BMW will back the United States Olympic team for the next six years, starting with next year's London summer Olympic games.
Those games are still a year off, but the Woodcliff Lake, N.J.-based BMW U.S.A. crossed the Hudson on Wednesday for a Manhattan press briefing, where it revealed how it is applying "vision" technology developed for cars at its Silicon Valley tech center in Palo Alto, Calif. to Team U.S.A. training. The automaker also brought along a subset of its "BMW Performance Team" of 10 Olympic athletes and hopefuls it is sponsoring.
On hand were Trudy Hardy, director of marketing for BMW of North America, and Gold medal winners Bryan Clay and Janet Evans and Olympic hopeful Matt Chrabot, three of the current roster of BMW-sponsored athletes.
Broadly, the multi-year deal makes BMW Group, which includes BMW, Mini, and BMW Motorrad (BMW motorcycles) the "Official Mobility Partner" of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC.) The automaker is also backing the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams through 2016; and the 2011 and 2015 U.S. Pan American and Parapan American Teams.
Hardy tells Marketing Daily that the program also makes BMW sponsor of four USOC summer and winter national governing bodies (NGB's): track and field, swimming, speed skating and bob sledding/ skeleton. She says BMW's support of the Team U.S.A. might therefore be thought of as a three-tiered partnership. "We are partnering with USOC; we are supporting four NGBs, and we are supporting the  individual athletes," she says.
The company this year is doing several activation events featuring the BMW-sponsored athletes Clay, Evans, and Chrabot in markets like Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
It will advertise the Olympics partnerships next year around a global pillar of innovation and technology. "We have committed to advertise during the Summer Games next year and we are going to be the only premium automotive advertisers during U.S. broadcast of the games, as well," says Hardy. She says the overall communications platform around the programs will be "Driving Performance."
Sponsorship like BMW's is pretty much life support for U.S. Olympic athletes because, as Hardy pointed out, the U.S. is the only country that doesn't support its team. The automaker this summer launched a retail program, "BMW Drive for Team USA," in which, for every consumer who test-drives a vehicle through Aug. 13, BMW is giving a $10 donation to the Team U.S.A., up to $200,000.
The company is also leaving one "BMW Performance Team" spot open, and, as part of "BMW Drive for Team USA," is encouraging people to vote among three finalists: indoor-rowing world cup record holder Ursula Grobler; Evelyn Stevens, who left a cushy Wall Street gig to be a competitive cyclist; and wrestler Henry Cejudo -- one of whom will round out the 11-member team.
Hardy tells Marketing Daily that BMW is getting the word out about the "Drive For Team USA" campaign on www.BMWUSA.com and via events, with voting Aug. 31.
Darren Liccardo, senior advanced technology engineer at the BMW Group Technology Office in Palo Alto, said the company is applying automotive "night vision" technology to athlete performance video analysis at the Olympic training center in Cula Vista just south of San Diego, where 20 athletes are training in sports like rowing, kayak, track and field.
Evans, an Olympic swimmer and winner of multiple medals, tells Marketing Daily that BMW's support isn't just about the dollars. "I can't think of a sponsor who has done anything like this before," she says. "You think about sponsors as giving financial support, but [BMW is] actually helping us with what we do best, which is compete."