Britain’s Rio Medal Surge Leads to Race for Commercial Gold

  • Team GB eyes 60 percent increase in Olympic-related revenue
  • Britain became first nation to win more medals after hosting

After its athletes broke records at Rio 2016, Britain’s Olympic Association is eyeing a different type of gold.

The group that oversees Team GB, one of the biggest success stories of this year’s Olympics, is targeting a revenue boost of as much as 60 percent by the time the games head to Tokyo in 2020. While host nations have until now suffered a decline in the number of medals they’ve won in subsequent Olympics, Britain enjoyed a post-host surge that puts it in a privileged position to negotiate with sponsors.

Mo Farah celebrates after winning gold in the men’s 5000 meter final.
Mo Farah celebrates after winning gold in the men’s 5000 meter final.
Photographer: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

“Unfortunately we won’t be able to go home and lie in the sun for a couple of weeks,” Bill Sweeney, chief executive of the BOA, said in an interview hours before Sunday’s closing ceremony. “We need to strike now while the iron’s hot.”

Britain won 27 golds and a total of 67 medals, two more than those it secured during the triumphant London 2012 games. Only the U.S. took more this year, with 46 golds in a total of 121 medals. Plans to leverage that success could include a head-to-head competition with the U.S. Olympic team.

“There’s talk about a possible home-and-away series where they come and compete in the U.K. and we go there," Sweeney said, adding that the Americans were providing advice on developing a British version of the U.S. Olympic trials. The United States Olympic Committee holds trials for sports like track and swimming, which generate millions of dollars in television revenue.

“In the U.S. their viewership around the Olympic Trials is 60 million people, and they sell 600,000 tickets, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have one,” Sweeney said. A possible Team GB trial would be held in June 2020, he added.

The USOC didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Sponsorship Boost

The immediate focus is on signing sponsors and creating a year-around merchandise platform that can turn Team GB into a permanent brand. Typically the Olympic team dominates written and televised media for the period of the games before sharply losing its visibility.

Talks to renew at least two sponsorship agreements through Tokyo 2020 will begin later this week, he said, adding that the Rio success will likely allow him to push for a higher fee. Sweeney didn’t name the companies he will be negotiating with upon his return to London, but current Team GB sponsors include Adidas AG, Deloitte LLP, BP Plc and Kellogg Co.

“To go away and win more medals than you did hosting will really have endeared us to the nation,” he said. “I’d expect our commercial program in terms of revenue to probably increase by 50 to 60 percent as a result of this performance.”

Britain’s Olympic Association generates about 70 million pounds ($92 million) per four-year cycle. Athletes like Mo Farah, who won the 5,000 and 10,000-meter races in Rio, as well as a cycling team that brought home six gold medals could bring potential new sponsors, according to Sweeney. A poor performance by the England national soccer team, which was eliminated from this summer’s European Championship to Iceland, may end up helping the BOA. “You’re looking for the same sort of partners to come with you,” he said.

Britain wasn’t able to overcome Brazilian red tape to open a merchandise store in Rio, something the U.S. managed to do with huge success, according to Sweeney. “I’ve seen their numbers,” he said. After working for Adidas AG for 10 years, including a spell in the U.S., Sweeney wants to broaden the scale of his organization’s merchandise operation and make its products relevant to a range of “patriotic events,” including the Queen’s birthday.

To be sure, Britain’s success didn’t come by chance. A specialist agency funded by contributions from the National Lottery, U.K. Sport, poured 275 million pounds in the training of elite athletes. That means each medal cost about 5 million pounds. Liz Nicholl, head of U.K. Sport, said Britain’s success has turned it into a “sporting superpower.”

Using the lottery to boost Britain’s Olympic chances followed a catastrophic campaign at Atlanta 1996 when the team came home with just 1 gold. The amount invested in athletes for Rio 2016 was more than that for the London games, and there’ll be an uplift of around 10 percent for Tokyo. A strong Japanese team means the “Tokyo games will be a lot harder than it was here,” Sweeney said.

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