Brands don’t have to be sponsors to participate
Despite the rules, brands can still be part of the conversation even if they’re not a sponsor. “The vehicle to get into the event is the athlete, not the rings,” says Bob Ciosek, founder and CEO of World’s Greatest, a startup that works to pair brands with Olympian athletes for content opportunities.
Many of the more than 325 athletes the agency works with, including Harvard grad, epidemiology master’s candidate and track star Gabby Thomas, will become international stars next month as first-time Olympians. Also on the roster: Allyson Felix, one of the most decorated American Olympic sprinters; Olympian gold medalist sprinter Natasha Hastings; and Ryan Crouser, who recently beat the world record in shot put during the Olympic trials. World's Greatest is delivering more than 100 hours of content featuring these stars during the Olympic Trials for an ESPN series and July programming on Roku.
To make sure it complies with IOC rules, World’s Greatest does not work with Olympians during the games, but with athletes who did not make the team or are retired.
The company says that working with Olympian athletes is an authentic and cost-effective way to reach audiences interested in the Olympics and sports overall, even outside the Olympic time period. Many Olympians act as microinfluencers, some with hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, says Ciosek—who once ran creative on Coca-Cola as a creative director at BBDO and afterward ran his own agencies. Many athletes that don't make the Olympics have still garnered the respect and interest of large audiences.
“At the end of the day, they’re called Olympians, but it’s not really the right moniker,” Ciosek says. “You don’t call Super Bowl players 'Superbowlians' or soccer players 'WorldCupians.' The Olympics have, in a way, hijacked a little bit of the athlete’s persona and their equity.”
There’s also a common misconception about the cost to work with Olympians, says Ciosek. The agency will work with brands on a social level for anywhere from $10,000 to $250,000. The average Olympian, he says, makes a $15,000 salary. And although the winter and summer games are held every two years, it’s actually a full-time job. “It’s a struggle to get by for most people.” It’s for that reason that the agency uniquely splits its revenue equally with its athlete partners.