LANE ONE: The LA28-USOC deal with NBC could be just the beginning

Words like “visionary” and “unprecedented” and “revolutionary” have been thrown about over the past week about the agreement between NBCUniversal, the Los Angeles 2028 organizing committee and the United States Olympic Committee to combine their sales efforts.

In fact, this might only be the beginning.

The deal was hailed as a game-changer, but it really only impacts the commercial environment in the U.S. and is the logical conclusion to the sponsorship concepts begun for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Then, sponsorships were sold by the organizing committee only for the Games itself and companies had to then negotiate separately with the National Olympic Committees for their rights and ABC television for commercial time during its broadcasts in the U.S.

The International Olympic Committee knew a good thing when it saw it and expanded the Olympic sponsorship program to include all of the NOCs with its “The Olympic Program” (TOP) package starting in 1985 and continuing to today, but in a limited number of product categories.

Now, a sponsor interested in U.S. television exposure can buy – via a single transaction – sponsorship of essentially all U.S. Olympic rights, including television commercial time, from 2021-28. That will include the 2022 and 2026 Winter Games and the 2024 and 2028 Olympic Games.

The announcement noted that “Brands will have the ability to participate in all aspects of the Movement with access to IP rights, product marketing, local activation, and NBCUniversal’s comprehensive, multi-screen coverage of the Games, for the next decade.”

It should be a win for all three partners, since all of the U.S. rights – almost – will be included in one package, and for the largest U.S. corporations, a one-stop shop if they are interested in Olympic rights for the post-Tokyo future.

But this is hardly the end of the possibilities for the LA28 folks. Chair Casey Wasserman said in the announcement, “We are at an inflection point in the sports, lifestyle and live event business that demands a complete reimagining of the model and approach to embracing and involving marketers.”

This is an excellent start, but don’t expect Wasserman and the LA28 folks to go on vacation. There are more possibilities:

U.S. National Governing Bodies

While the NBCUniversal deal brings together the sponsorship program for LA28 and the USOC’s rights, it does not necessarily encompass rights held by the U.S. National Governing Bodies.

Several of the larger NGBs have separate marketing programs from the USOC, notably USA Track & Field and USA Swimming. not to mention individual athletes. For those companies which are not large enough, or actually interested in a mega-deal such stretches across eight years, NGB sponsorships will suddenly look quite attractive … and affordable.

While not all of the U.S. NGBs may have enough exposure opportunities to merit significant sponsorship deals, the largest sports such as track & field, swimming, gymnastics, basketball and football might make good extensions to the NBC deal. U.S. Soccer, which has deep relationships with ESPN and Fox, might not be interested, but the others could be.

If attached to the NBC deal, such relationships could severely reduce the ability of other companies to obtain much visibility at all in the 2021-28 period.

Pre-Olympic events

The LA28 plan for pre-Games sporting and cultural events is a long way off, but these are programs which the organizing committee can itself organize and own if it so chooses, potentially setting up programs which could continue after 2028.

Could the organizing committee begin conceiving a program of events which could be sold as an add-on to the NBC package? Why not?

Such a tactic has worked before. In fact, the agreement with the television consortium in Japan for rights to the 1984 Games included a discreet sale of rights to the LAOOC’s pre-Olympic events – they weren’t called “test events” then – for $500,000, a considerable sum in those days, and worth more than $1.2 million today.

Extension of the NBC concept elsewhere

As noted above, the NBCUniversal combined-sales project only involves the U.S. But there are lots of other countries for which a deal with some of the 205 other National Olympic Committees and their national or commercial broadcasters might make sense.

Let’s start with Europe and Eurosport, which is (1) majority-owned by the U.S.-based Discovery, Inc. since 2014, (2) bought the European Olympic television rights for 2018-20-22-24 in 2015 for €1.3 billion (~ $1.43 billion U.S.), and (3) is headed by former NBC executives, including chief executive David Zaslav, who understand the Olympic Movement very well.

Is there a way to partner with Discovery/Eurosport on special categories and special programming that would only be activated in Europe? Even on a country-by-country basis? Possibly including the cultural program? Youth program?

Here the possibilities are endless and the field is wide open for innovation. Again, there is a feint echo from 1984, when the LAOOC received $1 million from the Japanese marketing mega-agency Dentsu, to be its sponsorship agent in Japan. That pact proved to be a winner, as sponsors such as Fuji Film came aboard, as well as multiple crucial suppliership deals with helped to make the Games work on the ground.

Wasserman has opened up these possibilities with the NBCUniversal agreement, but he and his team are hardly likely to stop there. With a multi-billion-dollar budget to fund, the need to find new ways to offer new value to companies where nothing has been previously available. And a worldwide program to do just that would create new paradigms for more sport and more athletes in the future. That’s a good outcome that can have positive impacts in many places which are not currently reached … but should be. Stay tuned.

Rich Perelman
Editor

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