GM Won't Renew Major Olympic Sponsorships

Deals With NBC, U.S. Team Are Set to Expire Next Year

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DETROIT ( -- General Motors Corp. won't renew its separate-but-linked sponsorships of the U.S. Olympic Team and event broadcaster NBC when those deals expire after the Beijing Games at the end of 2008.
Changing marketing strategies and a changed media landscape prompted GM not to extend its major Olympic sponsorships.
Changing marketing strategies and a changed media landscape prompted GM not to extend its major Olympic sponsorships.

When inked in 1997, the multiyear contract was a landmark media and sports event package, worth an estimated $900 million: $300 million for the automaker to be the official domestic car and truck sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Team, and $600 million for domestic auto exclusivity on NBC and its affiliates' TV and online coverage through 2008.

"Our marketing strategies have changed and our media landscape has changed," a spokeswoman said of GM's decision. She said the automaker can reach the same audience using methods that offer more flexibility and frequency than Olympic sponsorships -- the games take place every two years. "All the media spend[ing] happens virtually over [the game's] 17-day time span," she said.

Tough to go overseas
In addition, Olympic Games that take place overseas make it difficult for GM to activate on-site programs; she said the marketer didn't do much on the ground at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, or the 2004 Summer Games in Athens.

She said cost cutting wasn't a factor behind the move.

The U.S. Olympic Committee did not return calls by press time.

GM told Advertising Age in 2004 it was the largest Olympic advertiser that year on NBC Universal's broadcast and cable networks, with more than 400 ad units during the games. GM's Chevrolet brand, which has been the lead GM brand in the past several Olympics, had more than 200 ad units for the '04 games that showcased 10 new commercials from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Campbell Ewald, Warren, Mich. Chevrolet said at the time the brand's buy was 10 times its normal prime-time weight for a two-week period.

The automaker's ties to the games have grown over the years, from Chevrolet's first support of the U.S. Olympic Team during the 1980 winter games in Lake Placid, N.Y. Buick was also an early backer, signing on as the exclusive auto sponsor and official car of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Pacts with China, Australia
The original deal with the U.S. Olympic Committee made GM the official car and truck of 37 U.S. national governing bodies, one for each Olympic sports team. The NBC piece of the deal made GM the official domestic auto advertiser. GM's auto-making venture in China was the exclusive auto sponsor of the Chinese delegations to three games (Sydney, Salt Lake City and Athens), but that expired in 2004. GM's Australian brand, Holden, was the official auto partner for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.

GM of Canada is a national partner of the Vancouver Organizing Committee, and GM will be the official car of the 2010 games there. GM of Canada is also sponsoring the Canadian entries in the 2012 games in London, the spokeswoman said.

The 1997 deal was brokered by Phil Guarascio, then general manager, group VP-marketing and advertising in North America. Mr. Guarascio retired from the automaker in May 2000.
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