Chevy gets Olympic gold

Winter exposure
Some of the ways Chevrolet will be present at the Winter Games


  • Co-sponsor of torch relay with Coca-Cola

  • Sponsor of 90-second to 2-minute vignettes featuring athletes

  • Represented in nearly 60 percent of all NBC advertising during the games

  • Provider of nearly 70 percent of the 5,000 official Olympic vehicles donated by GM

  • Sponsor of a hospitality center

  • DETROIT - General Motors has passed the Olympic torch to Chevrolet.

    Chevy will lead as automotive sponsor of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, from advertising to on-site presence to the Torch Relay.

    In the past, GM tried to give each of its divisions equal shot at the games. The automaker is trying to focus its brands with exclusive marketing programs to get more bang for the buck.

    "GM has so many divisions that we were trying to give everybody a piece of the Olympic pie," said Steve Tihanyi, director of marketing alliances and regional operations for GM. "When we went back and did research, people weren't really sure who was doing what. It was almost like we were all fighting against ourselves for that link to the Olympics, and that's what we're trying to really clean up this time."

    GM in 1997 paid $900 million to be the exclusive domestic car and truck sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Team from 1998 through 2008 and to be the exclusive domestic car and truck advertiser during NBC's broadcasts of the Olympics for that period.

    Chevy won the deal because of its ties with the National Governing Bodies of most winter sports, including hockey, figure skating, skiing and snowboarding. "Those NGB relationships were lined up because of demographics," Tihanyi said. Winter also will bring out more Chevy trucks than cars, he said.

    Other GM divisions will be represented in Salt Lake City, but Chevy will dominate, Tihanyi said. Also, other divisions will advertise during the Games, but they will not be allowed to use the Olympic rings.

    The new strategy

    In addition to the nearly exclusive Chevy participation, GM made other changes in its Olympic sponsorship:

  • Involve dealers, but make them pay to play. For instance, Chevy dealers along the Torch Relay route can participate on various levels, for $5,000 to $13,500. Eighty-five percent of Chevy dealers along the route are paying the highest level, a GM spokeswoman said.

  • In Salt Lake City, GM will spend 30 percent on-site of what it spent in Atlanta for the 1996 Summer Games before the exclusive contract was signed. Tihanyi wouldn't say what the company spent on-site in Atlanta, but GM spent $100 million for sponsorship rights and advertising during the 1996 Olympics.

    Divisions salute strategy

    Dealers for GM's other divisions say they don't feel slighted by losing the Winter Games to Chevy.

    "For how the products overlay into the nature of winter sports and the mountains, it makes sense for Chevy," said Mark Hennessy, who has Cadillac and Pontiac-GMC stores in the Atlanta area. "Chevy and GMC have the heavy-duty products."

    Doug Scott, an industry analyst with Allison-Fisher International Inc. in Southfield, Mich., applauds the Chevy strategy.

    "A better focus is going to generate much more attention and much more memorability than the dispersion," he said. "Focusing on trucks is a great idea, and GM should link more closely to Chevy," Scott said, adding the 2002 Olympics also will provide GM with a new way to "Keep America rolling."

    Pontiac in Athens?

    The next Olympics will take place in the summer of 2004 in Athens, Greece. GM hasn't decided which division will carry the torch there. But Tihanyi did say "Pontiac has U.S.A. gymnastics and track and field, which are really your two premier National Governing Bodies for the Summer Games."

    Tihanyi hinted the company's focused approach will continue beyond the Olympics.

    "Take other properties outside the Olympic venue - we're looking at doing the same thing for other divisions in terms of focus," he said. "These big multidivisional properties we have, we've always tried to carve 'em up, and that may not be the best strategy."

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