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Jess Hurfordand AOC

Exclusive: Tokyo 2020- Best Commercial Program Since Sydney 2000

I
n an exclusive interview with Ministry of Sport, Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) head of commercial operations, Jess Hurford, discussed the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games commercial highlights, delayed impacts, Diversity representation and AOC athlete pathways following the Games.

When the games were delayed by over 12-months in 2020 due to the global pandemic, Hurford said the AOC’s sponsors showed great support and understanding which allowed the organisation to turn all its focus to athlete wellbeing.

“The postponement of the Games was tough for our athletes, and that was our first concern; they soldiered on and showed incredible resilience and drive to keep on going, and we all took inspiration from that,” Hurford told Ministry of sport.

“The commercial program was the same, although we were faced with adversity, we found a way to move forward even better, and we not only retained all of our partners but we signed eight more brands to our Sponsor Family in the extra year to create our most successful commercial program since Sydney 2000.

“COVID was simply another story of adversity for us all and the stories of triumph and tragedy are just what brought us together during the Games.

“The story of Cedric Dubler holding back in his race to ensure his friend and team-mate, Ash Moloney, won a bronze medal in the decathlon.

“Those stories are the reason we have the biggest brands in the world partner with us and when they get it right, their campaigns become part of these stories.

“When they align their brands with the Olympic spirit, it works.”

Hurford said Research says that 2 in 3 Australians are likely to buy from brands that support the Australian Olympic Team, and 4 in 5 of those are hard-to-reach younger Australians.

“Our Australian Olympic team sponsors are overwhelmingly viewed positively, and to embody the best of Australian culture and values – this was truer for these games than ever before.

“It was magic that brought Australia together in a time of division and fear. I hope we hold on to that unity as it was beautiful to witness,” she said.

Hurford says the Olympics are at the forefront of inclusivity and truly represent the diverse Australian nation.

“The Olympics has been proudly cheering on women in sport for over 100 years since Fanny Durack became our first female Olympian in 1921.

“Three out of the last 4 Olympic Teams has fielded more women than men in our teams (Sochi, Rio, Tokyo).

“Truthfully, I feel like the equality conversation was done for us years ago, now and our female athletes continue to break records and come home draped in success.

“This does have a positive impact on our commercial program as there aren’t many properties you can own which represent Australia so well… Not just gender, but every diverse group of Australia is represented on our team of 472 including 16 proud indigenous athletes” she said.

With the postponement of the Games, Hurford also discussed the change in commercial strategies saying the AOC had to shut down a nation-wide Olympics Live programmes due to lockdowns but found success building digital activations..

“We (AOC) had planned a nation-wide Olympics Live program presented by Westpac in Brisbane, regional QLD Sydney, regional NSW, Victoria, Perth, Hobart and Darwin, but due to COVID-19 lockdowns, Olympics Live had to be cancelled in Melbourne, regional NSW and Sydney,” Hurford said.

“Unfortunately, Brisbane was closed after ten days but thankfully not before they were the heart of the of celebration for the Brisbane 2032 announcement.

“They were sideswiped by lockdowns, but like everyone, we went digital and built a groundswell of support from Australian’s which we couldn’t have done without our sponsors and their campaigns.”

Hurford told the Ministry of Sport some commercial activations were really impressive for Tokyo 2020.

“Brands like Allianz found their place supporting mental health for Australia through the raw, authentic, sometimes heartbreaking stories of athletes when they felt like they have let the nation down,” Hurford said.

“I loved the Japanese manga (cartoon) versions of our Boxing Kangaroo, which appeared on circulating coins through a partnership with the Royal Australian Mint and Woolworths.

“Bridgestone brought communities together by rebuilding sports facilities in hometowns of our athletes.

“Woolworths Aussie Hero’s collectables were worth their weight in gold as they entertained my kids through lockdown as they stuck their stickers in their booklet.

“Ryman Healthcare – Created an Olympics @ Ryman, which was mini Olympics for the residents of their retirement villages and virtually across the Tasman from Australia to New Zealand.”

Following the results of such a successful Olympic Games for our Aussie athletes, Hurford explained how the AOC supports athletes upon arriving home.

“These athletes have a fantastic opportunity ahead of them, and the AOC is there to assist, guide and create opportunities for them within sport and beyond as they now represent the Olympic movement forever.

They will all be part of the incredible ten year pathways to the wonderful sporting landscape in front of us for the next ten years as we approach Brisbane 2032,” she said.

“But firstly, we have to focus on the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, Paris 2024 and of course our Pacific Games Team for 2023 and each of the Youth Olympic Teams in 2024 and 2026 in this next quad.

“We have multiple programs which support our athletes but predominantly our Olympian Opportunities program, which supports not only their sporting journey but their life after sport by providing them with the right tools to live their best life.

“Our commercial program is about the team in its entirety, and we try not to single out individual athletes or individual sports. We provide athletes with growth and payment opportunities through our Olympics Unleashed program, which trains them to tell their personal stories, and they are paid to visit schools around Australia to inspire kids to be their best,” she said.