When I was younger, my father and I would often listen to Paul Harvey‘s “The Rest of the Story” daily radio show. The format of the program was to present the background story or facts on a variety of subjects with a surprise saved until the very end. The broadcasts always concluded with the tag line “And now you know… the rest of the story.”
The episode that stuck with me above all that Paul so engagingly told was the story of a child who overcame quite possibly the worst obstacles that one could face in childhood. Born prematurely as the 20th of 21 children, this little girl survived polio — resulting in infantile paralysis, scarlet fever, whooping cough, chickenpox and measles. After living in leg braces from the ages 6-9 to correct her polio-afflicted, twisted legs, this little girl learned to walk again, and then she learned to run. Wilma Rudolph went on to become a two-time Olympian and elevated women’s track into a major presence worldwide in 1960, with the first international television coverage of the Olympics taking place that same year. While Rudolph’s accolades in track and field were phenomenal, it was the rest of her story, the setbacks and challenges that struck me as so inspiring.
As of today, we’re 280 days away from the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London. In an expanding world of sports content, Olympic fanatics like myself are craving quality coverage of the athletes and storylines that will inspire us next summer. In the US specifically, we’re seeing major moves from the likes of CBS, NBC and FOX Sports in the land grab of broadcast rights. While live broadcast rights are the hot commodity, there is incredible value in the stories of dedication, challenges, setbacks and victories as well as defeats that each athlete and team create on their journey to realize their Olympic dreams.
We’ve seen major success over the past few years of extended sports content with the likes of ESPN’s Peabody winning “30 for 30”, HBO’s “24/7”, “Hard Knocks” and “Jeter 3K”. There is a giant gaping hole where the amazing amateur stories within the Olympic realm should be. NBC captures a significant amount of content and tells a wonderful story as the broadcast home of the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, but the timeframe is limited to a few weeks out of every few years. Universal Sports has also begun a program called “Destination London”, which is quite compelling, but on a network that isn’t widely available.
Earlier this summer, NBC broadcasted the 2011 FINA World Championships. The new faces of US Swimming that will take the stage in London, pending qualifications at US Trials in Omaha, include the Michael Phelps challenger Ryan Lochte and a 6’1”, 16-year-old phenom named Missy Franklin. Beyond the new faces, star talent like Janet Evans and Ian Thorpe are making major comebacks. All of these storylines have the potential to be on par with the anticipation of Michael Phelps returning after his gold rush in Beijing. I’ll admit, I have a severe bias towards the world of swimming, but when it comes to storytelling at the Olympics, if the story is compelling enough (and many of them are), an engaged audience is agnostic of the sport.
The IOC and USOC have made major strides in invigorating and sustaining their presence over the past few years, leveraging improved digital and social media properties, live events and youth engagement like never before. Now it’s only a matter of time until the missing link, high-quality content, is part of the year round presence they have created. Brands can help to accelerate this timeframe while gaining awareness and connection to consumers by attaching themselves to these organizations, sports properties, athletes, and stories.
Olympic fanatics like myself exemplify a demand for content, information and connection more than just once every two or four years. If brands want to create affinity with consumers through meaningful, sought after content, they need only identify the right storyline that is authentic to the brand and the property. By developing brand-funded content, with the athlete story at the forefront, advertisers can create content that invites rather than interrupts.
Each Olympic Games is executed with the goal of establishing a legacy by making an impact on the city, country and even continent (in the case of Brazil, the 2016 Summer Olympic games will be the first games ever in Latin America). Brands can create a legacy as well. P&G became the “Proud Sponsor of Moms” at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games and with early success, continues to support this program through London this summer. The USOC has also recently announced “Team USA: Britain Bound”, a series of 4 minute films following US Olympic champions as they explore the host city a year ahead of the games.
While the land grab is on for broadcast rights by networks, the land grab should also be on for Olympic stories by brands to tell the rest of the story.