Hill & Knowlton’s Andy Sutherden, managing director, sports marketing and sponsorship, says that London 2012 is now becoming real for consumers

It’s hard to believe that it’s more than five years since Jacques Rogge opened that envelope and said “London”. We are now only two years away from the biggest sports event ever held on British soil. With the World Cup finished (and quickly forgotten, from an English perspective), London 2012 is looming ever larger on the horizon. 

Although we have been marking London 2012 milestones for some time – the Beijing hand-over, 1000 days to go – 27 July represented a new phase in preparations for the Games because people could actively get involved for the first time. This development also has implications for sponsors.

Until now, members of the public interested in the Games have mostly been limited to consuming information through media coverage, the London 2012 website, newsletters and regional events. This activity has been led by the organising committee, but a small handful of sponsors have also put in place programmes offering more significant engagement.

The official launch of the volunteer programme is therefore an important step. Volunteering is a big commitment, requiring people to think in a practical way about the time they may have available in July, August and September two years from now. What would they like to do? What skills can they offer?

London 2012 merchandise has been on sale for a while, but only online and through a limited number of retailers. With the opening of the store at St Pancras and the arrival of mascot toys, merchandise will enter the public consciousness for the first time. It’s surely no coincidence that toys and branded products are going on sale at the time when long-lead media are preparing their Christmas gift guides.

All of this activity will raise interest in the most important piece of Olympic and Paralympic Games merchandise of all: tickets. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) will publish the all-important ticketing policy in the autumn.

So what does this mean for sponsors? On the one hand, interest in London 2012 will steadily increase, making sponsorship more relevant to the customers of commercial brands. On the other hand, members of the public will expect deeper, more relevant dialogue. Badging an advert may help drive awareness, but this type of monologue will hardly drive engagement – which is the key to building sustainable and enduring relationships with consumers, especially in a cluttered environment.

There are currently over 40 official London 2012 sponsors at different levels, so nobody is going to remember them all. A new study by Echo Research shows that even the biggest spending World Cup sponsors scarcely reached 50 per cent prompted recall. The successful Olympic sponsors are likely to be those who find a meaningful way to link their brand to London 2012 and offer something genuinely of interest to their customers.

With two years to go the pressure is increasing for everybody involved in London 2012: athletes, staff working on the Games, potential volunteers and, last but not least, sponsors.

Andy Sutherden is managing director, sports marketing and sponsorship at Hill & Knowlton.

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