The Sochi 2014 Marketing Olympics, Part 3: X Games

Although it's often uncomfortable territory for sporting officialdom, the ability to nurture and evolve multiple brands has to be in their toolkit. English football has the Premier League / England team / FA Cup conundrum: cricket has the Test, One Day and Twenty20 formats; rugby fifteen-a-side and sevens; tennis singles, doubles and team. And so on.

When the Olympic brand is discussed, it's often overlooked that it's delivered to the world every other year via two very distinct events, two very different brands - Winter and Summer.

Yes, they operate under the same 'highest common denominator' Olympic brand values and a similar event template, but as events and brands they are very different: different sports, different feel, different appeal.

With nation branding - or re-branding - being fundamental to modern Olympic hosting, for the Putin administration Sochi has always been designed to showcase a new Russia to the world.

But from the IOC's point of view, what it has been about in particular is to drive up the Games' appeal to the youth market, by adding new, 'cooler' events with The X Games in their DNA - a process which, as The Economist recently pointed out, has been gathering in momentum since the addition of snowboarding in 1998.

It's too early to judge to what extent the IOC has been successful, and too simplistic to say that youth marketing is all about adding cool new sports to the Winter and Summer Games (or for that matter to the struggling Youth Olympics). But as Ashling O'Connor wrote in a very good piece in The Independent last week, this could be a seminal moment for the IOC:It has not escaped the attention of the IOC marketing department that there is a huge crossover between those who play video games and those who watch the X Games. Certainly, both wear their trousers a lot lower than they do in Lausanne. Slopestyle skiing/snowboarding and the half-pipe events, of which the ski version was also included for the first time in Sochi, are the bridge. A new generation must fall in love with the Olympics if the movement is to survive. Adapt or die. The IOC knows this full well.

IOC Sports Director Christopher Dubi had this to say on the same theme in an interview with Tripp Mickle in SportsBusiness Daily yesterday which mooted adding skateboarding and BMX halfpipe and park to Tokyo 2020:

“We should not move away from those sports that appear to be more traditional...You need probably a blend of urban-extreme sport and at the same time making sure that we have the ground covered with all the (traditional) others” Dubi said, adding slopestyle and freeskiing had been a huge benefit to the program in Sochi. Dubi said internet consumption globally was up 300 percent for the Sochi Games and viewership for slopestyle had been “tremendous...What I find interesting is it’s strong on TV, which is a good thing because it’s (where) our traditional viewers (are), but it’s also good on the internet, which is the younger generation, and these age groups have a big pickup."
All eyes then on the IOC session in Monaco in December which will debate which sports should be added to Tokyo, and on the next chapter in new IOC President Bach's reformist Agenda 2020, which features the Olympic programme and new approaches to Olympic audiences as key pillars.
The is the third of a 5-part series this week looking at Sochi 2014's key marketing trends. Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.