What Are Your Marketing Plans -- 500 Days From Now?

With all the focus on March Madness, the start of the MLB and MLS seasons, the NFL lockout and the upcoming NBA and NHL playoffs, an event about 500 days away is already undergoing significant marketing and sponsorship activity around the world.

March 15 was the official 500-day countdown to the 2012 Summer Olympics, which will be played July 27-Aug. 12 in London. With the signing of Dow Chemical and Procter & Gamble last year, the International Olympic Committee has 11 worldwide partners that have already committed millions of dollars, and will continue to commit millions, behind Summer Games sponsorship and marketing activation. That is in addition to the $100 million that industry analysts estimate companies pay for four-year IOC rights and upward of $200 million for 10-year rights. The IOC has not ruled out signing additional tier one global partners in time for the 2012 Games.

Like P&G and Dow, all 11 IOC top tier partners are global leaders. The others are Coca-Cola, Acer, Atos Origin, GE, McDonald's, Omega, Panasonic, Samsung and Visa. And the second tier "official partners" of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games are no slouches, either: Adidas, BMW, BP, British Airways, BT, EDF and Lloyds TSB.

"We work on four-year cycles. So in the case of London, we had people there actively working right after the 2008 Beijing Games," said Visa global CMO Antonio Lucio. "[In 2010] we already were halfway into our cycle and preparations. We have the infrastructure piece, the signage location piece, the relationship with the banks piece, the relationship with the London tourism authorities. What we work on over the [final] two years is the commercialization aspects."

Although there had been ramp-up activation prior to the 500-day countdown, the IOC and the LOCOG understood that consumers respond better to round numbers -- 500 days, in this case -- as opposed to nebulous points of reference (i.e., the Summer Olympics are coming, not this summer, next year).

According to the LOCOG, sponsorship deals are estimated to account for more than half of the $3 billion-plus budget needed to stage the Games, with the majority of the rest coming from broadcasting rights and ticket and merchandise. In a report, the LOCOG said it was also targeting $800 million in ticket sales and $161 million in profit from merchandise to reach its official budget.

At the 500-day mark, marketing for the 2012 Games included:

  • Applications for tickets for all events went on sale to the general public under the auspices of LOCOG partners Visa, Lloyds and Thomas Cook.
  • Omega had a ceremony to launch the official Olympic Countdown Clock that stands in Trafalgar Square (although a technical glitch temporarily stopped time).
  • LOCOG partner Cadbury unveiled the second phase of its $80.4 million "Spots vs. Stripes" ad campaign.
  • The LOCOG, working with official agencies McCann Worldgroup, Crystal Digital and CBS Outdoor, produced 13 ads supporting a variety of Olympic sports, which will be shown throughout the UK through via print, Internet and outdoor activity.

Even those companies that are not official partners of the IOC or LOCOG are stepping up what official Olympic partners would call ambush marketing efforts. Among them, Nike, Asics and Starwood Hotels are moving to occupy as much ad space as they can without getting flagged for a technical foul by the IOC's watchdog division, the Olympic Delivery Authority, or by the in-country Deptartment for Culture, Media and Sport.

Financial analysts forecast that the London Games could generate as much as $8 billion for the economy of the UK.

Although financial figures were not released, anti-ambush marketing efforts are being well-funded in order to protect a much larger investment.

"Sponsorship is part of modern international sport providing a vital source of funding," Hugh Robertson, the UK Minister for Sport and the Olympics, said during a press conference. "Like many other sporting events, the London Olympic and Paralympic Games could not go ahead without its [official] sponsors. So it is important that we protect their investment."

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