Being associated with the Olympic movement generally has its advantages. Kim Skildum-Reid—founder and director of Power Sponsorship, a sponsorship consultant firm that provides a wide range of services to clients in all sectors—said in an email interview that some research shows Olympic sponsorship raises the market capitalization of a company, also admitting that other research shows increases to be negligible or overstated.
But the biggest advantage the investment provides is a stage for Bridgestone to show itself off to the world.
“Basically what this sponsorship becomes is a megaphone that may attract attention to your brand that otherwise would be difficult to do without spending a lot of money,” said Jim Andrews, senior vice president of marketing at IEG—a firm that has tracked and monitored the sponsorship industry since the 1980s. “The smartest sponsors use this as a platform to do a number of different things off of.”
Race to the TOP
The cost associated with being a TOP sponsor is high. While Bridgestone would not release financial specifics, Rob Prazmark, founder and CEO of 21 Marketing, estimated that the cost has surpassed $200 million for a four-year cycle, maybe even more depending on how competitive the category is. Prazmark was part of the original team that created and sold the TOP program for the IOC when it was developed in 1985 and, according to 21 Marketing's website, he sold the program until 1996. His firm continues to negotiate sponsorship deals for some of the world's biggest events.
That figure is just for a seat at the table, but it is a significant chair to have. Andrews said the TOP program is a one-stop shop. The sponsor gains the IOC's worldwide rights, is an official sponsor of the Olympic games and its organizing committee, and then the hundreds of national committees below that. National and organizing committees can, however, go sell other categories in areas where there isn't a TOP sponsor.
Below that, things can get murky depending on the country. For instance TOP sponsors may not be guaranteed individual federations or governing bodies. But generally speaking, there is a strong effort to protect TOP sponsors.
Athletes may sign with whomever they want, Prazmark said. However non-TOP partners are not allowed to use Olympic imagery, the word “Olympic” or the five rings. For example other tire makers could sign Michael Phelps to a sponsorship deal, but only Bridgestone could use specific Olympic imagery or Olympic brands in its campaign.
“The advertising has to be pre-approved by the United States Olympic Committee, who is out to protect (TOP sponsors),” Prazmark said. “It has to be done in such a way that will not confuse the public on who the sponsor is.”
Higgins said Bridgestone Americas has teamed up with six U.S. Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, four of whom made their respective teams—Meb Keflezighi, track and field, marathon; Aly Raisman, gymnastics; Kelley O'Hara, soccer; and Will Groulx, para-cycling. While Cullen Jones, swimming, and Khatuna Lorig, archery, did not make their teams, Higgins said Bridgestone is “honored to continue working with them to celebrate their many accomplishments both on and off the field of play.”
He added Bridgestone will continue its ongoing support of golfers Matt Kuchar and Stacy Lewis, who are competing at the Rio games and that parent company Bridgestone Corp. has partnered with cyclist Kohei Uchima, golfer Yuta Ikeda and triathlete Ai Ueda.
Skildum-Reid said an Olympic sponsorship provides the same things that any good, well-leveraged, sponsorship would deliver, only on a larger scale. These include:
- Changing perceptions of the brand;
- Changing behaviors around the brand; and
- Aligning with target markets.
However, she notes that these benefits don't come from the sponsorship itself, but from how the company leverages the sponsorship.