The flame that never goes out: Brand opportunities between Olympic and Paralympic Games

Thought Leadership

Every four years the world is united by a sporting event like no other; the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Brands get in on the action in a big way, championing sports personalities that connect with audiences. In this piece, Mid-Weight Creative Polly Norkett explores the brand opportunities between the Games, shedding a light on the power of social to keep the Olympic flame alive beyond the main event.

Out of the pandemic rose a new era of casual athletes who demand communities and connections like never before. Strava, the largest sports community in the world, has surged in popularity with 1.8 billion activities uploaded in 2021.

We are running harder, swimming further, cycling faster, and enjoying the kudos which pours in afterward. With speedy Park Runs and triathlon PBs under our belts, we have a newfound appreciation for the astonishing feats of professional athletes. 

It is with this in mind that the brand opportunities between Olympic Games have never been so rich. We’re being told by the biggest sports brands on the planet that, whether we pop out for a 30-minute 5km twice a week or complete IronMans on the reg, we are all athletes. Put yourself on a level with professional athletes, and their lives, losses, and triumphs – and become infinitely more compelling.

Shaunae Miller-Ubio and Olivia Breen are both using social to keep fans in the loop between big meets. They’re sharing gruelling training days alongside candid holiday snaps and – in Miller-Ubio’s case – relationship updates. Audiences see their own lives reflected in those on screen. With every post, Breen and Miller-Ubio’s followers feel more invested in the athlete’s success.

Brands play a vital role in upholding the popularity of Olympic sports like track and field in the years between the Games. Brands provide the opportunities for athletes to engage their audiences with sponsorship activations like kit collabs (see Noah Lyles’ anime inspired speed suit created with adidas). Getting creative with athlete stories will draw in audiences who are forever curious to discover the aspects of athletes which make them human – and therefore relatable. While viewer numbers might peak during the Games themselves, for brands the real work happens in the years between. 

Nowhere is this more true than in Para sport. Ingenious campaigns always surface as we approach the Paralympics. We’ll never forget Channel 4’s ‘Super. Human.’ campaign which heroed the daily challenges athletes faced whilst training for the Tokyo Games. 

Unflinching humanity lived at the heart of this work. As it should. It’s time that this level of craft, commitment, and a focus on what is truly human was put into Para sponsorships between major competitions as well as during. It is this work that will justify brand involvement in the lead up to Paris 2024.

Para sponsorships are a rich opportunity for brands to reach previously untouched audiences and align their brand values directly with their to outward-facing work. 1.2 billion people have a disability; this isn’t a ‘niche’ market. It’s a large percentage of the population that brands have the opportunity to connect with over a shared love of sport. And that’s before we add in the millions of non-disabled people who savour and support Para sport. In many cases, audiences just need reminding that Para sport doesn’t appear once every four years. It is an all-seasons, lifelong commitment by athletes who give their minds, bodies, and souls to compete.

We can start by identifying Para sports personalities. With athletes like Karé Adenegan and Emmanuel Oyinbo-Coker leading the next gen, the opportunities for brands and sponsorship are ripe and social should be the first port of call. With the right partners providing opportunities that are just as stimulating as those offered to non-disabled talent, Para athletes can really shine.

Athlete personalities – disabled and non-disabled – are not limited to their track, field, or pool performance. That’s a tiny snapshot of rich and varied lives. The real, unfiltered side of social is the one which brands need to harness to stoke the curiosity of new audiences.

Instagram, TikTok, and Reddit provide fertile ground for athlete stories. Just seeing top athletes like Jessica Long and Anastasia Pagonis posting their morning routines on TikTok and opening up to Reddit Q & As reminds us of their humanity. They laugh, they joke, and they fail just like us. Google and Philosophy have already partnered with Pagonis on TikTok, showing their commitment to Para talent beyond major tournaments. 

@anastasia_k_p #Ad ♬ original sound – Anastasia Pagonis

The Olympic flame is always burning and the pull of the Games can always be felt. It’s time that brands make sure their audiences feel the heat of the competition throughout the years in between and that they’re spotlighting Para athletes outside of major competitions. Innovating on social and focusing on athlete stories is a sure-fire way to harness the ever-increasing popularity of casual sport and ensure that the athletes you sponsor stay relevant and feel supported between the Games.