Somewhere some Olympic fanatic is going to get the experience of a lifetime thanks to the IOC and Silicon Valley teaming up

The IOC's newest potential global sponsor is the result of carefully laid breadcrumbs and a signal of what's to come for the organization

In February of 2016 IOC President Thomas Bach toured a number of Silicon Valley giant firms, as part of efforts to continue keeping the Olympic Movement in the 21st century and engaged online.

That April, Airbnb announced a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live the Olympic dream” by offering accommodations inside a literal Olympic stadium ahead of the 2016 Games.

Airbnb served as a sponsor for the 2016 Olympics, as a way to allow spectators to come watch the Games without paying for luxury hotels. According to reports before the 2016 Games, it made out pretty well given the state of affairs in Rio.

Airbnb was even there in PyeongChang, when guests found it incredible difficult to find accommodations in Gangwon Province.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo, laws are in place that require apartments listed on Airbnb to display a license number, leading to close to 80% of listings to be removed from the website in 2018.

This week, Sports Business Journal reported that Airbnb is close to becoming the next IOC TOP Sponsor, which has huge ramifications for the company and the IOC.

Global Partners are companies that pay the IOC large figures of money to use the Olympic Rings in their advertisements 365 days a year. The cast of companies has been relatively stable, but growing over the last five years, adding mostly sponsors in Asian markets. This reflects the fact that the IOC is in the midst of hosting three consecutive Games in Northeast Asia: PyeongChang 2018, Tokyo 2020, and Beijing 2022.

Korean giant Samsung has been a TOP Sponsor since Nagano 1998, but in the last five years the IOC added Japanese companies Bridgestone and Toyota, and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba as sponsors.

Looking past those companies, the latest IOC Sponsor is the one that signals where the IOC was headed post-Northeast Asia. Just before PyeongChang 2018 the IOC inked a deal with Intel, an American stalwart in Silicon Valley. Intel’s deal with the IOC is to explore technological cooperation including virtual reality and 5G networks. The company expects to use 3D athlete tracking to compile real time data and statistics during Tokyo 2020.

Los Angeles will host the Olympics in 2028 and is just a shout away from Silicon Valley, and area where the IOC has keen interest, as you can see from Thomas Bach’s adventure there in 2016 (Image Credit, IOC):

According to SBJ the IOC’s deal is with Airbnb’s Experiences, a different section than the traditional micro-renting section of the business. These experiences are similar to the one offered ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympics, which made waves in U.S. media, but was quickly forgotten about, and really only publicized in Brazil (as noted that the tweet above has no retweets and only three likes).

When browsing Airbnb’s Experiences site, this is the bar that comes up for major cities where you can purchase different “experiences” offered by the company:

Three of the first five cities just happen to be the next three Summer Olympic host cities. London hosted the Olympics in 2012, Seoul in 1988, and Mexico City in 1968. The only non-Olympic cities are New York and Miami, which both have Olympic connections. New York bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics and Miami is the home city of Panam Sports, one of the five continental associations in the Olympic Movement.

This is not to say that Airbnb is tailoring itself to the Olympics, but more the Summer Olympics traditionally have gone to major cosmopolitan cities where Airbnb can brand itself and sell packages. A major factor in Olympic hosting is local governments taking advantage of the influx of foreign eyes to promote cultural programs. One story I tried to do in PyeongChang was an overnight stay at a local temple, which opened its doors to tourists to learn how Korean monks live day to day. I don’t remember exactly what the experience cost, but it was not free.

All of this is to say, it makes sense for both the IOC and Airbnb to be pursuing this kind of arrangement. Airbnb gets to promote experiences in Olympic cities through 2028 according to SBJ, and they will have five large cities so far to choose from: Tokyo, Beijing, Paris, Milan, and Los Angeles.

The IOC continues its drive in Silicon Valley as it builds towards Los Angeles 2028 (Atos, a TOP Sponsor, is currently the only French company represented in the suite) taking advantage of opportunities. Plus, the Airbnb does not step on the lucrative hotel building business that private developers try to take advantage of during bidding, usually in the form of political donations which helps secure political backing of an Olympic project. This arrangement is at the heart of the global anti-Olympics backlash, it must be said and emphasized.

Airbnb is also attempting to go public in 2020 and could use any good press it can get. Especially in light that the company is now only pledging to verify all seven million listings it has after a damning report showing how easily scams were happening on the platform was published by Vice. Airbnb has been around since 2008 by the way.

Here’s more from SBJ:

For Airbnb, the Olympics could be a path toward improving its public image, said veteran Olympic sponsorship expert Rob Prazmark, noting that even a modest increase in its eventual stock price could pay for the Olympics deal. Airbnb has been valued at $31B by private investors. "It’s a great reputational play,” said Prazmark. "Airbnb’s had their fair share of being in the news. I think this just props up the brand and gives it a lot more panache and credibility."

All TOP Sponsor deals with the IOC extend to every since National Olympic Committee around the world. It will be intriguing to see how this could be leveraged, say instead of how the deal with Toyota allows smaller NOCs access to Toyota vehicles.

Partnering with Airbnb is a risk, as Silicon Valley unicorns have not had the smoothest of goes going public. Airbnb is looking to avoid the scrutiny Uber has faced and certainly the public meltdown facing WeWork. While it would be unfair to compare the three companies, the tide of large valuations propping up Silicon Valley startups is certainly ebbing considerably.

Meanwhile cities across the United States continue to pass new ordinances and laws restricting Airbnb’s short term rental models. The latest came in Jersey City, New Jersey on election night 2019. The company spent over $4 million fighting the referendum, and the city’s mayor offered a major rebuke to the company when the ballot measure restricting Airbnb passed, via the New York Times:

“They thought their money would win and I’m proud that Jersey City said otherwise,” Steven Fulop, Jersey City’s mayor, said on Tuesday. “If I was an investor in Airbnb I would certainly take note, as this message of regulation wasn’t sent by politicians, but it was dictated directly from the people.”

What I am reading:

-Tokyo will have an election for its Governor on July 5, just weeks before the 2020 Olympics reports Jiji.

-The Japan Times looks into Japan’s soft-power trump card: mascots.

-Mary Cain speaks out against the Nike Oregon Project, which continues to face scrutiny, in this powerful New York Times video.

-WADA has a new president. He wants sport sponsors to chip in money for anti-doping efforts reports The New York Times.

-Friend of the newsletter Dvora Meyers reminisces about Deadspin, one of the greatest internet sites, in her fantastic newsletter Unorthodox Gymnastics.

-The Japanese Association of Athletics Federation spoke out about the IOC’s move to stage the Tokyo 2020 marathon in Sapporo, reports the Mainichi Shimbun.

-Rio’s favelas are getting the moment of sporting triumph bringing people together everyone thought the 2016 Olympics would bring. Except its for local football team Flamengo’s march towards a Brazilian and South American championship, reports Meia Hora.

-NBC Olympic Talk reports how IOC member Kikkan Randal completed the New York City marathon after her fight with cancer.

-Couldn’t have said it better myself Michael Pavitt:

-As Deadspin was gasping its last breaths it made sure to publish this wonderful look at Al Wihdat, the Jordanian soccer club named after a refugee camp that is supported by Palestinian refugees in the country.

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