David Owen

I have written before that under Thomas Bach's Presidency, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has become less like a parliament and more like a corporation.

Never have I felt this more keenly than while listening to Lausanne newbie Christopher Carroll at last week's IOC Summit.

It is partly just the new Director of Digital Engagement's manner, which is pure United States C-suite.

"The good news," he told IOC members at one point, "is we have been working at Olympic speed."

He referred to data equally catchily as "that four-letter word".

And, in a phrase which captures the concatenation of enthusiasm, buzzwords and jargon that appears to constitute his presentation style, he spoke of fan engagement activities based on "trivia, fantasy and, yes, gameification opportunities".

So, it was partly a question of style that caused me to react the way I did; but it was also the substance of what Carroll was talking about.

Thomas Bach is certainly interested in using all aspects of the Olympic corporate model ©Getty Images
Thomas Bach is certainly interested in using all aspects of the Olympic corporate model ©Getty Images

When he appealed to members with a cheesy, "We need your data!", he was echoing the refrain of every multinational corporation striving to exploit tech to get to know their customers better and more effectively coax them into buying more of their products.

As such, his address might be likened in some respects to the Horst Dassler video played to members gathered in New Delhi in 1983, 49 IOC Sessions before last week's meeting.

"The Olympic rings are the most unexploited trademark in existence," the Adidas man informed them.

"No major corporation in the world would tolerate such a situation."

The IOC has little choice but to pursue this new digital adventure.

As I wrote recently here, this looks set to be the decade when sponsorship takes over from broadcasting as the Olympic Movement's biggest source of funding.

This will increase pressure on the IOC and Games Organising Committees to ensure sponsors get full value for the big sums they cough up.

And if broadcasting dollars do start to dwindle (which has not happened yet), the Movement will need to keep sponsorship fees moving in the right direction, not least because so much of what sponsors bring to the party is value-in-kind, not cash.

But the IOC bigwigs who will mastermind this push will require a light touch.

The last thing the organisation needs after a period when its reputation has taken hits on a number of fronts is to start being portrayed as a voracious and unscrupulous harvester of personal data on behalf of big business.

The potential, though, does look immense - and you do not have to be a director of digital engagement to appreciate this.

International sport must be the prime motivation for a decent proportion of foreign travel nowadays.

And when sport is the reason, people need to be in a particular place, on a particular date; given this imperative, one might expect their thoughts to be rather less on securing budget prices than when seeking, say, a quiet week in the country or a sunny beach.

We know that The Olympic Programme (TOP) sponsor Alibaba is working on a digital ticketing hub to be operational in time for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

Liverpool's Mo Salah receives the Alibaba Cloud Player of the Tournament at last year's FIFA Club World Cup, showing the ambition of the company ©Getty Images
Liverpool's Mo Salah receives the Alibaba Cloud Player of the Tournament at last year's FIFA Club World Cup, showing the ambition of the company ©Getty Images

Once customers have purchased their places, it should be relatively straightforward to start offering them other products and services they are likely to need for their visit to the curling hall or ice-hockey arena.

These could be anything from their airline ticket to a Beijing 2022 scarf.

Such is the proliferation of sponsors that congregate around an Olympic and Paralympic Games that one or other of them ought to be able to supply almost anything a ticket-holder might require during their time on the road.

Toiletries? Procter & Gamble, the group behind everything from Gillette razors to Aussie shampoo, is a TOP sponsor.

Insurance? Allianz will be coming on board soon.

Spare time on your hands? Take your pick of Airbnb one-of-a-kind experiences.

Perhaps it was something like this that Alibaba's Chris Tung had in mind when he told me recently that "through the digital ticketing experience, spectators will be able to get more information and guidance during Games time in terms of how to maximise their time in Beijing".

Nor is it just the Olympic Games.

One can imagine that International Sports Federations (IFs) should be able, in time, to plug into this ecosystem, offering tickets to their own events to people who have shown an interest in content relating to that particular sport.

Once committed to attending their afternoon at the archery or evening at the water-polo, the same cornucopia of sponsors' products as outlined above could be presented to ticket-holders, covering the appropriate times and places.   

Sponsors ought also, one imagines, to be able in time to get a window onto sports-lovers in any particular country via the National Olympic Committees (NOCs).

Sport, as I say, motivates travel.

Because of this, the connected world that tech is more and more facilitating should offer plenty of scope for sports sponsors to target fans with directly relevant products at a time when they may well be minded to buy.

Bach picked up Carroll's "Olympic speed" comment, urging him: "Don’t hesitate to break any Olympic records in your work."

It sounds to me like the German scents another win-win-win.