Get ready for an interactive splash as sponsors gear up for 100th anniversary
If TV radically changed the way sports fans experienced the modern-day Olympics in its first 100 years, then interactive technologies promise to change the Games again as they begin their second century.
The 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta will offer a glimpse of the future of the Games, an experience made different by multimedia and interconnectivity on a global scale.
"The Olympics has always served as a great catalyst for the introduction of new technologies to the public," said Michael Payne, director of marketing for the International Olympic Committee.
But with that kind of opportunity will also come pressure for marketers to really wow consumers.
"Atlanta promises to be a showcase for interactivity," said Gary Arlen, president of Arlen Communications, Bethesda, Md., "but presentation will be key, because if it isn't impressive, it's going to backfire."
Could competition among Olympic sponsors for interactive awareness rival the athletic events themselves? Probably not. But Olympics watchers and tourists will leave with no doubt that they've participated in the Games--even though they may never have swum a lap or done a handspring in their lives.
SPONSORS GO ON THE SCENE
Visa USA will use Atlanta as the launching pad for its new cash card product. Anheuser-Busch Cos., AT&T, Coca-Cola Co. and General Motors Corp. all will hammer home interactive technologies at the pavilions they intend to build in Centennial Olympic Park.
AT&T's Global Olympic Village will showcase the telecommunications company's technologies in a presentation that will be part museum, part amusement park ride.
AT&T has assembled a "dream team" of eight agencies and production companies to create an integrated marketing package. Westport, Conn.-based Modem Media has been working for almost a year on an Olympic Web site.
"Interactive games and programs in the village will be seamlessly integrated into the Web site," said Russ Natoce, AT&T director of Olympic marketing. "We're aiming at creating an Olympic look and feel to all the marketing we do, and the Web site will be a major part of that."
Visa will team with merchants including United Artists Theatres, Chick-fil-A, Domino's Pizza, Baskin-Robbins and Taco Bell Corp. to test its smart-card technology.
"This is the first large-scale, open, stored-value product launch in the nation, and the largest deployment of smart-card technology in the world," said Fred Winkler, senior VP at First Union Corp., one of three Visa member banks that will market the product in Atlanta.
Even the press will get an education in interactive media. IBM Corp. will set up "Info '96" kiosks that members of the media can access at all Olympic venues. BellSouth and Scientific Atlanta are also jointly building a Web site to provide press information.
For tourists, Coca-Cola's Web site will offer information about its hometown. NationsBank will use its site to tout its banking and financial services, including 28 ATMs on site and translation services at nearby branches.
The Net will also provide resources for Atlanta residents who feel themselves under siege. For businesses that choose to relocate during the 17-day event, United Parcel Service, a global sponsor, offers on its Web site a list of available relocation sites.
There will be plenty of action for sports fans as well. The 1996 Centennial Olympic Games World Wide Web site created by IBM, a longtime global technology sponsor, will offer near-instantaneous results from various events.
Sports Illustrated, another global sponsor, will publish a daily edition in Atlanta, but also will cover the Games via its Web site.
"The Internet will revolutionize the way sports fans can experience the Olympics," said Elizabeth Primrose-Smith, IBM's director of worldwide Olympic and sports operations. "Now someone in Antarctica or anyone anywhere without a television can enjoy the Games simultaneously with TV viewers around the world."
Not to be forgotten in the mix, the International Olympic Committee is laying the groundwork to bring its 2-year-old Olympic Museum in Switzerland to the world via the Internet or an online network. The museum houses some 250,000 photos and 60,000 hours of broadcast footage. The IOC and the U.S. Olympic Committee also teamed for an "Olympic Gold" CD-ROM for S.E.A. Multimedia, Tel Aviv. The disc chronicles the modern Summer Olympic Games.
VIDEO A POSSIBILITY
Missing from sponsor Web sites: video. That's because NBC owns the broadcast rights. AT&T is said to be talking to NBC about licensing footage for use in its Global Olympic Village and for its Web site.
In coming years, the IOC, its sponsors and NBC, which last year agreed to pay about $4 billion to be the Olympics' U.S. TV carrier from 2000 to 2008, will have to deal with broadcast rights.
The whole issue may be addressed sooner rather than later, if NBC puts up its own Olympic Web site or shares content with the Microsoft Network, as is rumored.
This combination of service and information will help drive growth of interactive technologies long past the Olympics.
"Those who don't care about this stuff will find ways to ignore it no matter how much it's in their face, whether its smart cards or kiosks," said Mr. Arlen. "But if they can help provide ways to make the zoo that will be Atlanta during Olympic time a little more sane, it could help drive greater consumer adoption of it."
Alan Salomon, Jeffery D. Zbar and Kim Cleland contributed to this story.
Copyright January 1996 Crain Communications Inc.