How Small Businesses Can Drive Revenue with the Winter Olympics

Despite some pandemic-related restrictions, the Beijing Olympics are everywhere. Small businesses may want to take advantage of all the hype surrounding the winter games to promote their operations, but it can be difficult, costly, and legally risky to do so.

Rule 40 is a by-law that is a part of the Olympic Charter. It states that only approved sponsors may reference “Olympic-related terms” in their promotional activities. Rule 40 was implemented by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to prevent any type of Olympic-related marketing by businesses that are not official sponsors of the event. It also allows for promotional activities between athletes and unofficial sponsors during a blackout period starting nine days before the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games and lasting until three days after the closing ceremonies.

Because of Rule 40, businesses that are not sponsors cannot use the Olympic rings, word Olympics, or other Olympic branded content or assets in advertisements, marketing, and content.

And while small businesses can’t afford the exorbitant amounts it costs to be an Olympic sponsor or host-related mega-events, there are still ways you can legally leverage Olympic hype to market your business and enjoy the economic impact it can have. Simply come up with ideas that use a winter sports theme reflecting what’s going on at the Olympic Games that won’t get you into trouble.

Here are some possibilities:

  1. Promote a local athlete.
  2. Offer discounts and other promotions based on medal counts, team wins, or event scores.
  3. Use sports-related words and themes in your marketing.
  4. Share Olympic news.
  5. Offer products related to the Olympics.
  6. Create an Olympic event.
  7. Create and share a funny Olympic-style video or series of memes.
  8. Become an expert at an esoteric sport.
  9. Sponsor a local team or athlete.
  10. Share old videos of athletes via social media.

Bonus: Don’t stop with the Olympics.

1. Promote a local athlete.

Do you have someone from your community participating in the Beijing games? Why not support them by offering a promotion to your audience if the athlete places in his or her competitive events? It could be anything from an increasing discount depending on how they finish or a bonus gift with purchase. It’s probably a smart idea to provide a small discount or benefit even if they don’t medal. It’s a nice gesture and your customers won’t feel disappointed if the athlete doesn’t win.

Go for the gold: Invite the athlete to a meet and greet at your business location for local residents after he or she returns home from Olympic host nation China. It’s a great way to show appreciation for the athlete’s efforts and a nice way to close out your promotional activity.

2. Offer discounts and other promotions based on medal counts, team wins, or event scores.

Medal counts and other performance measures are some of the most discussed parts of every Olympics, and they will be about the current one. Use this to your advantage. Offer a percentage or dollars off purchases based on total medal counts or scores for a specific athlete, sport, team, or anything that you think will get your customers excited. Make your promotion something that can last through the Olympics and that your customers can engage with repeatedly. Provide updates about it each day on your website and on social media throughout the run of the Olympic games. Just don’t directly reference the “Olympics”.

Go for the gold: Think about whether your Olympic promotion could be extended to the Super Bowl, World Cup, and other sports events. It could increase the amount of time you’re able to engage with your customers who are sports fans.

3. Use sports-related words and themes in your marketing.

You may not be able to directly use Olympic words and symbols like the rings in your marketing and advertising. However, you can use “Olympic adjacent” terms and images in your promotional efforts. After all, who doesn’t like going for the gold and seeing images of gold medals? And everyone likes to be thought of as a winner or leader or torchbearer. It could be a good way to associate your business with the Olympics and all the positive aspects of it without getting into trouble.

Go for the gold: If you leverage Olympic adjacent language or imagery on your website or on social media, be careful about crossing the line. The Olympics makes billions of dollars on sponsorships and the IOC comes down hard on companies they view as interlopers.

4. Share Olympic news.

  • Is there an American Olympian that you follow?
  • Are you a fan of an Olympic sport?
  • Do you support team U.S.A. all the way?

Why not share your passion with your customers? There’s nothing wrong with sharing news about whatever aspect of the Olympics that you care about. Pass on Olympic-related content through your social media. Add your unique spin on it. It may not generate a lot in the way of sales, but your love of the games could connect you more closely to customers who share your passion for them.

Go for the gold: There’s a lot of news out there about the winter Olympics. When you share information about it, find a unique take that will make your posts stand out from all the other stuff being shared. It could help you become a local celebrity or be viewed as an Olympic authority.

