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do the olympics still matter

Do the Olympics Still Matter for Brands? 4 Fitness Apparel Trends to Watch

Written by
Chris Chan

In the past, the Olympic Games have been a symbol of camaraderie, unity, and mutual respect between nations. The 2021 Tokyo Olympics mark a shift in this dynamic.

According to viewership data analyzed by NBCUniversal, the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics opening ceremony had the lowest viewership in 33 years.

Part of this can be attributed to the ongoing global pandemic. However, the Olympics have been steadily declining in viewership, interest, and support over time.

What does this mean for fitness apparel brands and businesses? It’s time to pivot and ride emerging trends to ensure long-term profitability.

Tokyo 2021 Olympics: the Basics

Support for the Olympics had been declining for years, even before the pandemic. Although viewership data differs between sources, one thing is certain: Olympic interest is at an all-time low.

Research done by NBCUniversal shows a downward trend in the past three Olympic games. Here’s the U.S. Olympics Opening Ceremony data courtesy of Reuters.

  • London 2012 – 40.7 Million
  • Rio 2016 – 26.5 million
  • Tokyo 2021 – 16.7 million

This decline in viewership is a crucial indicator that brand sponsorships will have lower reach, relevance, and return when advertising in the Olympic games.

In addition, less than 1,000 people were allowed to attend the Olympics opening ceremony at the Tokyo Olympics Stadium (68,000 capacity).

While the in-person shifts can be attributed to the ongoing pandemic, it certainly wasn’t the only contributor to a lack of support for the games.

Why Are Major Brands Pulling Sponsorships From the Tokyo 2021 Olympics?

Brand sponsorships for sporting events generally indicate that the brand’s strategy and the event’s image are aligned. 

The Olympics have traditionally boosted visibility and awareness for companies in host countries, but the Olympics have become an expensive liability for many Japanese brands.

In mid-July, Toyota, previously one of the Olympics’ most prominent sponsors, decided to pull all of their TV advertisements in Japan and eliminate their involvement in the Olympic opening ceremonies. 

Toyota’s Chief Communications Officer (CCO) Jun Nagata reported that Toyota would be discontinuing its Olympics advertisement campaigns in Japan due to a continuing lack of support for the games in the host country. Nagata and other executives at major Japanese brands expressed their frustration with the International Olympics Committee’s poor planning.

Social Components Affecting Sentiment Toward the Olympics

Lowered brand support for the Olympic Games goes beyond reduced public viewership of the games themselves, extending into social concerns. Brands are increasingly enveloping social awareness and sustainability values into their charters, making sports’ collapsing values a brand liability.

Several pressing concerns around current events include:

  • Human rights questions associated with the Olympic Games
  • Abuse of participating athletes 
  • Waste of host city/country resources, causing considerable economic repercussions
  • Increased corruption of the International Olympic Committee (IOC)
  • Environmental sustainability issues linked with stadium construction
  • Displacement of host city citizens to prepare for the games

The Beijing and Rio Olympics set a precedent for the economic, political, and environmental disparity that the Olympic Games can cause.

China’s 2008 Summer Olympic Games led the country to spend over $40 billion exclusively on Olympics-related infrastructure between 2002 and 2006, leading to mixed feelings among the international community.

The 2016 Rio Summer Olympics Games occurred during the middle of military unrest between local governments and gang members, necessitating 85,000 security members to watch over the games.

However, negative sentiment does not necessarily mean that Olympic brand sponsorships are not profitable or influential for the right brands.

4 Fitness Apparel Trends the Olympics Are Accelerating

Fitness apparel brands must be diligent when choosing to sponsor events and athletes. The shift in the perceived trust in the Olympics doesn’t only affect Olympian sponsorships; it accelerates fitness apparel trends already on the rise.

Here are 4 prominent fitness apparel trends that the Tokyo 2021 Olympics are speeding up.

1. Brands’ Sports Sponsorships Have Become High Risk (and High Reward)

One thing that the Olympics is highlighting is that athletic sponsorships are a hit or miss opportunity for brands.

A Statistica research report predicts that the sports sponsorship market value will exceed $20 billion by 2022 and capture 70% of the entire sponsorship industry.

To ride this wave of successful sponsorships, it’s vital to follow specific best practices to maximize the effectiveness of those campaigns.

Conduct in-depth research on event background

The negative perception of a sponsored event can lead to lowered brand sentiment, decreased return on ad spend (ROAS), and stunted long-term profitability. Do thorough background research on the public opinion of an event to avoid ineffective or potentially damaging campaigns.

Segment your audience based on customer lifetime value (LTV)

Segmenting marketing messaging using short-term strategies such as discounts codes and price reduction strategies can undermine your partnership efforts. Focusing on long-term profitability, by using LTV segmentation to find the customers that are most likely to conduct repurchases will lead to a more effective sponsorship campaign.

