Understanding the Olympian effort behind the urgent digital transformation of Tokyo 2020

As Olympics fanatics mourned the restriction of international visitors to Tokyo 2020, IOC’s Christopher Carroll reflected on how to connect people around the world to the Games through their favorite devices. As part of The Drum’s Sports Marketing Deep Dive, he tells us about the “Olympics-sized task” of completing a multi-year project in one year.

IOC Director of Digital Engagement Christopher Carroll speaks with The Drum with less than a month to go before the torch is lit and the Games begin. We’ve spoken to him before after the launch of the IOC’s second “One Year To Go” campaign for Tokyo 2020. The delay has been a blessing and a curse for Carroll, a seasoned marketer who previously worked at Coca-Cola, Heineken and Under Armor.

The IOC recruited him when he realized that digital engagement would make or destroy the Games. Carroll intended to create a “people-centric” and “digitally-driven” platform. Last year, the team therefore consolidated its web presence and numerous IOC sites for each Games, which enabled ambitious activity and generated more valuable data.

Almost immediately, the IOC used the strength of the consolidated digital platform to “really promote and publicize the Olympics”. The example included a historic first – fans could vote for the Milano Cortina 2026 Olympic Winter Games logo. In a year when fans perhaps felt the most detached from the Games, Carroll and his colleagues thought about a new way to involve them.

With the increase in traffic to properties owned by the Olympic Games, efforts are now underway to provide personalized and localized content.


With a digital infrastructure in place to catapult content to the right people, the creative then had to land, and it does.

The latest campaign, “Stronger Together,” stars Usain Bolt, Naomi Osaka, Andre Degrasse, Yusra Mardini, Nyjah Houston and Tony Hawk, and is designed to deal with the pains of the pandemic and spur the frenzy around every sport. individual.

The voiceover of the hero video reads: “The world has stopped, the future uncertain, we have kept moving forward, competing with ghosts of ourselves, we know that progress is not forged in the shadow … the world only moves forward when we move forward together. ” Dramatic stuff – showing how organizers, athletes and fans are waking up from the delay and anticipating the return.

You’ll notice the big names in every sticker – arguably the biggest in every area. Carroll says the work will spark athlete-to-athlete communications (A2A for short). “There is nothing more powerful than athletes. So we try to be very authentic and to ensure that the Olympic values ​​of friendship, respect and excellence are anchored in the communities inside. Tony Hawk’s movie is coming from him and the skateboarding community, and then we’ll go deeper, so there was a very focused cast on individual communities.

The videos are distributed widely – through the high-traffic site Olympics.com, on its proprietary social channels, and through partnerships with Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and more. Rights-holding broadcasters will also lead it, as will high-profile partners such as P&G, Airbnb and Alibaba. Work will be everywhere.

Carroll adds, “Being able to tell the story of athletes’ preparation, their anxiety and their struggles has helped us to be a brand full of humanity.

Up to the task

But how is Carroll’s performance measured? Identical comparisons do not exist exactly, especially for activities such as Virtual Games, which are a first.

Games and campaigns are compared historically for reach and engagement. For this year, the Olympics will be compared to Euro 2020 and Wimbledon. And platform by platform, the success will also be compared.

“Our aspiration is for these to be the most competitive World Olympics ever.”

For this to work, efforts to connect fans around the world to events and athletes digitally must prove to be convincing.

This will mean a few firsts, such as showing a fan video to athletes to let them know they are supported and incorporating athletes’ family moments into the shows.

And as Carroll says, “convert static media to digital media,” enabling social media connection between athletes and fans. In addition, it has partnered with more than National Olympic Committees to host these conversations and creation on huge outdoor advertising sites.

“We focus on engagement and repeated engagement rather than just reach. It offers more than eyeballs, which, of course, is still important. “


But can the Olympics, after all their setbacks and a crowded sporting summer, stand out? Carroll welcomes the competition and looks at its benefits.

“We know there will be two points of interest. Firstly, it will be the first time that people from all continents will come together to participate in sports competitions at the same time. That makes 206 National Olympic Committees.

Then, as the Euro shows, it turns out to be easier to bring viewers together when sport is linked to “national sports and passions”.

Carroll says, “There is a lot of excitement and a lot of interest in the Olympics, the unique global nature, but also the one that comes from that national pride and national sporting confidence.

With all of these looks coming in, the IOC will have the perfect Petri dish to determine how people will view sport for years to come. Carroll’s ambition has been to “apply digital and technology for a purpose, not just for experimentation,” and this will help separate chimerical dreams from realities.

Michael R Payne, President of Payne Sports Media Strategies and previously Director of Marketing at the IOC between 1988 and 2004, examines how the marketing challenge has evolved since its time.

He says: “Most sports organizations and sponsors for that matter are still learning and researching new marketing approaches. The IOC’s launch of the Olympic Channel – now that it is evolving into a global digital Olympic hub – is proving to be a major new platform to connect with Olympic Games fans around the world, to build specific communities and interact with them … by soliciting their direct contribution, and let fans become their own broadcasters. The potential is limitless.

The goal is not to lose sight of the main communications platform – broadcasters paying for the privilege of sharing the Games – but to create a coordinated digital ecosystem that builds on those efforts.

He notes that with the technology in place, new opportunities have also arisen for sponsors. Airbnb, for example, offers more than 400 Olympic experiences to connect fans to through its app.

Whether it’s the broadcasters or the CIO itself, Payne concludes, “Everyone is looking to create a larger platform, partnering with other social media platforms to maximize the audience and create cross-platform advertising and marketing opportunities. “

Check out The Drum’s Sports Marketing Hub to learn more about how the marketing industry can achieve long-term success through association with sports.

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