Paralympics Gain Steam, Secure Own Sponsors

Strong London Olympics, Oscar Pistorius' Historic Sprint Help Fuel Interest in the Games After the Games

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The London Olympics, with its historic inclusion of South African double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius, has boosted interest in the Paralympics to the point it is finally gaining its own audience -- and sponsors.

Oscar Pistorius' participation in the Olympics has boosted interest in the Paralympics.
Oscar Pistorius' participation in the Olympics has boosted interest in the Paralympics.
For the first time, tickets for the summer event could conceivably sell out, with a record 2.2 million tickets already snapped up. (In comparison, the Beijing Paralympics sold 1.8 million tickets.) And because the Paralympic Games, which begin August 29 and end Sept. 9, are broadcast on Channel 4 and not on the ad-free BBC, marketers are perking up, too.

"There's been a dramatic uptick in interest from advertisers in the last three or four weeks," said Jonathan Allan, Channel 4 sales director. While many Olympic sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Adidas and Visa are also Paralympic sponsors, Mr. Allan said the majority of advertisers signed up with Channel 4 are non-sponsors.

The network will show 500 hours of Paralympic action, and half of the presenters and reporters that will cover the games are disabled. Mr. Allan said he's watched NBC's Olympic ad model with interest, and has kept some flexibility with regards to ad breaks.

U.K. supermarket chain Sainsbury's is the first Paralympics-only sponsor, and with prosthetics-maker Otto Bock is one of only two top-tier sponsors. Sainsbury's launched a dedicated website spotlighting Paralympics Great Britain team members through short films, an online game that lets users "play" blind football and a host of ads, created by AMV BBDO, starring David Beckham. The sponsorship is the largest in the event's history, according to Paralympics organizers.

Having the games broadcast on Channel 4 played a role in Sainsbury's decision, said the grocer's head of sponsorship, Jat Sahota, noting that "a major terrestrial broadcaster ... can really help to drive excitement from the wider public about this once-in-a-lifetime event."

Despite not being a sponsor, Nike has managed to make the biggest splash at the Paralympic Games. The sports brand's sponsorship of Mr. Pistorius shows off its design and innovation prowess by creating the first-ever "Spike Pad," a sole that affixes to the bottom of the Ossur legs the athlete wears.

With the Paralympics coming up, Mr. Pistorius' feet have been an effective way to bridge the events, and potentially carry over some viewers. Nike has carried through "this concept of greatness being found anywhere," said Nike spokesperson Brian Strong. He pointed to Nike 's work not only with Mr. Pistorius, but also its sponsorship of other athletes, such as Paralympians Cat Bouwkamp, Alana Nichols and April Holmes. Nike 's "Find Your Greatness" campaign, which celebrates the achievements of all athletes, includes a spot featuring a wheelchair sprinter.

Marketing has become such an important part of the Paralympic Games that the International Paralympic Committee will hold its first Marketing Summit Sept. 5 to cover lessons learned from this year's Paralympics. Sponsors for Sochi, Russia, in 2014 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016 are expected to attend.

 But while the U.K. is gung-ho on the Paralympics, it will have a much scarcer presence in the U.S, where a YouTube channel will host video highlights. NBC will air one-hour highlight shows for a few days in September and a 90-minute special after the games.

Alexis Schaefer, commercial and marketing director at the IPC, thinks it's a shame that NBC won't broadcast the Paralympics live, especially with regard to Mr. Pistorius' race. "He's good enough to run a fantastic story on when he's in the Olympics," said Mr. Schaefer. "But when he's running the 100 meter race against the USA's Jerome Singleton, they won't show it live."

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