," says Wool.

"With the advent of social media, we can micro-target different consumers and continue to have conversations with them," adds Brommers.

The immediate next steps will be to leverage media coverage of the athletes, as they go on morning and late night shows, grace magazine covers, and are featured in commercials. Brands can get involved with the immediate media tour, Carlisle says, as long as there is "a meaningful and effective way to connect that sponsor to what it is that the athlete is doing on that tour."

"What we have found to be effective is instead of just taking the immediate attractiveness of an athlete based entirely on what exposure they've gotten in competition in the Games, we try to create a platform," Carlisle says. "It can be a tour, it can be an event, it can even be a nonprofit cause."

Working with a cause is one way to extend an athlete's brand, and his or her partnerships, in between the Games, Brommers says, and it can help athletes build a career, or continue with a sponsor, once they retire from the sport. Speedo contributed $1 million when Michael Phelps, a partner with Speedo, launched his Michael Phelps Foundation.

"The athlete needs to do what they believe in and feel very comfortable with who they are supporting," Wool adds.

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