A look at the Liberty Mutual USOC sponsorship and more
I had the opportunity to speak with U.S Olympic snowboarder, Seth Wescott, as he prepares for the chance to become the first American man to win gold in the same event at three straight Olympic Winter Games. Whether it’s Wescott’s non-Olympic partnership with L.L Bean, where he’s involved in reengaging the brand in the snow sports industry or his achievement at the X Games, World Championship, and Olympic level; he is no stranger to the business side of sponsorships.
Liberty Mutual and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) signed a sponsorship agreement in early 2013. The Fortune 100 Corporation became a domestic sponsor of the Team USA until 2016. This not only allows for activation around the upcoming Sochi Winter Games, but the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games as well. Some of Liberty Mutual’s other relevant sport involvement includes being a National Supporter, through Liberty Seguros (Brazil), for the FIFA confederations cup 2013. A similar agreement was struck with the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
The USOC guaranteed Liberty Mutual with category exclusivity, and the company has been able to inject a creative marketing campaign as a result. This is primarily driven by the effort to individually endorse select Olympic and Paralympic athletes. The insurance company has decided to focus on athletes that have overcome setbacks in their career. What better way to leverage the brand equity of a company that, by its nature, is in the business of catastrophe than to highlight these athletes’ triumphant comebacks from injury or other unexpected life events? The campaign is being branded as “RISE”, the Olympic and Paralympic athletes being highlighted include:
Team Liberty Mutual
|Max Aaron, figure skating||Jocelyne & Monique Lamoureux, hockey|
|J.R. Celski, speedskating||Rico Roman, sled hockey|
|Jazmine Fenlator, bobsled||Andy Soule, skiing|
|Jen Hudak, freestyle skiing||Picabo Street, skiing|
|Jessica Jerome, ski jump||Katie Uhlaender, skeleton race|
|Chris Klug, snowboarding||Seth Wescott, snowboarding|
All the athletes have a history of “responsibility and behaving with integrity” says Liberty Mutual Executive Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Paul Alexander. This secures a more marketable athlete but also serves as a corporate social responsibility play. The cause marketing element combined with their relative comeback stories meant these athletes were extremely well-fit for the RISE initiative.
The campaign is digital in nature; fully integrated across platforms of social media complete with vignettes, videos, interviews, and other content in order to share the athletes’ entire stories. “The whole Olympic idea about folks who have had difficulties or setbacks and then come back to succeed is compelling and online gives you the chance to tell that story more in depth than in mass media,” added Alexander.
Snowboarder, and member of Team Liberty Mutual, Seth Wescott is no stranger to setbacks. He shattered his left arm in which there is now a metal plate, tore his pectoral right off the bone, shredded both ACL’s and broke his tibia, just to name a few. His most recent injury, the left ACL, occurred this summer, “it wasn’t the way I wanted to start summer training for the Olympics” remarked Wescott.
Yet despite the injury setbacks, all Wescott seems to do is win. Some of his credentials include 12 World Cup medals, 7-time X Games medals, 2 Olympic Gold Medals and is the only winner since snowboard cross debuted in the 2006 Games. This combination has made Wescott the ideal match for RISE.
“I mean it fits, Liberty Mutual wanted people who had been through setbacks in career, and still found a way to rise up and excel in the Olympics,” added Wescott. “I’ve had injuries before each of the Olympics, and now again with this third one. To me it speaks to the quality of the company that they would go to someone who could be seen as at a low in their career. They still want a relationship because they believe in me, as a person and as an athlete.”
Liberty Mutual encourages fans and viewers to share their #RISE story by using the hashtag across social media networks. Other brands are weaving social media interaction into their Olympic activation strategy. TD Ameritrade has set up brokerage accounts for Olympic prospects. They have pledged to add $1 into this fund for every mention or use of its advertising campaign’s hashtag. Examples, like these, that connect consumer interaction with a cause to further advertising strategy are becoming a standard in a complete sports sponsorship package.
From a content perspective, advertising is at an all-time high. After selling out of all inventory, NBC Universal announced it reached $800M in ad sales for Sochi. This is a 5.35% increase from previous record numbers at the Salt Lake City Games and Vancouver Games. These figures, of course, do not capture endorsements of individuals. This side of the business is heavily regulated to prevent any type of ambush marketing. In fact, charter restrictions are in place save for official USOC or IOC sanctioned sponsors.
When asked about the Liberty Mutual agreement, Wescott said “From an individual standpoint it’s awesome to have companies like this to step up to the plate and sponsor us as individuals because they believe in who you are,” adding “Their perspective and philosophy is unique. They are going with people that relate to what hardships are like because their entire business is making money off setbacks.”
So how profitable can the Olympics be for an extreme sport athlete? Where do most sponsor dollars flow – to the X Games for direct targeting or to the Olympics for a wider appeal? Wescott chimed in, “The Olympics and X Games are very different. The Olympics become a focus one every four years whereas the X Games are just another event on the schedule. X Games definitely has put our sport on the map, and done a great job at it over the past 17 years, but there’s nothing like the Olympics”.
As a result, the sponsorship surrounding the X Games and other annual events come much more from industry related and sport specific companies. It is to the level where most of the X Games athlete’s primary income is sourced from sponsors at these events. But, the majority of even most successful X Games athletes do not earn a lucrative payback. “It depends on your level of success, the difference is the stage. If you can perform at a high level at the Olympics, it brings you opportunities [financial and other] that you simply can’t achieve from competing at the X Games or World Cup for example” added Wescott.
Although specific terms of the Liberty Mutual were not disclosed, to Wescott’s point the Olympics attract the corporate world and that means big money. Companies want to get involved with Olympians because of the positive connection and association it can bring on a personal level. The ultimate goal is to increase revenue by driving consumer behavior toward that brand.
Wescott was clear in that the money is not a factor for him, “being an Olympic athlete is a phenomenal opportunity to bring people into sports like snowboard cross. For me I just want to continue to give back to the sport of snowboarding. There’s a lot of different ways to give back. Whatever I end up winning in the long term isn’t necessarily what’s important to me-it’s being a good steward of the snowboard community.”
Ketchum Sports & Entertainment was involved in athlete selection and subsequent public relations. Hill Holiday is behind the creative and 21 Marketing is credited as assisting Liberty Mutual with the Olympics sponsorship.