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Feb 6, 2020

Sneakernomics: The Sports Business in an Olympic Year

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Millions of people around the globe will watch this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. The Olympics always presents opportunities for the sports business.

The consumer response to the Olympic Games is not a visceral one; few people watch the games and then say to themselves, “I think I’ll take up synchronized platform diving.” Retail rarely sees a merchandise sales lift from the Olympic Games, and whatever gains are typically short-lived.

Sports brands leverage the Olympics to introduce new products and innovations. Brands intentionally hold new innovations and release them just prior to the beginning of the Olympics. Participating athletes then give the brands a platform to showcase these innovations. Since sports retail today is in an athleisure period, I suspect these innovations will not have a major impact on merchandise sales, as performance has never been more out of fashion.

There are, however, minor merchandising opportunities around licensed products. While sales of Olympic-licensed goods pale in comparison to the professional leagues and colleges, we have seen purchases of Olympic-licensed products grow with each Summer Olympics. Coming out of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, I expect there will be particular interest in the U.S. women’s soccer team merchandise.

With marketing being one of the key avenues for the Olympics, we can expect to see a lot of great ads showcasing the trials and triumphs of the games – and the real marketing impact will be digital. Creative brands will spend their money on the spots themselves, rather than on broadcast fees. These spots will be aired at little to no extra cost, on the brands’ own websites and social media.

While the Olympics remains less of a sales driver and more of a marketing play, the latter is still important for business as a brand awareness builder and an opportunity to showcase new products and technologies.

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