Social & Influencers

For Celsius, not being a sponsor of the Paris Olympics isn’t a problem

The energy-drink brand partnered directly with Olympic and Paralympic athletes, including track and field star Noah Lyles.
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· 5 min read

For brands that want to get involved with the Olympics and Paralympics, there tend to be a lot of hoops—or, shall we say, rings—to jump through.

The International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Partner Programme includes only a “select group” of brands, according to the organization, and official sponsorships can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Brands can also sponsor Team USA or other national teams, but that cost, plus the cost of partnering with individual athletes, as many sponsor brands do, isn’t exactly cheap, either.

So some brands, like the energy-drink company Celsius, are going straight to the competitors themselves, prioritizing individual athlete sponsorships alone to help boost brand awareness and credibility without an official sponsorship.

“Obviously, there’s a much larger barrier to entry to even get into that [official partner] space,” Celsius CMO Kyle Watson told Marketing Brew. “If you’re really thinking about how to more authentically tie your brand into this space, it is through these athletes, because that’s what the entire thing is all about. We’re not looking to get our logo plastered all over things.”

Here’s a look inside Celsius’s playbook for Paris as a nonsponsor brand.

Through the ringer

Without official sponsorship status, brands like Celsius must be cognizant of Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter, which dictates what marketers and athletes can and can’t do during the “Games Period” (July 18 through August 30 this year).

Past experience has helped Celsius navigate those regulations; it partnered with Shaun White a couple of years back, which included some campaigning around the Olympics and required that the brand “be very careful,” Watson said.

“My team is a little bit more well-versed in working with athletes during this time [now],” she told us. “It’s not just about our brand just capitalizing on the Olympics. It’s about making sure that we have a more integrated, authentic partnership with these athletes long term.”

To that end, Celsius released an ad campaign featuring Noah Lyles, who won a bronze medal in the men’s 200-meter event in Tokyo, in early April, well ahead of the blackout period. The media buy features a 15-second TV spot on Peacock, Fubo, Paramount+, Hulu, Prime Video, and YouTube TV that will run through US trials and through the games, as well as a 30-second version running from the trials through the gams, which Watson said adheres to the rules for nonsponsor brands.

From its past work with White, Watson said she and her team also learned the power the Olympics can have in bringing attention to a brand. While the 2022 Winter Olympics were White’s last, so the focus on him and his brand partners may have been outsized as a result, Watson said she’s hoping this year’s games, and Celsius’s athlete partnerships, have a similar effect in terms of increasing brand awareness and credibility.

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“We want to make sure that, at the end of the day, we’re building a brand,” she said. “Results as far as converting to sales are extremely important, but for me, I really just want to make sure that we continue to align our brand in the right spaces.”

Journey to Paris

Navigating Rule 40 is nothing new for brands advertising around the Olympics and Paralympics, but some aspects of Celsius’s approach to the games are fairly unique.

For one, Watson says that she and her team don’t often recruit brand partners—instead, the partners approach them. That was the case with influencer, pro boxer, and Celsius ambassador Jake Paul, and it’s true of the Olympic- and Paralympic-level athletes the brand is currently working with, Watson said.

In addition to Lyles, the roster of athlete partners includes:

  • Tara Davis-Woodhall, who placed sixth in the women’s long jump during the Tokyo games;
  • Hunter Woodhall, a three-time Paralympic track and field medalist;
  • Fred Richard, a two-time world bronze medalist and a student-athlete at the University of Michigan;
  • And Konnor McClain, the 2022 US all-around champion and a student-athlete at LSU.

“They’ve proven to us and came to us showcasing that they really do use our product in their everyday lives, their training,” Watson said. “They believe in the product.”

There’s also the fact that not all of those athletes have actually qualified for the Paris games yet, as Olympic track and field and gymnastic trials are at the end of June, and the Paralympic track and field trials take place in July. Many brands account for the fact that their athlete partners aren’t necessarily guaranteed to make it to Paris, but Watson said she wouldn’t be particularly concerned if any of them didn’t qualify.

“That’s totally fine for us,” she said. “It’s not as much about that as it is just about the fact that they’re even in this situation to be able to compete here and have a chance at it…It’s more about that journey.”

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