Sponsors keep Olympics alive
IN THE early 1970s, then IOC president Lord Killanin was asked whether the Olympic Games could survive the next decade.
The Olympics of 1972, hosted by Montreal, was a financial disaster, with the Canadian people shouldering the losses.
The media and political commentators of that time were writing the demise of the Olympic Movement as scandals after scandals, disunity, and politics threatened the Games’ existence.
Yet, less than 20 years after, the Olympic Movement has become stronger than ever partly because of a unique business turnaround and newfound marketing sponsorship programs aimed at supporting the whole Olympic family while at the same time avoiding pitfalls that have befallen many other sports.
On record, during the 1993-1996 era, the Olympic Movement generated more than $3 billion in marketing revenues, including television rights.
Perennial Olympic sponsors, including Coca-Cola, IBM, Visa, Xerox, Samsung, and Kodak teamed up with other companies to streamline every aspect of the Olympics from operation management to administration to results, telecommunications, and even publishing.
Associated with the Olympics’ improved profits, no company in today’s tight world economy can afford to spend that kind of money for any other reason.
“We know from tracking studies that when cardholders are aware that we are an Olympic sponsor, they feel better about Visa and Visa products,” says John Bennet, executive vice president of marketing for Visa International.
“To our knowledge, the Olympics still seems to have that purity, that amateur feeling even though we know some of those guys are making pretty big bucks, too.”
It would be impossible to imagine an Olympics now without the sponsors. But it would be a mistake to think that all the benefits of sponsorship to the Olympic family are tangible. In spreading the word of their affiliation, companies use television ads, promotional programs, billboards and signs on cabs, trucks and buses, and in the process they often promote the Olympic message.
There are many other sponsors delivering the spirit of the Olympics, often with only the briefest mention of a product.
It was against this revolutionary marketing background that American lawyer Mark McCormack started his flourishing IMG, the International Management Group, a multimillion dollar business empire with agents and negotiators in more than 70 countries worldwide.
McCormack launched IMG by signing up promising golfer Arnold Palmer as his first client in 1960. Later, McCormack, a bullish visionary, got Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player to join the group, which achieved tremendous success and became household names. The rest, as they say, is history.
Branching out into other sports, McCormack added to IMG’s stable of sports celebrities tennis great Rod Laver, outstanding car racer Jackie Stewart, American football legend Joe Montana, tennis aces Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Martina Hingis and Martina Navratilova, NBA stars Michael Jordan and Chris Webber, and athletics’ double world-record holder Michael Johnson and Olympian Gwen Torrence. To top it all, IMG got golf’s hottest property of the present era, Tiger Woods.
McCormack is also staging world-class events such as the World Matchplay golf championship and providing the commercial lift-off to Wimbledon, the British Open, the Chinese Football League and Major League baseball. IMG is also involved in various Olympic organizing committees.