Photographer: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Intel Will Sponsor the Olympics to Showcase Virtual Reality Tech

  • Contract starts with South Korea in 2018, runs through 2024
  • The company has forged partnerships with other sports leagues

Intel Corp. will sponsor the Olympics through 2024 in the company’s latest bid to show off its technology through high-profile sports events.

The chipmaker said it will partner with the International Olympic Committee to bring Intel’s technology, such as virtual reality, 360-degree video, artificial intelligence and drones, to enhance the Olympic Games.

Intel is signing on at a time when global interest in the Olympics is waning. Television ratings have fallen and cities have dropped out of the running to host the games as costs spiral. Yet for Intel, the sponsorship is part of a broad push into sports after it launched a group to explore such deals last fall, seeking to highlight initiatives other than its main computer processor business. The Santa Clara, California-based company has been harnessing VR and other technology to heighten the fan experience during baseball, basketball and football games.

Bringing on a technology sponsor like Intel also plays into the IOC’s strategy to reach a younger demographic to help stem slumping viewership.

“There are many young people that are living a digital life,” said Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, at a presentation in New York. “So we have to go where they are in the digital world, in their virtual reality.”

The first Olympic Games involving the Intel sponsorship will be in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018 when Intel will provide real-time virtual reality viewing of the Winter Olympic Games.

Intel joins a crowded stable of Olympic sponsors from the tech world. Samsung Electronics Co., based in South Korea, is the official wireless device partner of the IOC, while Panasonic Corp., based in 2020 host Japan, is the official television and video partner. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and General Electric Co. also provide tech services to the IOC. 

“This is like running a marathon and half-mile dash at the same time,” Intel Chief Executive Officer Brian Krzanich said at a presentation in New York. “At Intel we have always strived to bring the peak of technology, the peak of performance. We strive for those the same way an athlete does.” 

Earlier this month, Intel announced a three-year deal with Major League Baseball to use its True VR technology to broadcast live games and highlights. During select games, fans have the option of choosing between four different VR angles, plus access to stats, player data and out-of-town scores, in a marriage of the broadcast and the second screen. That MLB deal was the latest in recent push from Intel to put its tech directly into the hands -- and eyes -- of sports fans across the country.

Last fall, the company purchased virtual reality startup Voke Inc. Intel has a VR deal with the National Collegiate Athletic Association and Turner Broadcasting System Inc. to produce March Madness games, and is a replay partner of both the National Football League and National Basketball Association. Intel’s 360 Replay technology, in which sports replays can be shown from different angles, was used earlier this year in Fox’s Super Bowl coverage.

Intel’s announcement comes one week after McDonald’s Corp. announced it was ending its Olympics partnership after the 2018 Winter Games, three years before the agreement was set to expire. The fast food giant, which has been an Olympics partner since 1976, expressed a desire to focus on other opportunities.

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