December 4, 2022

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Olympic Strategy: The American Games

Katie Bynum, USOPC’s chief strategy and growth officer, was among the Olympic industry leaders on hand in Park City, Utah.getty images

On the penultimate night of the Beijing Olympics, some of the most powerful figures in the Olympic movement gathered for a night of celebration. That evening, key executives from the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, including board chair Susanne Lyons and Katie Bynum, chief strategy and growth officer, were joined by leaders of U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Properties, past Olympic and Paralympic medalists and some of the Games’ top marketing executives, including Procter & Gamble’s Janet Fletcher, Toyota’s Dedra DeLilli, Airbnb’s Emily Misleh and Salesforce’s Colin Fleming.

The star-studded crowd had not come together in the Games’ host nation, where they would ordinarily be hosting clients and engaging with fans from around the world. Instead, those leaders were packed into the Kimball Terrace event space in Park City, Utah, the de facto hometown for Team USA throughout the Beijing Games.

That domestic programming was born of necessity, given the many pandemic restrictions and geopolitical baggage associated with traveling to China. Yet leaders throughout the Olympic movement say they expect expanded stateside operations will now remain a key focus even as they hope for the cadence of business to return to normal for Paris 2024 and beyond.

“We’ve tried to take the learnings we had from the summer in Tokyo and put them together here to create a total Team USA footprint on behalf of multiple stakeholders. And I think it’s turned out even better than we had hoped,” said Dave Mingey, head of partnership management and activation for USOPP, the commercial joint venture between the USOPC and LA28. “The success of a domestic footprint like this certainly has a number of us internally thinking about what types of other, similar innovations we could debut on the road to Paris.”

The plan to relocate Team USA hospitality operations to Park City was built off the successful framework created last summer when NBC, Toyota and the USOPC partnered to host friends and family operations in Orlando and Colorado Springs for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, respectively.

For the Winter Games, athletes’ loved ones were hosted at the DoubleTree hotel in Park City, where the USOPC and its sponsors transformed a conference room into a weekslong viewing party often featured on NBC’s broadcasts. Team USA sponsors paid for the ability to activate therein, with a Delta-branded open bar featuring specialty cocktails and P&G operating a cozy late-night lounge.

“It’s been an awesome drum beat for Olympic celebration,” said Bynum. “I think both in-country, in this case in ’24 an in-Paris experience, and a domestic experience makes a lot of sense, particularly as we think about the run-up to hosting the Games in the U.S. in 2028. We don’t know yet what that looks like, but we’ve seen such great engagement success here that we should definitely explore and will explore what that looks like.”

That sentiment has been echoed throughout the movement after executives witnessed firsthand the effectiveness of domestic programming during Beijing. USOPP provided hospitality for partner executives over the final weekend of the Games, and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Foundation, which raises private giving to support Team USA athletes, hosted two waves of donors in Park City along with separate operations in Aspen, Colo., where the organization held its inaugural women’s retreat, and at the exclusive Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Mont.

“What it taught us is that we have a new business model that we’re going to keep, and that is to create domestic hospitality for the Games-time,” said USOPF President and USOPC Chief Development Officer Christine Walshe. “We’ve always taken upwards of 200 families to the Olympics, which is a pretty extraordinary feat. Now we will do that, and we will also have domestic stops along the way.”

Despite losing host-nation hospitality assets across the last two Games, Walshe said the foundation raised over $8 million across 22 events during the Tokyo Games, marking its strongest-ever summer, and its Winter’s Edge campaign was roughly halfway to reaching its Q1 goal of raising $5 million in the waning days of the Beijing Olympics. According to Walshe, the foundation contributes some 10%-12% of the USOPC’s annual budget, and that number will continue to grow.

National governing bodies similarly replicated operations that might ordinarily take place overseas. U.S. Figure Skating invited athlete families to La Jolla, Calif., for the start of the Games, and USA Curling held its own watch party in Minneapolis. U.S. Ski & Snowboard, which is based in Park City, hosted its guests at The Lodges at Deer Valley, aligned with the USOPF for several watch parties and provided its partners the chance to ski and ride with Olympians including Kelly Clark and Steven Nyman.

“That domestic alternative is something a lot of NGBs may value moving forward,” said USSA Chief Revenue Officer Michael O’Conor. “It’s more economical, it’s typically an easier travel — you’re not going to Europe or Asia or wherever else — and you’re getting a fantastic viewing experience on NBC.”

Olympic stakeholders still need to navigate the Beijing Paralympics, which begin this Friday, and some celebrations will continue in Park City, where the USOPC will host a wave of Para athlete friends and families. But stakeholders throughout the movement are salivating at the open road ahead, and Mingey said the challenges of the past year have galvanized the Team USA properties ahead of schedule.

“Operationally, there’s been a fantastic benefit of this Park City effort, because it’s essentially accelerated our understanding of how to create optimal engagement with all these key stakeholders,” said Mingey. “In some ways it puts us further ahead of the curve than we’d otherwise have been.”