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Inside Look: How COVID-19 Has Affected The AOC’s Commercial Strategy

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n an exclusive interview with Ministry of Sport, Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) head of commercial operations, Jess Hurford, discussed how the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games postponement has affected Australia’s Olympic commercial strategy and delivery.

Hurford said the AOC’s commercial partners have stood strong through the postponement of the Olympics, with any expiring contracts extended by the AOC to 2021 at no additional cost.

“Our entire partner family has been incredibly supportive and have thankfully stood strongly by our side through this challenging time,” Hurford told Ministry of Sport.

“We did our best to ensure they were all brought on the journey and kept updated on information as it was received from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) because they all have a large stake in supporting the Olympic movement in Australia and our teams for the Olympic Games.

“We have been very conscious that it was our time to support, as many of them have been and still are facing trying circumstances in the market…

“To ensure we could deliver to our partners at the upcoming Olympic Games, we extended any expiring contracts to 2021 encompass the Tokyo Games in 2021 at no additional cost…

“We have found that we have been able to create a very close, strong knit community within our partner family.

“We have discovered a widely held view, of our sponsors and the wider Australian community, that the Olympic Games are exactly what we all need after this year: a powerful symbol of hope for all.

“It will be a wonderful moment for the entire world when we see that flame lit in Tokyo.

“What brand wouldn’t want to be involved with that moment?” she said.

When asked how the AOC’s commercial strategy was forced to change due to the impact of COVID-19, Hurford said the focus on digital activations has been more important than ever.

“The AOC’s commercial strategy is to secure partners who can support our efforts to promote Olympism in the community year-round and to send teams for every edition of the Olympic Games, the Youth Olympic Games and other international events including the Pacific Games and the World Beach Games, among others,” Hurford said.

“We receive no Federal Government funding and rely heavily on commercial partners and fundraising.

“Due to COVID, our fundraising appeal events were cancelled, so our commercial program has become more important than ever.

“To deliver on our community outreach programs we have shifted to delivering programmes online (for e.g. the Olympics Unleashed program presented by Optus), which we will continue to do to complement the physical program visits to schools.

“Olympics Unleashed has also been a great way to highlight to the market that the Olympic brand is not central to the Olympics Games time as our partners are beginning to activate all year round.

“The AOC has also accelerated digital efforts to deliver programmes, including the recent MySydney2000 campaign celebrating 20 years since Sydney Olympic Games; we also delivered a fantastic new initiative, Wellbeing Week, presented by Allianz, to promote mental and physical wellbeing.

“It is no surprise that we will be relying heavily on digital to engage Australians in the lead up to and during these Games.

“The AOC’s channel www.olympics.com.au is first course for Australians wanting to know about the athletes, their stories, their backgrounds and their lead-up performances.

“We’re often doing unique digital platform take-overs with our athletes in the lead up, and our campaign will feature heavily on digital platforms also with our media partners, as well as on AOC’s own social channels.

“We will be encouraging our partners as always to also be a key part of the conversation.

“Through COVID, we all found new ways to communicate and stay connected so we feel that although our athletes will be overseas in Japan, we will be able to share in their experiences and very much make this a home Games as it will be such a perfect time zone for Australian fans’ live viewing,” she said.

Talking about how the commercial partnership activations for the Tokyo Olympic Games will look in 2021, with it being very likely at this stage Australian will not be able to travel to Japan to attend the event, Hurford said she believes the AOC’s sponsors will target Australian activations above all.

“From our point of view there isn’t uncertainty around the Olympic Games, they are moving forward as planned on the 23rd July 2021 and they will still be referred to as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games,” Hurford said.

“We recently held a sponsor update after the IOC Chef de Mission seminar and 52 representatives from our partner family joined.

“Since then, we have seen increased level of confidence in the delivery of the Games and thus our partners are all busily developing their campaigns.

“If restrictions remain, there may not be many Australians travelling to Japan, so we envisage the bulk of the partner activity taking place will be here, on home soil.

“This works for us, as that’s where the bulk of our Australian supporters are.

“The Games postponement came the day before ASICS was to launch our team uniform, which was to be followed by a cascade of campaign launches from our partners.

“Therefore, many of our partners have already finalised their campaigns, but of course we expect tweaking will occur with new athlete stories emerging.

“They are now revisiting these campaigns to ensure they are still relevant to the ‘new world’ or if they need to be reimagined.

“From the campaigns we have seen so far, there is a strong community message of striving to give sport a go and being the best you can be, remains a very important theme.

“In parallel with our partners’ campaigns, we are also looking forward to launching the AOC’s own campaign in 2021, with great support of our media partners, Seven, NewsCorp and JC Decaux.

“Created by M&C Saatchi, this will bring to life a great message of dreams, hope and excitement and encouraging our next generation of kids in sport.

“The world’s eyes are always on the Olympic Games, but perhaps they will be looking more closely these Games.

“We feel that brands will be very conscious of consumer sentiment with a larger emphasis on community and coming together.

“We have a range of partners whose campaigns we expect will be very much delivering a strong and valuable message being aligned to community, supporting the athlete’s journey or mental health.

“Due to the unknown landscape, we feel that Australia will be the focal point for our sponsors activation, where in previous Games, there were a number of sponsors activating on the ground in the Host City.

“To bring the Australian community together, the AOC is planning an Olympics Live site program presented and supported by Westpac and other partners, which will be a wonderful opportunity to bring Australia back together in celebration of sport.

“We will be using our Olympic platform to encourage kids across the nation to embrace Olympic sport simply for the fun of it and the positive ways it can enrich their day to day lives and help them live a happy, healthy life,” she said.

Discussing how the AOC’s strategy for future Olympic Games after Tokyo 2020 has changed, Hurford said the AOC’s partners will look to an ‘always-on, year-round’ activation approach.

“The main shift we are seeing from a commercial strategy perspective is to offer our partners an always-on, year-round platform opportunity to engage their stakeholders and with communities using the Olympics themes and values,” Hurford told Ministry of Sport.

“This is leading to far more digital campaign opportunities and content emphasis.

“We have an exciting 10-year runway of sport ahead in Australia with multiple World Cups and World Championships leading to future Olympic Games in Beijing 2022, Paris 2024, Milan-Cortina 2026, Los Angeles 2028 and hopefully, for another home Olympic Games for South East Queensland 2032 (with the SEQ 2032 candidature currently underway).

“Many of the approaching World Cups are for our fantastic women’s sport and we celebrate its rise.

“The AOC has had women representing Australia on the global stage since 1912 and we are again expecting more women than men on our Olympic Team.

“The AOC will continue to rally the nation’s support behind our athletes whilst ensuring we inspire young Australians into sport.

“We have a very short window between Tokyo and the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games, so we hope our partners will take this rare opportunity to give longevity to their campaigns and also support our winter campaign efforts for Beijing.

“We have additional funding pressure due to the extended lead-in to Tokyo and the complexities around ensuring the team is delivered to and from the Games safely.

“Our commercial outreach continues, and we hope to secure additional partnerships.

“We welcome discussions from brands who are interested to align to the Olympic brand,” she said.