The CMO Interview

Staying in the Game in Non-Olympic Years

USOC CMO Lisa Baird Says It's All About Timing and Connecting With 'Fangelists'

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NEW YORK ( -- The Olympics take center stage for just two weeks every two years, but for Lisa Baird, chief marketing officer for the United States Olympic Committee, it's a 24/7, 365-day-a-year job to make sure the U.S. teams are well-funded via sponsorships.

USOC CMO Lisa Baird
USOC CMO Lisa Baird
And as marketers have pared back advertising budgets, Ms. Baird's job has become tougher. Former Olympic advertising stalwarts like General Motors and Home Depot have left -- although Procter & Gamble came in last year and signed a major deal with the USOC.

Ms. Baird, 48, has been with the USOC barely a year. In her 25-year career she has held senior marketing positions with organizations such as IBM, General Motors, Procter & Gamble and, most recently, the National Football League, where she directed the league's consumer products, direct marketing, e-commerce, entertainment marketing and advertising programs. She oversaw a portfolio of more than 150 licensees that delivered $3 billion in retail sales. Ms. Baird developed the league's first consumer-generated ads for the 2006 Super Bowl, launched the NFL's first youth and Hispanic websites and helped develop into one of the premier e-commerce sites in sports. She also launched the first virtual sports world for kids,

She now directs the USOC's sales and marketing division and oversees the development of innovative corporate-sponsorship and licensing programs, reporting to interim CEO Scott Blackmun -- just named last month after a series of shakeups at the top -- and overseeing a sponsorship and marketing budget estimated at nearly $40 million.

In less than a year, she has developed several initiatives as part of a strategy to help keep the Olympics top-of-mind, even in off years, including a partnership group within the sales and marketing department to help service existing sponsors and help them activate more in the U.S., and the creation of "America Supports Team USA," a PR and marketing platform to raise awareness of the Olympics between late May and early July -- taking advantage of the uniquely American patriotic holidays of Memorial Day, Flag Day and Independence Day.

"We have a different type of fan than other sports properties," she said. "We call them fangelists. They're fans, but they're also evangelists for the Olympic movement. We want to connect our consumers to the Olympic cause, and doing it outside of games years is a critical objective."

Now, with the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver days away, she shared with Ad Age her views on marketing the games in non-Olympic years, the loss of Chicago's 2016 bid to host the Summer Games, and Stephen Colbert.

Ad Age: How do you keep the Olympics relevant when it happens for such a short period of time over a couple of years at a time?

Ms. Baird: The Olympic movement is alive and well every day of the year. The brand attributes that we stand for, the ability to use sportsmanship as values, are true inside the game and out. We want to continue to build on that. When people use an athlete, when our sponsors want to create something about Team USA that stands for those brand value attributes, we're there every day. We'll never be a 365-day-a-year property. But there are times when people feel patriotic, such as that Memorial Day to July 4 period, and that time period makes a lot of sense for us.

Ad Age: How are you going to replace GM and Home Depot as major sponsors, especially now that the USOC lost the bid to host the Summer 2016 Games on home turf in Chicago?

Ms. Baird: The economy is the economy. We want to be sensitive to what's happening around us. The way I look at it is, we've had great relationships with both GM and Home Depot. What they did for us was tremendous. Some of my favorite programs and campaigns came from those two sponsors. But we're also excited when we have a new sponsor, such as P&G. With the breadth of their products, it's exciting to see new innovation. I don't sit there and say, "OK, Home Depot; I have to replace them in the same category." I look at the market and say, "Where does it make sense for the USOC to engage with a new partner?"

Ad Age: There are a lot of deals cut now with individual U.S. teams and sponsors, and it seems as though everyone is doing their own thing. How are you going to keep all the teams on the same page and go at it as one in terms of marketing?

Ms. Baird: The way I would love to see it is as a great complementary relationship there. The teams have a real focus. Day in and day out they are developing a pipeline for athletes. Over that, there are the Olympic marks. When we operate at our best, we are complementary to each other. We have properties, like the Olympic trials. We have the games, where that's the one point in time where all national governing bodies are on the same page. We try to use current Olympians and Olympic legends in our marketing. So there are a lot of ways in which we can all be complementary to each other.

Ad Age: Has it been a problem, from a marketing standpoint, that the leadership at the top of the USOC has changed so often lately and there seems to be dysfunction within the group?

Ms. Baird: I'm going to say no. I mean, Coca-Cola has been our partner since 1928. We have some of the best partners. We work day in and day out with them. In the end, it's all about Team USA.

Ad Age: How do you approach the new USOC TV network? It's a good way to give visibility to your sponsors in between Olympic Games, but the USOC has angered both the International Olympic Committee and NBC by starting its own channel.

Ms. Baird: I was excited about it when we launched it, and right now with the bigger picture with what's happening with Comcast and NBC, I know that could change things. But I still want to see it happen.

Ad Age: Reports say NBC will lose $200 million on the Winter Games. Are USOC sponsors having to make a choice between TV or sponsorship with the USOC due to the economy?

Ms. Baird: Most of our partners and sponsors use it as one integrated campaign. That's how they go to market. It's clearly when we see our best results. We work quite closely with our partners, and that's the best way to get value out of your sponsorship. I don't believe it's a choice, nor would it be a good choice.

Ad Age: Has Chicago's loss of the 2016 games, and the anti-American sentiment that went with that, had an impact on the USOC's ability to sell? The Summer Games are clearly the bigger draw, and now it looks like the U.S. won't be getting an Olympics on home soil for a decade.

Ms. Baird: Of course we're disappointed that Chicago didn't get the games because it gives us a very different value proposition. I think that we're blessed with the global and domestic partners we have that see the value of Team USA. Am I disappointed? Absolutely. But we're here to support Team USA, and while a games on our home territory would have been exciting, our teams will compete hard in Vancouver, London (2012), Sochi (2014) and Rio (2016). We'll do what we can to raise the money. It certainly makes me become more creative.

Ad Age: Two words: Stephen Colbert.

Ms. Baird: What a great, great fortunate circumstance. Great, wonderful, and I'm so happy the "Colbert Nation" is the sponsor [of the speed-skating team]. It's unusual, but I'm happy.

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