David Bond
Jan 10, 2024

Olympics: a golden opportunity for brands despite reputation risks

About one million people flocked to the Champs Élysées on New Year’s Eve to cheer the arrival of the French capital’s Olympic year.

Olympics: a golden opportunity for brands despite reputation risks
Almost as audible was the huge sigh of relief from Olympic executives, brands and broadcasters, who – after more than a decade of having to navigate reputational risks, organisational chaos and a global pandemic – are looking forward to a return to normality.
Not since London 2012 have the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its top-tier sponsors been able to plan to leverage their multimillion-dollar deals with a genuine degree of confidence.
Rio in 2016 looked fantastic on TV but, behind the scenes, seasoned Olympic observers speak of staggering levels of incompetence. “Frankly, it’s a miracle the IOC pulled it off,” says one.
Tokyo 2020 was already running way over budget and facing fierce local opposition when it was put back a year due to COVID-19. The Games eventually took place in sterile, empty stadiums, robbing athletes, fans, organisers and brands of the chance to celebrate and activate.
Meanwhile, the Beijing Winter Games in 2022 was overshadowed by concerns over human rights and China’s authoritarian regime.
No wonder, then, that many involved in the Olympic movement feel they are finally emerging from a dark tunnel into the city of light.
That’s not to say Paris hasn’t had its problems. During my time as a sports editor and correspondent I covered five Olympic Games – from Sydney to Sochi. Each and every one faced the same questions that Paris now faces over cost overruns, security and the availability and pricing of tickets.
Locals also worry about disruption as the Olympic circus descends with its privileged car lanes and five-star demands. The relocation of second-hand book sellers along the banks of the Seine is a classic example of the tensions that can arise.
Add to that a corruption probe by French financial prosecutors into the awarding of contracts by the Paris Organising Committee, and you have all the ingredients for a reputational headache.
But the drumbeat from the IOC and national Olympic Associations, like Great Britain’s BOA, which will be sending Team GB’s squad of around 360 athletes to the Games, is overwhelmingly positive.
The BOA is set for its best commercial year ever with major new sponsors such as British Gas and NatWest on board.
Sponsorship revenues for Paris’ Organising Committee topped the €1bn mark last summer when it added luxury brands group LVMH to its premium portfolio of sponsors.
Paris is also likely to avoid the potentially damaging claims over sustainability and accusations of Olympic gigantism. Ninety-five per cent of the venues were already built or are temporary – with Paris’ breath-taking landmarks, such as the Champ de Mars, the Grand Palais and the Esplanade des Invalides set to be turned into memorable outdoor sporting venues.
As with London and Stratford, the athletes’ village in Paris will be used to regenerate a run-down suburb at Seine-Saint-Denis, close to the main stadium, the Stade de France.
For the IOC and its TOP (The Olympic Partner programme) roster of sponsors, which includes Airbnb, Visa and Coca-Cola, the future beyond Paris is looking brighter too. After Paris comes the Winter Games in Milan and Cortina, followed by the summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028 and then Brisbane in 2032.
This is the reward for those brands that stuck by the IOC during these more challenging years.
It is also testament to the unique resilience and appeal of that iconic five-rings brand. Few events can deliver the drama, audiences and incredible storylines that an Olympics can, not to mention the power to unite a city and a nation. Just ask anyone who was in London during that incredible summer 12 years ago.
But no Games can be truly free of geopolitical risk, with all the challenges that poses for brands and partners. Israel’s conflict with Hamas may still be unresolved (and could spread) by the time the Games open on 26 July, while the IOC’s decision to allow Russian athletes to participate as neutrals, despite Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, is likely to overshadow events in Paris.
“It’s not zero-risk,” says one former IOC executive. “But once the Games start – there will be so much phenomenal sport, incredible imagery, incredible storytelling and within France a great sense of pride. All the noise in the build-up will fall away.”
David Bond is a director at Freuds and a former BBC sports editor
This article first appeared on Campaign sister title PRWeek

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