Hosting the world’s two largest quadrennial sporting events within two years of each other is no mean feat. It is a challenge Brazil currently finds itself right in the middle of. In 2014, the country staged a dramatic FIFA World Cup across 12 cities and now Rio de Janeiro is poised to be the first South American city to host an Olympic Games. Since it was awarded the 2016 summer Games in late 2009, the city has been in facelift mode with a massive infrastructure project – sports venues, transport links and other key facilities – swinging into action. With the countdown clock ticking, several sizeable challenges remain – not least on the economic and political front – but Jose Colagrossi, Ibope Repucom’s Brazilian-based Vice President, Latin America believes the country will be ready for opening night on Friday 5th August.
“In spite of the chaotic political and economic situation, which resembles many of Brazil’s TV soap operas, the country is upbeat about the upcoming Games,” Colagrossi says. “Rio 2016 offers a unique opportunity for sponsors, both global and local, to engage fans on a very intimate level. Similar to what happened in 2014, visitors will experience a magic event being held in a magic city along with thousands of ‘cariocas’ who know how to throw a party. It should be something!”
Beyond the accelerated infrastructure developments, the organisation of the Olympic Games itself is a fiendishly complex and expensive task – perhaps even more so for a first-time host. The key revenue-generating aspect is always the domestic sponsorship sales programme and in this area Rio 2016’s local organising committee made a promising and lucrative start, striking six top-tier partners between November 2010 and January 2014: Bradesco and sister company Bradesco Seguros in the banking and insurance categories, telcos Claro and Embratel, car manufacturer Nissan and post office Correios. Below them are 11 second-tier, ‘official supporter’ packages including the likes of Brazilian airline TAM, food brand Sadia and Skol lager, and then a third tier of ‘official suppliers’ which includes companies such as Technogym, Microsoft and Airbnb.
The restrictions around in-venue branding at an Olympic Games or advertising in an Olympic city are well-known, but Colagrossi believes there remain huge opportunities to be grasped by national sponsors beyond traditional media exposure. “Sponsors have to find other ways to expose their brands and engage fans through advertising campaigns, social media content, activations, specific events and promotions,” he points out.
“Domestic sponsors are very sophisticated in this regard because they are used to sponsoring big events, such as Carnival, music festivals and beach parties.”
The physical legacy of the Games will be obvious, not least the new Olympic park in Barra da Tijuca – nine venues, seven all new, have been constructed there on the site of the Jacarepaguá Grand Prix circuit, which hosted Formula One between 1981 and 1989 – and the new transport links. Colagrossi, however, is confident the legacies of the Games for Rio will go far beyond bricks and mortar. “Obviously the urban improvements in the city, which are not minor, will last for decades,” he says. “But I believe the greatest legacy will be more relevant than buildings, miles of subways, sports equipment or highways. If we as a society can inspire our youth from the very poor neighbourhoods to adopt sports, and not only football, as a platform to overcome poverty and violence, allowing for personal, social and economic growth, then Rio 2016 will have been a tremendous success for Rio and the country.”
A Brazilian football blessing?
Brazil’s relationship with football in 2016, meanwhile, is might best be described as complicated. While the country received acclaim internationally for staging the 2014 FIFA World Cup, domestically there was dismay: Brazil’s elimination from its own tournament via a 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany was a humbling moment and one that still has repercussions two years on. “Brazil’s football economy has gone into a ‘crisis’ mode,” Colagrossi reports. “The defeat to Germany caused a profound loss of credibility on Brazilian football with many fans moving – temporarily – away from the sport.
“Then the FIFA corruption scandals hit Brazil hard, not only because several managers were involved, but also the once powerful president of the Brazilian Confederation was arrested. This caused sponsors to leave the sport. Finally, the economic crisis, the worst in decades, also hit the sport very hard. Half the Série A clubs in Brazil are without sponsors at this time.”
The situation is challenging but, equally, Colagrossi argues the issues are a “blessing in disguise” for Brazilian football. “After decades of world domination, our football lived off past glories and needed a big shake-up to become more efficient and better managed, both from the sports and business areas,” he says. We are going through a period of intense pain, but we will come out better and stronger. I personally believe the 7-1 was the best thing that happened to our football in a long time. We needed a wake-up call this painful.”
A professionalisation process is, however, underway across the club game in Brazil. “Clubs are generally heading in the right direction in terms of professionalising their commercial operations, yet not all at the same place. Brazilian football clubs have finally realised the importance of building sound commercial strategies based on information, market forces, technology, and how fans consume the sport and engage with sponsors in the 21st Century.”
Looking further afield, the challenges facing football, traditionally Brazil’s dominant sport, are opening up new commercial opportunities for other sports in the country. “There is a lot of energy right now in non-traditional, emerging sports, such as surfing, martial arts and even rugby,” Colograssi reports.
“Furthermore, basketball is experiencing a renaissance in the country. The success of these emerging sports has been caused by three factors: one, Brazilian football has lost some appeal, which has left many people looking for a different sport to watch. Two, Brazil has celebrity athletes in these sports, especially in surfing where the current and previous world champions, Gabriel Medina and Adriano de Souza are Brazilians. And finally, through cable TV, these sports have a large share of broadcast.”