Patrick Nally: The Usain Bolt effect
Monday, 21 May 2012
And while there are those who might try to argue the point, there is no doubt that the brilliant Jamaican has reignited public interest in a sport which had slipped into the doldrums, largely bereft of personalities and operating under an ever-present haze of suspicion of cheating through doping.
Bolt changed all that. His world record breaking performances at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships in Berlin ushered track and field into a new era. Its totem was a man who was not simply a stupendous athlete but undeniably cool as well. Here at last was an athlete the kids could identify with, a man who delivered a DJ set in Berlin after securing his dold haul.
Bolt's brilliance makes him a magnet for media attention and his personality and youth appeal make him pure marketing gold. On the back of it he signed a world record personal endorsement deal with Puma and has since developed a portfolio of work including that for Virgin Media in the United Kingdom where he appears on television spots, online and in print alongside the company's high profile boss Richard Branson extolling the speed of its broadband service.
So far, so good, but it is worth looking beyond the immediate and obvious at the impact which Bolt (pictured above) is having on the world of sport and sports marketing.
Bolt is a cult figure and has become a massive brand in his own right. He has also arrived on the scene at exactly the right time for his brand to be developed through social as well as traditional media, making him an extremely attractive vehicle for sponsors. This is where the difficulty creeps in. Bolt as an individual is probably a more valuable asset for brands than the sport he graces, potentially putting him in commercial competition with the IAAF.
Of course brands are well aware of some dangers of focusing their strategies and spending on individual athletes. The dangers of an athlete being blighted by personal scandal - a la Tiger Woods - or suffering a massive and unexplained loss of form each carry dangers for the sponsor brand.
But in a changed media environment where the power of communications lies in the hands of the talent, personality deals are becoming more prevalent and valuable.
So just imagine a situation where Bolt is not the only superstar in track and field. Say there are 10 athletes whose personalities and talent enable them to become established as major brands in their own right. Each would have the capability to hoover up commercial deals making life ever more complicated for the governing body which sets out to sell deals around its own events.
The question is why a brand would want to become a partner of an event when high profile competitors are bringing their own sponsors into the picture, cluttering the environment and almost inevitably cutting across event sponsors' category exclusivity.
While a governing body has the ability to control these clashes and this confusion when it comes to individual event promoters of host cities/Organising Committees, this is not the case with individual athletes who, because of social media, have the power and are in the ascendancy.
Patrick Nally is the entrepreneur and specialist consultant widely acknowledged as the founding father of modern sports marketing. He is arguably the principal pioneer of today's sports business industry.