Select events, teams, and athletes that align with your brand’s messaging

Failure to align your brand messaging with the incentives of a given event can result in obstructive public pushback.

One example of brand messaging misalignment occurred in the 2012 London Olympics. London 2012’s Head of Sustainability, David Stubbs, noted the 2012 games as the “most sustainable Olympic Games.”

Although the London 2012 Olympics factually had the lowest carbon footprint of any games up until that point, the London 2012 Organising Committee received significant pushback when fans discovered that the event was sponsored by BP, Rio Tinto, and Dow Chemicals Company.

This is a perfect example of misalignment between brands and event objectives. In order to avoid negative public feedback, it’s crucial to choose events that are aligned with how consumers view your brand specifically.

Adopt the Mindset of the Sponsored Athlete

Maximizing ROAS of sponsored athlete campaigns begins and ends with consumer perception of the athlete.

Stand-out brands do more than simply sponsor top-performing athletes. They adopt the athlete’s mindset and leverage unique attributes regardless of performance.

Colin Kaepernick and Nike’s brand partnership presents the gold standard of brand partnerships. While Kaepernick is undoubtedly a talented athlete, his protests against racial inequality and police brutality in 2016 are what led Nike to extend collaboration offers.

Nike’s partnership with Kaepernick may have resulted in a large number of boycotts against Nike’s products, but it also contributed to a $6 billion increase within Q4 of 2018 (Vox, 2018). 

In athletic sponsorship campaigns, brands should make sure to adopt the mission and mindset of their sponsored athlete to differentiate themselves in the minds of the target audience.

  • Quick Tip: Segment your target audience by LTV and choose events/athletes that align with your brand messaging.

2. Increased Demand for Women’s Athleisure Products From Fitness Apparel Brands

According to research done by Allied Market Research, the athleisure market was valued at $155 billion in 2018 and is projected to be worth $257 billion by 2026.

Consumer interest in athleisure products like yoga pants, joggers, and leggings were already on the rise due to work-from-home and home workout trends, but the Olympics has compounded this demand.

Apparel brands are also more likely to gain long-term profitability in athleisure markets if they target female consumers. The US apparel store industry is worth $43.6 billion, with 84% of revenue driven from women’s apparel with higher profit margins.

To match rising demand for female athleisure products, brands who want to excel should market products that are size-inclusive, high-quality, and functional. 

  • Quick Tip: Creative campaigns that highlight athleisure products in tandem with the Olympics are likely to be effective on a female audience.

3. Fair Trade, Human Rights, Work and Labor in Marketing of Products

In response to human rights and safety issues related to the Olympics, brands should be conscious to advocate for human rights, fair trade, displacement and labor rights.

Recent Olympics have revealed glaring human rights issues that the IOC has largely ignored. Brands leveraging event sponsorships need to be mindful of the underlying processes behind events. 

For fitness apparel brands now is a critical time to make commitments against fast fashion, child labor, and unhealthy working conditions. Brands must convey a sense of understanding of current human rights events and maintain healthy environments within their own businesses.

Another element of health that has often been undermined in sporting events like the Olympics is the mental health status of athletes. Superstar gymnast Simone Biles has recently withdrawn from further Olympics gymnastic events due to mental health struggles, which has led to a surge of interest in athletes’ mental health.

Brands that can highlight not only the physical health benefits of their products but also the mental health benefits can appeal more strongly to their target audience.

  • Quick Tip: Include messaging in your campaigns that show your commitment to combating unfair labor and promoting positive health practices.

4. Sustainability Driven Apparel Branding Is No Longer Optional

Research reports analyzed by Businesswire predicted that the global ethical fashion market will rise to $8.25 Billion by 2023 (Businesswire, 2020).

A solid commitment to sustainability is a modern-day necessity to appeal to consumers. A variety of environmental issues originated from previous Olympic Games (Beijing 2008, Sochi 2014, Pyeonchang 2018). Air pollution, deforestation, massive construction sites, and water pollution are just a few of the unsustainable activities that have been attributed to Olympic host cities in the past few decades.

As a fitness apparel brand owner, creating a sustainability mission statement, mapping out actionable steps to achieve that mission, and including sustainability in your messaging will help secure your long-term profitability.

  • Quick Tip: Create a sustainability statement and action plan for your fitness apparel brand.

Related: Leaning In On Sustainability: How to Go With the Flow as Resale Hits the Mainstream

Emerging trends and shifting marketplaces mean that you can no longer afford to coast with current practices: let’s talk.

Featured image by Sam Balye on Unsplash.

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Written by
Chris Chan

Chris Chan is a content writer at WITHIN who loves martial arts, gospel music, and all things brand marketing. His favorite pastime is watching online course videos and his favorite food is sushi.


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