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Why are so many B2B firms sponsoring the Olympics?

A golden megaphone stands with two athletes on a winners podium with flowers scattered at its base.

Illustration by Holly Warfield / Getty / Shutterstock / The Current

The Olympic Games may be the world’s premier sporting competition, but even such a hallowed event needs paying somehow.

Commemorative stamps were sold to support the first Olympics in Athens in 1896. Today’s Olympics advertising machine is much more sophisticated and sees global consumer brands, like Airbnb, Samsung and Visa, gain exposure in front of billions of watchers. But B2B brands have been a long-standing — if less conspicuous — fixture as well, from French IT firm Atos to consulting firm Deloitte to software giant Salesforce.

Their investments help underscore how the recent growth of live sports on connected TV (CTV), together with the blurring lines between consumer and business audiences on digital media, could supercharge B2B brands’ investments in live sports, helping them address hard-to-aggregate mass audiences.

“As B2B marketers look for opportunities to deepen brand-building, engage mid-funnel audiences, and enhance cross-channel connections, the targeting and personalization of CTV are very appealing,” says Shane O’Sullivan, managing director at Prism Sports + Entertainment.

B2B brands’ motivations for large-event sponsorship are the same as consumer brands’: emotional resonance, broader audience reach, fast awareness and reputation growth, says Kristin Gower, global president of the EssenceMediacom B2B group. “The change we are seeing is not the motivation, but that B2B brands are becoming more consumer-like, seeing the need for brand-building and experimenting with cultural spaces.”

Matching business and sports

While viewers may be unaccustomed to seeing names like Egis, Loxam and Randstad across Olympics content, the association between B2B brands and sports is not a new one, as seen from the London Marathon to the WNBA to the Premier League.

“B2B audiences are attending, watching, and engaging with these events and selective brand investment could increase brand awareness, brand trust, and brand affinity, all proven to grow and accelerate deals and therefore drive revenue,” says Andrea Glenn, CEO at B2B agency Ledger Bennett.

Existing deals — like IBM’s sponsorship of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL and the Toronto Raptors in the NBA, VMware’s partnership with the McLaren Formula One team and, on a more niche note, Dell China’s patronage of the Chinese Olympics rowing team — can show that B2B brands understand the value of showcasing their solutions in “real-world” environments; for example, by lending their technology to helping improve a team’s results.

“The Olympics sponsorship program provides an exclusive opportunity for companies to showcase their expertise and products on a global stage through their involvement in delivery of the games,” Benjamin Seeley, head of marketing communications at the International Olympic Committee, tells The Current.

“It is more than just ‘brand visibility,’ but an authentic integration of their products and solutions — for example, overseeing and delivering the entire IT infrastructure. This provides a meaningful demonstration of their abilities on a global stage, under global scrutiny,” Seeley adds.

A new generation of B2B buyers

Data from the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics shows that the last games were “the most digitally engaged Olympic Winter Games ever,” with billions of engagements across digital platforms, including Olympics and media rights holders’ properties.

When considering that the majority of B2B buyers are now in the younger millennial and Gen Z generations, savvy B2B marketers may start realizing that moving on from linear TV channels will likely be crucial to meeting audiences where they are.

“Whilst there may be a decline in traditional TV sports viewership, it still represents some of the largest audience available in our fragmented media environment, and with the explosion of streaming, social, player empowerment and sports betting, there are more opportunities than ever to extend presence beyond more traditional linear [TV] media platforms and drive deeper activations,” says Gower.

The convergence of B2B and B2C, plus B2C2B is also a factor, adds Gower. “With a shift to integrated portfolio management, reduced budgets, and the awareness that everyone is online and watching the same big events, the artificial separation of brand for the business audience and brand for the consumer audience is lessening,” she says.

While not every B2B brand has the budget to become a global Olympics sponsor, or even a domestic one, the wider opportunity is that CTV and live sports can open up new avenues of communications with key business decision makers. After all, they are also consumers.

“Media fragmentation is not new. What is new for B2B clients is having to locate their customers in a digital, often anonymous, world, and having the courage and will to expand to channels not traditionally considered ‘B2B’,” says Gower.