5. Offer products related to the Olympics.

You don’t need to own a sporting goods store, skating rink, or fitness center to capitalize on the Olympics. The event is not just about sports, but also the people, the countries participating, and the medals. If you own a restaurant, add some authentic Chinese dishes to your menu. If you sell food and drink products, discount and promote ones athletes might use. Do you offer travel-related services? Create a unique package fit for an Olympian to a city that’s hosted the Olympics in the past such as Munich, Seoul, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Tokyo, Rio, PyeongChang, or Salt Lake City. The ultimate dream trip could be to the original Olympic host city of Athens.

Go for the gold: Offer a deal a day related to a timely Olympic news story. Promote it through a time-based platform such as Instagram Stories. It will keep customers coming back for more every day. It could be a great way to generate a lot of repeat business and increase sales.

6. Create an Olympic event.

Why not use the Olympics to interact with your customers? It can be a great way to build relationships and increase sales. Your options are only limited by your imagination.

  • A bar could offer discounted ethnic foods and drinks from a nation playing that day, or a former Olympic host country such as South Korea, Japan, Russia, or Canada at a viewing party.
  • A children’s store could hold a winter sports-related coloring event for kids in the community.
  • A skating rink could promote an exhibition.
  • A restaurant could hold a winter sports trivia night.
  • A craft store might consider sponsoring a sports-themed arts and crafts show.

Whatever you choose to do should be planned with an eye to engaging with customers and generating business, not just creating goodwill.

Go for the gold: Promote your event through social media and encourage participants to share their experience on social through a unique hashtag.

7. Create and share a funny Olympic-style video or series of memes.

The Olympics are all about serious competition until they’re not. Overwrought television drama and total wipeouts add a bit of levity every now and then. Why not produce an Olympic parody video or series of memes featuring the people on your team? Figure skating and curling are examples of sports that are easy to spoof. This is a great idea for businesses that want to demonstrate to prospects and customers that they’re friendly and approachable.

Go for the gold: Chapterize your video or create a series of memes that you can distribute over several days. It will keep customers and prospects coming back to see what’s next.

8. Become an expert at an esoteric sport.

Another idea is to become an expert in a specific sport that’s part of the games. (Does anyone really understand curling?) Explain the sport on your blog, through videos, and with social media posts. Generate a conversation about it online. Give away prizes or discounts for answering trivia questions correctly. Offer promotions during times when the sport is being televised. Host virtual viewing parties. This is a great option for professionals looking for fun, low-pressure ways to interact with clients.

Go for the gold: Close out your promotional effort by hosting a viewing party at a local bar or restaurant during the medal round for your sport. Invite your most actively engaged followers. It’s a nice way to thank your customers and get some in-person face time.

9. Sponsor a local team or athlete.

You may not have the cash to be a big-time winter Olympic games sponsor, but you can likely afford to sponsor a local athlete or team. Whether it’s a single skater or an entire hockey team, it’s a great way to get your business name out there and demonstrate your commitment to sports and your local community. If you operate a local business, this could be a more valuable form of sponsorship than paying to be a part of the 2022 winter Olympics.

Go for the gold: Don’t hide your light under a bushel when you sponsor an athlete or sports team. Make sure you negotiate signage, business mentions, access to social media, and other promotional activities as part of your sponsorship deal.

10. Share old videos of athletes via social media.

That hot Olympic athlete got their start somewhere. Consider finding and sharing older (non-Olympic) videos of them practicing or competing. It’s a great way to associate your business with a champion while not breaking any Olympic agreements. Just make sure that when you share old videos, you don’t break any copyrights or force people to get a subscription to view them (something often required when you share content from large and well-known publications like the New York Times). Also, position it as something you’re sharing because you find it interesting and think your followers will, as well. Never attempt to associate your business with the athlete.

Go for the gold: Find a series of older videos you can share with your followers. Posting one or two a day will increase engagement with them and make a bigger impression on them.

Bonus: Don’t stop with the Olympics.

Continue your promotion activities with the Paralympics. It’s the athletic event that follows the Beijing Olympics which is focused on other abled athletes. The stories are often more profound and your support and promotion of them will demonstrate what your business really values.

Tip: Keep notes about your Olympic-related promotional activities, including what went well and what did not. The 2024 summer games in Paris are just around the corner, and it will soon be time for summer Olympic-related promotions.

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