Airbnb is the Latest Non-Traditional Advertiser to Join the IOC’s TOP Sponsor Programme

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Airbnb has signed a nine-year deal (spanning the next five Olympiads) with the International Olympic Committee to become a TOP (The Olympic Partner) programme sponsor through the 2028 games. The pact aligns with the Games’ sustainability initiative as it includes “accommodation provisions that will reduce costs for Olympic Games organizers and stakeholders, minimize the need for construction of new accommodation infrastructure for the Olympic Games period, and generate direct revenue for local hosts and communities.” An integrated athlete-led ‘experience’ program will give those competing new opportunities “to develop their own direct revenue streams through the promotion of physical activity and the Olympic values.” The Financial Times reported that the deal was worth $500 million in cash and services, though Airbnb CEO Bryan Chesky has since rejected that figure. Speculation exists that Airbnb is using Olympic sponsorship to counter some of the negative publicity it’s been receiving as the company gears up for a 2020 IPO.

Howie Long-Short: To be clear, Airbnb is not the Games’ official hotel sponsor; the IOC created a separate category to accommodate (no pun intended) the online lodging marketplace. While there has been pushback (see: suspension of Olympics ’24 partnership) from Parisian hoteliers upset that the IOC aligned with a competing company that has been “advocating deregulation around the world”, a source familiar with L.A. 2028’s sponsorship business says they have not received any complaints.

The Parisian hoteliers also insist that there are enough rooms in the city to host the Games without Airbnb’s involvement, but that isn’t the case in Tokyo where it was reported earlier this week that the city could be short as many as 14,000 rooms for the 2020 Games. If Airbnb can help to fill that void and serve up rooms that don’t currently exist in future host cities (thus saving local communities from having to build new housing/hotels), the company will be servicing a critical need.

Historically speaking (i.e. since ’84, the first commercial Olympics) TOP programme sponsors have been blue-chip companies (think: Coca-Cola, McDonalds), but with the addition of Alibaba in 2017 and now Airbnb it’s clear that the IOC is thinking more opportunistically as it relates to non-traditional partners. There is no shortage of interested sponsors in the market. Instead, the IOC’s willingness to dabble in the start-up space has been driven by the development of new categories (i.e. they didn’t exist for Games’ prior). It would seem to be just a matter of time before the IOC looks to add ride sharing, autonomous driving and meal-kit delivery partners.

The experiential component of the Airbnb deal (think: taking a ski lesson with an Olympic skier) is the latest development in a broader Olympic movement to support and empower athletes (the USOPC also recently loosened the guidelines around Rule 40 which governs how athletes’ personal sponsors can activate during the Games). The hope is that the addition of new platforms will help athletes to raise their profiles and ultimately enable participants to monetarily benefit from their involvement in the Games in ways that were previously unavailable to them.

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