Branding the World of Sports

Winter Olympics needs more marketable athletes

Posted by ZA on November 16, 2009

Quick name 5 athletes that will compete in the upcoming Winter Olympics…

Now name 5 athletes that competed in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing…

Which was easier to do?  Majority of people (especially in the United States) will be able to name athletes who compete in the Summer Games.  Very few will know the names of more than a couple of athletes who compete in the Vancouver Winter Olympics.  Why?  Because the sports and athletes of the Winter Games are not as marketable in the United States.  Luge, Curling and Bobsled don’t have the same appeal to U.S. viewers as events at the Summer Olympics.  Even the marquee events in the Winter Games, Ice Hockey, Figure Skating & Skiing, are not as popular as the top events at the Summer Olympics (Basketball, Swimming & Gymnastics).

Even on a global scale, names like Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Kerry Walsh and Rafael Nadal are much more recognizable than their counterparts in the Winter sports.  Certain Scandinavian people will recognize the names of their top skiers.  But will US sports fans know any Winter athletes beyond Shaun White, Sasha Cohen and Apolo Ohno?  The average fan on the street in New York City knows Phelps and Bolt but is unlikely to know big Winter Games athletes like Lara Gut and Felix Gottwald.

The problem is that less recognizable athletes mean less dollars for their sports and the Winter Olympics in-general.  Sponsors will spend more on the Summer Games and swimming because of Phelps, Natalie Coughlin, Stephanie Rice & Kirsty Coventry.  The IOC needs to work harder to build the images of their Winter Games athletes.  They need to develop top-line stars that rival the top names at the Summer Olympics.  The IOC needs to get more sponsors to promote the Winter Olympic athletes like Visa is doing with Lindsey Jacobellis and Julia Mancuso in their Go World campaign.

The IOC also needs to cultivate more athletes who come from the X Games; the athletes that appeal to a younger generation.  Shaun White will be one of the most recognizable athletes at Vancouver 2010.  White’s early success in the X Games made him popular enough to earn commercial endorsements from American Express and HP.  The exposure from those endorsements took him from a niche sport athlete to a mainstream media star; White is now a household name.  The IOC needs to find more success stories like Shaun White, or build those stories where none exist.

The Winter Olympics will be more popular when their athletes are bigger names.  These athletes are working their butts off for their sports, so few have time to focus on being mainstream success stories.  It is the IOC and their national organizing committees (i.e.- USOC) responsibility to market their athletes.  Doing so and encouraging more sponsors to promote those athletes will eventually build more recognizable names in the Winter Olympics.

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One Response to “Winter Olympics needs more marketable athletes”

  1. […] So NBC has big costs to recoup on their Olympics production.  One key to doing so will be to build up campaigns around Winter Games athletes that get US television viewers to tune in during the Olympics.  If […]

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