By  on February 21, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY -- For brand managers, the Olympics are a culmination of their training and talents almost as much as they are for the athletes.

Whether they are supplying equipment or uniforms for the snowboarders, fast-track skaters or sportscasters, or turning gimmicky with Target cowbells or Salomon Volvos, for brand builders, the Winter Games, with its worldwide audience, provides an unparalleled stage.

As Simon Pestridge, Nike's brand marketing manager, said: "When you look at the Olympics, it's really the Oscars of the sporting world. If we weren't here, we would be doing a great injustice to our brand."

In their effort to be seen, companies are giving their own Olympic performances. There's Target, a non-Olympic sponsor, running ads and commercials during the Olympics, and handing out logoed cowbells -- the cheering device of choice selling for $25 and higher at Park City sporting goods stores. At Miner's Hospital, the meet-and-greet place for Adidas-Salomon, ice sculptures of each logo frame the entrance, an outdoor screen blares Olympic news and indoors, drinks abound. It's bonzo time for buyers, but there's also work to be done.

Jean Luc Diard, president of Salomon, said: "What drives us is to keep on inventing, moving and putting smiles on people's faces. If you just look at the bottom line, you can never have peace in your sense of achievement."

By the time the Games wrap up on Sunday, Nike will have hosted more than 100 retail partners at The Canyons ski resort near Park City. The buyers are checking out events, new Nike product -- like the Swiftskin for speed skaters -- and sighting Olympians such as gold and silver medalist speed skater Derrek Para at its athlete hospitality center in Salt Lake City.

Nearly 50 Nike employees have made the trek to the Utah mountains to tout the brand and schmooze with retailers. The company's investment in this year's Games is slightly more than what was spent at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, Pestridge said, although he declined to offer actual figures.

Nike even held a pep rally for the U.S. women's hockey team here at a Galyan's store, without the team. Olympic hockey player Cammie Granato's parents told the crowd of 450 and 14 TV stations that they would pass along the well-wishes to the team. Spyder-sponsored skier Tommy Moe, Columbia Sportswear chairwoman Gert Boyle and Black Dot-sponsored snowboarder Jasey Jay Anderson have also turned out at the 94,000-square-foot store during the Games.These types of events are helping Olympic merchandise "fly off the shelves" at Galyan's, said Joan Hurley, senior vice president of communications. What's also helping is the frigid temperatures, which has led many underdressed fans, including Princess Anne, to shop for more winter-friendly gear. Outerwear, hats, gloves, sweatshirts and T-shirts with the U.S. Olympic Committee's insignia are top sellers, Hurley said.

With many members of the 9,000-plus media staying near the Galyan's store, the 26-unit retailer has picked up some unexpected publicity from sources such as TV Croatia, one of the crews that built a story around the store after stopping by for boots. Now Galyan's is known as the go-to store to shoot a segment about such topics as, "What to wear to an Olympic event?"

Beyond its three-month-old Salt Lake City store continuing to be a success, Galyan's should benefit from the heaping of publicity and brand recognition it has registered with the media and consumers, Hurley said.

Columbia also is revved up by the exposure it has picked up by outfitting thousands of NBC staffers, even though the Columbia logo is sometimes hard to see on newscasters and some have ditched their Columbia gloves for simpler black styles.

Columbia's $4 million Olympic investment isn't the dent it might seem, said Boyle, adding that NBC bought 68,000 units of Columbia merchandise for its 4,500 VIP guests.

"One hand washes the other," she said.

The surprise champion of brand recognition for the 19th Winter Games has been Roots, the Canadian chain that was relatively unknown in the U.S. prior to the opening ceremonies on Feb. 8.

Surrounded by boxes stacked to the ceiling, three weary Roots saleswomen stood guard near midnight one night last week in the company's store at the Salt Lake City airport. With another three stores near Olympic venues, Roots is in the midst of a marketing dream. Fans see Olympians wear their product and want to buy the same items, with reports of a five-hour wait to get into the stores to do so.

Unlike most brands rallying around the Olympics, Roots can measure its success on a daily basis. Initially, each of the brand's three stores in the Salt Lake City was expected to generate a few million dollars in sales, but now, it should go "well beyond that," according to cofounder Don Green.With 145 stores in Canada and eight in the U.S., including the ones here that were set up solely for the Games, the company expects to tackle e-commerce next. That, according to Green, would be the best way to reach the masses, since opening stores can be so time consuming.

The Scandinavian Shop, located a few blocks from the entrance to Olympic Plaza, has been a stopover for many, especially at night when half-frozen fans duck in after standing outside for a few hours at the medals ceremony venue. Some pick up clogs, Norwegian trolls or gefilte fish.

But the $3.50 flag pins and Dale of Norway sweaters are the must-haves for Games-goers. Most won't notice Utah's state flower, tree, bird and Wasatch Mountains or the Olympic flame in the design, but they're not blinking at the $249 price tag either. What they do recognize is that similar sweaters are worn by Norwegian, American and Canadian Olympic skiers, as well as NBC anchor Katie Couric. In the U.S., 100,000 units should be sold during the Games.

Also during the Olympics, The Scandinavian Shop's daily sales have exceeded what it averages for the whole month of January, said Helge Nilsen, who owns the store with his wife, Liz. To try to maximize business, the retailer is open an hour earlier and four hours later than usual.

Burton, the sponsor of snowboarding medalists Ross Powers and Kelly Clark, takes a more low-key approach, hosting nightly parties at Park City's Mountain Logic. Founder Jake Burton has been charged up by the swell of attention and respect snowboarding earned at the Games and the newcomers it stands to attract. As for how the Utah gold would affect Burton's business, he insisted that the benefit would be seen in the sport, not in the brand.

Another company that's not fond of traditional marketing, Crunch Fitness, has set up a public gym and yoga studio in Park City for the public. President Doug Levine said he thought that would be a "nice thing to do in a difficult time for the country."

It also helps familiarize potential members with the Crunch brand. In other words, Olympic fans from Boston, New York, Toronto and Washington, D.C., will look for Crunch products when clubs open in their respective cities in the next two years.

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