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The Sports Professor’s Weekly Sports and Entertainment Dollar: February 7, 2014

By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

As Torch is Lit in Russia, Attendees, Athletes are Saying Sochi is only So-So

The $51 billion 2014 Winter Olympics have barely begun, and so far, it seems like all of the news coming out of the seaside resort community of Sochi is dismal.

Days before the Sochi Games, according to the Associated Press, "hundreds of thousands of tickets remain unsold, raising the prospect of empty seats and a lack of atmosphere at Russia’s first Winter Olympics"—despite the fact that SOCOG President and CEO Dmitry Chernyshenko insisted that 70% of available tickets had been sold out of an estimated 1.1 million tickets on offer. In contrast, 1.54 million tickets were available for the 2010 Vancouver Games, of which 97% were sold.

Unfinished hotel rooms. Dangerous snowboard runs. Major security risks and terrorist threats. Western heads of state boycotting the Opening Ceremonies in protest of restrictive Russian social policies and human rights violations under President Vladimir Putin—for the first time in 26 years, the U.S. is not sending its president, vice president, or first lady to the opening gala, and it will be the first time in 14 years no sitting or former president, VP, or first lady will attend any event at all.

Hundreds of families forced from their homes in order to make way for lavish ice palaces that will be decaying piles of lumber and steel a year from now. Feral dogs nipping at the heels of cross country skiers.

Despite all the doom and gloom hovering above the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center deep in the Caucasus Mountains, however, this being the Olympics, the triumphant performances of athletes known and still waiting to be discovered will quickly wipe away memories of the tension and tribulations in the weeks leading up to the Opening Ceremony.

And stateside and elsewhere across the globe, the business outlook for the Sochi Olympics continues to be clear and sunny for the thousands of businesses aligning themselves with these Games.

Let’s start with NBC.

During the first “TV Olympics,” the February, 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Games, CBS broadcast all of 13 hours of live and taped coverage, all of it in black and white. The Nagano Games in 1998 were the first Olympics with a website, and live streaming wasn’t introduced until 2008 in Beijing, when NBC showed a total 3,600 hours.

In Sochi, NBC, across all of its broadcast and digital platforms, will be airing 1,539 hours of coverage over 18 days—an average of 85.5 hours a day.

In order to turn a profit after it paid $4.38 billion in 2011 for the rights to every Olympics through 2020 in Tokyo, as well as satisfy parent company Comcast Corp., NBC must harness every single platform available to it, including NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, USA Network, CNBC, and

NBC and Facebook are also expanding their Olympic partnership during the Sochi Games. For the first time, NBC will make video content available on its NBC Olympics Facebook page. The broadcaster will post NBC Olympics features on Facebook, including such features as the story of speed skater J.R. Celski’s friendship with Seattle rapper Macklemore, and live Q&A sessions with the likes of gold medal-winning figure skater Sarah Hughes.

NBC’s ad sales for Sochi are reportedly topping $900 million. “Our ad sales are at an all-time record for Winter Games,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told analysts and media gathered on a quarterly earnings conference call last week.

And then there are the athletes.

Every two years, athletes on the Olympic stage try to capitalize on their fleeting popularity. When we conducted our 2010 Horrow Sports Ventures Power 100, a ranking of the most powerful athletes on- and off-the field of play, Winter Olympians Shaun White, Apollo Anton Ohno, and Lindsey Vonn all finished in the top 15.

For Olympics medalists, the Game provide a powerful catalyst for their personal brand and marketing appeal. Immediate following the Vancouver Olympic Games, held February 10-28, 2010, our Power 100 partners at Nielsen/E-Poll N-Score reveal, the direct attribute bumps for Vonn and White were as follows:

Lindsey Vonn

Dec. 17, 2009
Awareness: 2%
Appeal: 50%
E-Score: 4

March 3, 2010
Awareness: 21%
Appeal: 70%
E-Score: 84

*Note: Although no recent metrics are available, Vonn’s awareness and appeal have skyrocketed since she revealed that she was dating golfer Tiger Woods in March, 2013.

Shaun White

Dec. 17, 2009
Awareness: 21%
Appeal: 43%
E-Score: 72

March 3, 2010
Awareness: 51%
Appeal: 65%
E-Score: 95

This year, none of America’s “Big Three” is competing in the Games. So with White, Ohno, and Vonn staying at home, here are a couple American athletes to keep an eye on.

The first is Lolo Jones. After failing to medal in the 100-meter hurdles in the London Olympics, Jones joined the women’s bobsled team. Her sponsors include Asics, BP, and Red Bull.

From the men’s hockey team, watch out for Patrick Kane. The Chicago Blackhawks star already has two Stanley Cups to his name, but an Olympic gold medal could elevate Kane’s national prominence.

Finally, Ashley Wagner was a controversial add to the figure skating team after she struggled at the U.S. trials. America loves a good redemption story, so Wagner could be a marketing darling if she comes home with a medal.

Next week, we’ll take a look at how a sampling of companies are activating around the Sochi Olympics…and compare and contrast the real differences behind figure skating and hockey. Meantime, enjoy those 85 ½ hours of daily coverage!

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