So, like many others, I’ve spent the weekend watching Olympians hurl themselves down icy and snowy hills in pursuit of a medal. I’m now clearly an expert in luge (‘There’s too much noise coming from his tray thing, he’s going to be slow’) and curling (‘You don’t want to be going for the centre ring at this early stage. Brush it…. BRUSH IT!’) and have been totally caught up in the drama of it all.
But is all this enthusiasm misplaced? Given that the British Isles and winter sports aren’t natural bedfellows and despite the fact that funding for the Winter Olympics team has more doubled since 2014, with UK Sport now allocating £28m to fund 59 athletes, the UK’s stretch target for medals still remains at only 10. And after injury and unpredictable conditions this weekend, this target is becoming more and more ambitious.
But it’s not our position in the medal table that catches the imagination of the country during the Olympics. Part of the joy of big events like the Winter Olympics is that it inspires those from different backgrounds to try something new. In 2014 after the last winter Olympics, we saw snow centres fully booked and dry ski slopes running out of snowboards and skis to hire and this year is set to be no different, with a surge in interest in winter sports.
The opportunity for brands to officially get involved in the Olympics is something reserved for only those with deep pockets – it was estimated that a basic package cost approximately $100 million during Rio. But, although brands who don’t have official sponsorship have to tread carefully (there are very strict rules in place, hence the use of terms like ‘wintery, snowy games’ in place of the Olympics when brands talk about the games), there is a huge opportunity at the grassroots level. Not only do grassroots sports desperately need the funding – the luge, for example, received no funding during this Olympics cycle – there is also evidence that this lower level funding also benefits brands. In our Future of Sport research, we found that over half of Brits felt that there was not enough grassroots funding for sports and, furthermore, two-thirds of us feel that grassroots sports are valuable to our local community. And there is evidence that brands can reap big rewards from grassroots sponsorship – three-quarters of us think that more brands should be involved and one in four of us pay more attention to brands that support local teams or clubs in their community. On top of this, the transference of the brilliant, feel-good atmosphere that it’s difficult to ignore during these big events is something that brands should grab hold of an nurture.