As American athletes compete for medals in Beijing, much of the U.S. Olympic business apparatus will be gathering at a ski slope 6,000 miles away.
Team USA sponsors, VIPs and donors are all converging over the next few weeks in Park City, Utah, part of a concentrated plan to replace much of the networking, advertising and hospitality typically on hand at the Games themselves. They’ll be joined by many athletes’ friends and families, also unable to make the trip to China because of COVID restrictions at the Winter Olympics.
The Park City events, a collaboration between LA28 and Team USA, will feature hundreds of guests, including about 100 donors, and executives from sponsors such as Airbnb (Nasdaq: ABNB), Visa (NYSE: V), Salesforce (NYSE: CRM) and Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG). NBC, which broadcasts the Games in the U.S., will also have a presence.
“Given that we cannot travel to the Games as we normally would, we wanted to recreate the special atmosphere,” said Dave Mingey, head of partnership management and activation at U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Properties. “And do it in a way that could both celebrate and support all of our key stakeholders.”
These business functions are critical to the financial health of the U.S. Olympic movement. While many international Olympic teams are funded by large government subsidies, Team USA receives almost no public money. Instead, it relies primarily on corporate support, media distributions and donations to fund the bulk of its business.
Team USA brought in $922 million in the four-year cycle from 2017-2020, according to its audited financial statements. Of that total, about 60% ($557 million) come from sponsorship and licensing revenue, with another 8% ($75 million) coming from donations. In the previous four-year Olympic cycle, donations and sponsorships accounted for more than 60% of Team USA revenue.
There will be three main pillars within the Park City gathering. Team USA’s 222 athletes were each allowed to fly two people to the festivities. There will also be two waves of programming for sponsors, and events for VIP donors. Organizers have a number of locations reserved, including a hotel and an event space right off Main Street, plus a Team USA store in town selling Nike and Ralph Lauren product. (Mingey declined to comment on what the festivities would cost).
Those events will happen alongside a wider Olympics celebration. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Salt Lake City’s Winter Games (held largely in the Park City area), and a bid for 2030 or 2034 is in the works. Local authorities are planning their own celebrations, including music and sport demos.
Hospitality at the Games is a critical part of what drives companies to spend millions connecting themselves with the Olympics. The companies are also paying for networking opportunities—the Olympics is a biennial gathering of some of the world’s most prominent companies and businesspeople, and many sponsors see a commercial relationship as a gateway to new business. Park City organizers are hoping this domestic event can serve both purposes—hospitality and networking.
Donors have become an increasingly important part of the Team USA business, starting around 2008, when the group began prioritizing six-figure contributions from benefactors to help diversify its revenue streams. The pitch was based on hospitality, and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation typically brings about 85 donors to a Winter Olympics.
When the Tokyo Games barred fans last year, however, the group pivoted to a local model. In a 17-day stretch around the Summer Games, the foundation organized more than 20 watch party events from Seattle to Nantucket. It set a target of $25 million in donations for the year and ended up raising $36.4 million, according to Christine Walshe, president of the USOPF.
“When life gives you lemons, you really have two choices,” she said in an interview. “When Tokyo hit, we decided to make lemonade, and we had the best summer of fundraising in our history. So while we’re dying to get back on the road with our athletes, this taught us that there are a lot of Americans that are interested in supporting us who want to stay here in the U.S., rooting on Team USA on U.S. soil.”
The Park City plan merges last summer’s success with other previous domestic Olympic gatherings. Team USA has run smaller local events for sponsors (for the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, some were held in Park City), and last year created a separate gathering for friends and family unable to travel to Tokyo. Those were held in Orlando for the Olympics, and Colorado Springs, home to Team USA’s headquarters, for the Paralympics.
Many TV viewers would have noticed those gatherings—they allowed NBC’s telecasts to feature look-ins at family members as their loved ones competed for Olympic gold. The clips were featured across Comcast platforms, including The Today Show and NBC’s Nightly News.
That will continue this year. The main ballroom in the Park City hotel has a central viewing area, plus smaller secondary screens where all NBC feeds will be live 24/7, allowing anyone to watch any event at any time. NBC will have the ability to pull crowd shots or specific family reactions to use in its coverage.
Should things go well, both Mingey and Walshe said they expect this model will continue for Olympics moving forward, even as fans return to the stands and on-location hospitality programs are relaunched.
“This is certainly something that perhaps we’ll do in the future,” Mingey said. “It can make a lot of sense if it’s done the right way.”