By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
November 23, 2010: In January 2009, Lisa Baird took on one of the most challenging, prestigious and politically charged marketing jobs in the U.S. when she was named CMO of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Since then, the USOC has signed such major partners as Procter & Gamble, BMW, BP and Deloitte. Baird came with a solid resume, which included svp-marketing and consumer products for the NFL (2005-2007) and vp-advertising and then as svp-worldwide marketing communications for IBM (1999-2005).
However, the U.S. has had major setbacks in losing bids to host the Summer Olympics, most recently in 2009 when Chicago lost out to Rio de Janeiro for 2016; and in 2005, prior to Baird's arrival, when New York lost to eventual 2012 host city London. The U.S. last hosted the Summer Games in Atlanta in 1996 and last hosted the Winter Games in Salt Lake City in 2002. In addition, a plan to form an Olympic TV network drew sharp rebuttal from the International Olympic Committee; the plan was eventually scrapped but is now in play again in cooperation with the IOC. The USOC and IOC also have been seeking to resolve the issue of revenue sharing, which, along with the USOC TV situation, has been viewed by industry analysts as a reason that the U.S. has not won its two recent Olympic bids.
The IOC plans to open the process for bidding for the 2020 Summer Games in 2011, with a city to be named in 2013. The bidding for the 2024 Summer Games begins in 2015, with a city to be named in 2017. To date, the USOC has not indicated if the U.S. would be involved in either of those bidding processes. The U.S. is not part of the process to bid on the 2018 Winter Games.
The USOC drew some criticism with the signing of internationally based companies BMW and BP, but a deal with P&G was a significant milestone in marketing based on the depth and involvement of the alliance. USOC partners also include Coca-Cola, Acer, Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser), AT&T, Atos Origin, Dow, GE, McDonald's, Omega, Panasonic, P&G, Samsung and Visa; sponsors include 24 Hour Fitness, Allstate, Nike and Hilton.
Baird was a featured speaker at the 5th Annual Ivy Sports Symposium, held at Princeton (NJ) University on Nov. 19. There, she addressed the issues of foreign support of U.S. athletes, losing out to Rio for the 2016 Olympics and the politics of marketing sports.
• How do you respond to people who question the influx of foreign-based companies as USOC partners?
Lisa Baird: [People ask] why partner with BMW? Why BP? Why foreign-based companies supporting the USOC? BMW [became a partner in a key category] that had been held by a long-time partner, GM, which had to drop out due to the economic situation of the company. BMW is also a sponsor of the 2012 London Games. BMW wants to build sales, brand strength [and to overtake Lexus as the No. 1 luxury car in the U.S. by 2012, according to the company]. They came in, and BP came in, with great plans and a great strategy to work with the USOC and with our athletes. My attitude is that these are global companies trying to gain and establish market share in the U.S. That is the reality of the economy. That is how we have to look at it.
• When do you see the Olympic Games returning to the U.S.?
LB: I want to see the Olympic Games back in the U.S. It will happen. But now is not the time. Everyone involved is working toward that goal. We are working hard [on a future bid]. It will happen.
"I want to see the Olympic Games back in the U.S. But now is not the time."
• What was the feeling at the USOC after the Chicago bid lost?
LB: Let me say this: Rio won fair and square. It was a spectacular bid. [Beating out Chicago, among other cities. The U.S. also lost a bid for 2012 when New York was going to compete against eventual winning city London]. The point is, it was their time. We were disappointed, but I would not take anything away from Rio.
• Do people still respond to the Olympic movement?
LB: The 2008 Olympic Games [attracted nearly 5 billion viewers], which is 70% of the world's population, and two-thirds of America's TV viewers watched it on NBC. That is amazing.
• What are your priorities between Olympic years?
LB: Our purpose is so completely clear: To help our athletes compete at the highest level possible . . . What we are doing with the years between Games is my challenge: Develop a fan base. Support the mission. What we do is raise money for all sports.
• Is there as much time spent dealing with politics and raising funds as working with athletes?
LB: We have to do it privately, and by that I mean without government funding. Are we dependent on broadcast revenue? For sure. You can't do it without the major categories: beer, automotive, telecommunications. But you will see new sponsors, new categories that you haven't thought of coming in to support the effort . . . You have to keep your eye on your objectives. On long-term goals. Framing what you do with something that is valuable to people or, in our case, to the country.