In less than a week, the road to London will come to an end and. Come July 27th, athletes from around the world will captivate billions as they compete for medals, pride and bragging rights. There are few things in this world that have the ability to capture a global audience. A tradition etched in Greek history, known as the pinnacle of sports competition has grown to be an international phenomenon. In its simplest form, the Olympic Games signify pure athletic competition, free from politics, war, greed, etc. The traditions and ideals that made the Olympic Games were founded upon still exist today. However, many things have changed from the first Olympics to the last.
The Athens 1896 Olympic Games featured 241 athletes from 14 countries, competing in just 43 events. Fast forward 112 years later to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. 10, 942 athletes from 204 countries traveled to China to compete in over 300 events. Believe it or not, the exponential growth in athletes, countries and events is not the most significant difference from the first Olympic Games to the last. The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games spent over $40 billion on athletic development and infrastructure in preparation for the games. Olympic sponsors spent a combined $2.8 billion on advertising in China during the month of August alone. 24,562 media professionals and 100,000 volunteers traveled to Beijing for the Olympic Games. I’m no mathematician, but numbers this staggering are confirmation that a shift has taken place, a shift that expands the boundaries of sport.
The infusion of marketing, sponsorship and journalism into the Olympics has brought about a wave of new opportunities for not only athletes, but for corporations and international brands as well. The Olympic Games offers unique opportunities to a niche market of athletes and sports who don’t receive endorsement deals or much media attention. Most Olympians can only get their name mentioned on a national stage every four years. Opportunities for fame and notoriety are few and far between. The rapid fire nature of the Olympics will force fans to pick which sports they will watch live and which sports they will just read about later. Like any other competitive market, fans will choose the athletes and sports that they are more familiar with. The marketing of an athlete is a complex process, even more so the marketing of an Olympian.
For an Olympian, turning temporary success in the games into long-term brand recognition will be their biggest challenge outside of an arena. Understandably, being an Olympian doesn’t leave much time for other activities. Nevertheless, the question still remains, how do high caliber athletes keep their names current after the road to London ends? Here are a few wise words from a semi-sports professional on how Olympians can turn temporary success into long-term brand recognition.
- Build an Online Presence-Start talking about yourself, NOW! Social media sites serve as a platform for fans to interact one-on-one with their favorite athletes. As both a fan and semi-sports professional, I can confidently say that “behind the scenes” and “inside information” type of content works. Fans want you to share your life with them. Even if it’s just tweeting a picture of you in the weight room, they want to see it. True fans will always look for a way to be involved with you and your brand In addition to social media sites, personal websites are also a strong second. Olympians like Trey Hardee, Nastia Liukin and Nick Symmonds, each have their own personal websites. Personal websites can be both social and business in nature. Athletes who have founded charities or started their own product lines will find personal websites more efficient. If you chose to start a website, be sure to add content periodically. Don’t make your website an afterthought.
- Capitalize on University and Hometown Connections– The people who knew you before you were famous will be your strongest supporters. Think of the university/hometown connection as a built-in fan base and use it to expand your network, both professionally and personally. As a Longhorn, I know that 23 Longhorns will be traveling to London to compete this summer. I may not know all 23 names off the top of my head, but I have no problem in supporting them in the summer games.
- Products- Those lucky enough to have avid, diehard fans have the opportunity to roll out their own line of products. The best and most recent example of a creative marketing machine is swimmer, Ryan Lochte. It’s simple; Ryan uses his personality to sell his products. He does not claim to have the best quality t-shirts or the best designs. He is simply creating an outlet for his fans to support him. If fashion isn’t your industry of choice, think about going the technology route and create your own app. Consider incorporating things about your training process into the program like, a special workout playlist or a calorie tracker. Anything that you think is unique to you.
- Endorsements and Sponsorship– Olympians don’t get paid to compete thus, athletes employ the use of endorsement deals and sponsorships. Nick Symmonds thought outside of the box and used the sponsor bidding process as a marketing tool when he placed an ad on eBay offering his skin as a billboard. Match your personality with a brand and NOT vice versa. This of course will be easier said than done. Endorsement deals can be a double edge sword and if not executed properly, mistakes can lead to huge PR nightmares. If you feel like you have to transform or reshape your image to match with a brand, than the partnership may not be a match made in heaven.
- Community Initiatives- Being active in the community where you live and train will create a positive brand image for you. Be Passionate about Something other than your Sport. Fans not only want to get to know you as an athlete, but as a person as well. Showing that you have other interest in something other than your sport will bring about a whole new set of fans and a whole new set of brands willing to offer partnerships. If possible, start training camps for young athletes in the off-season, or consider speaking at seminars and panels at local universities. Building a local community network will help you set a foundation for your fan base and help you build connections that may lead to bigger and better things.
Remember, there will be 530 athletes representing TeamUSA this summer. Find ways to make yourself stand out both in and out of the arena.
Nielsen, comp. Who Were The Real Winners of the Beijing Olympics? 2008. PDF file.
Olympic.org. International Olympic Committee, n.d. Web. 22 July 2012. <http://www.olympic.org/olympic-games>.