Corporate partnerships are central to the financing of the Olympic Games, with the International Olympic Committee generating 45-percent of its revenue from a portfolio of exclusive partners, known as TOP partners. As the 2018 Winter Olympic Games begin in PyeongChang, South Korea, the IOC’s longest tenured sponsor, Coca-Cola, is evolving its involvement with the global event.
Coca-Cola’s partnership with the Olympic Games unofficially began 90-years ago, when one of the company’s bottlers sent 1,000 cases of the soda to Amsterdam to be sold around the Olympic Games. Since then, its touch points have not only become officially tied to the IOC’s efforts, but have grown in scale and technological advancement.
Throughout the decades, the cornerstone of Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the Olympic Games has been its support of numerous Olympic athletes. Aligning itself with athletes including, Jesse Owens for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin and Cassius Clay for the Rome Olympic Games in 1960, Coca-Cola’s brand has been tied to some of the most important moments not only in the Olympic Games, but also sport history.
For its 2018 iteration as an Olympic sponsor, Coca-Cola is sponsoring four notable American athletes: freestyle skier Mac Bohonnon; figure skater Nathan Chen; bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor; and Paralympic snowboarder Amy Purdy.
While Coca-Cola has sponsored 90 American Olympians since the 2006 Winter Olympic Games, it engages in a thorough selection process to identify and ultimately sign candidates for partnership. Its Olympic Marketing team tracks 200 athletes and ultimately decides which to sponsor through conversations with NBC, the USOC, Olympic legends, coaches, the media and agents. The main emphasis in these discussions, along with a questionnaire provided to targeted athletes, is to ensure that a partnership is the correct fit for Coca-Cola’s products and target marketing audience.
“We want our partnership to be genuine, real and authentic,” said Dina Gerson, director, Olympic marketing, Coca-Cola North America. “It looks a lot easier than it is. There’s a method to the madness, however. There’s art, science and specific information we have to magically pull it together.”
With its headquarters in the United States, Coca-Cola’s support of the Olympic Games is global, as beyond being an official IOC TOP partner, it also partners with all 204 National Olympic Committees across the world and sponsors the Olympic Torch Relay.
While widespread support of sport and global athletes’ endeavors are central themes to Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the Olympic Games, it has also used this role to bring technological advancements to sport fans.
For instance, in 1952 Coca-Cola provided fans at the Oslo Winter Olympic Games their first opportunity to lay eyes on a helicopter, while during the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the brand built a technologically advanced viewership experience for Brazilian teens to enjoy the Games.
“Coca-Cola has a commitment to the Olympic Games and the Olympic movement, and they go well together because the Games represent optimism, hope, aspiration and all the things in human nature that we want to strive for,” says Coca-Colaarchivist Ted Ryan.
In PyeongChang, Coca-Cola will continue this commitment not only by supporting Olympians, but also by creating unique experiences for fans attending the Olympic Games. On site, fans will experience an immersive LED gallery featuring Coca-Cola athletes and fan celebrations; two giant-sized vending machines; a multi-floored space with activities games, gambling and photo stations in Seoul; a fully-functional machine with a heating zone in Gangneung; and a pin-trading center.
“As the Games begin and mark this monumental partnership between Coca-Cola and the Olympics, we continue to support the core values of the Olympic Movement – excellence, friendship and respect – and we look forward to maintaining our role in helping to make the Olympics a memorable experience for athletes, fans and communities all around the world,” said Rodolfo Echeverria, vice president of global creative, The Coca-Cola Company.