With last weekends announcement the Royal Bank will sponsor the 2010 Olympic Games, organizers look set to far surpass their financial predictions for national sponsorship.
RBC said it would give the Vancouver Organizing Committee $70 million in cash and $40 million as "value-in-kind" contributions as part of an eight-year deal covering four Olympics, to 2012.
In October VANOC signed a similar deal with Bell Canada worth $200 million. Indeed VANOC was so thrilled with the Bell deal it created a whole new level of sponsorship category for tele-communications companies titled the "Premier National Partner."
In 2002 Games organizers were predicting they would raise about $160 million from approximately 10 national sponsors in the Tier 1 category and a further $133 million from up to 37 Tier 2 and 3 sponsors.
But in just five months they have almost doubled the predicted total for Tier 1 sponsorships, with announcements still pending for a host of other Tier 1 sponsorships, including airlines, automotive, brewery, communications and so on.
Olympic expert Professor Kevin Wamsley said he is surprised at the level of Canadian sponsorships.
"Certainly we noticed that the national sponsorship program (for the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics) was very successful which brought in between $600 and $700 million," said Wamsley, director of the International Centre of Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario.
"That was huge and I suppose that I did not imagine that Canadian corporations would be coming even close to that sum. But I was wrong. Some of this isnt cash, it is services-in-kind, but still I am quite surprised by the figures."
Last month Pique also reported that a Canadian media consortium led by Bell Globemedia was awarded the television rights for the 2010 and 2012 Games for $153 million US.
That too was a record-breaking offer. Officials of the consortium said at the time that the 2010 Games were likely to be one of the biggest events of the decade in Canada.
"We really felt we needed to be part of it and right at the centre of it," said Ivan Fecan, president and chief executive officer of Bell Globemedia on the day the deal was struck with the International Olympic Committee.
The belief that the 2010 Games are too big an opportunity to miss out on may in part be fuelling the decision by Canadian corporations to offer greater financial support than ever before.
Said Wamsley: "I think they see this as a once in a several decades opportunity. They are saying, we cant miss our chance. We have to do this right. We cant be nickle-and-diming ourselves here.
"So it is an opportunity for company air play which doesnt come around too often."
The high numbers are also driven by competition amongst corporations as association with the Olympic brand is highly sought after. Even when corporations lose out, as Telus did to Bell or CIBC did to RBC, they still want to keep some association with the event and national sports. Indeed CIBC will continue with its ties to downhill skiing as it is a sponsor of Alpine Canada.
And corporations can always sign individual sponsorship agreements with key athletes expected to do well leading up to 2010 and beyond.
VANOC will continue to fundraise despite already meeting financial goalposts for national sponsorship. With construction costs expected to rise, some feel the organizing committee will need every dollar it can get.
The sponsorship money not only goes to support VANOC. At least $98 million of it will also be funnelled to the Canadian Olympic Committee and the IOC to support their endeavours up to the 2012 Games.
And, said Wamsley, corporations believe that Canadians in general think the 1988 Calgary Winter Games were a success and associating themselves with the event is good for business.
It doesnt hurt that television viewing continues to grow despite scandals and problems with athlete doping.
However, Wamsley isnt convinced that many of these companies will make their investment back. "I think this is mostly a symbolic exercise, which is probably great PR for the company," he said. "But is not necessarily something you would see on the balance sheet."
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