“The Olympic Games is the one thing that talks to everyone”: Coca-Cola’s Ricardo Fort on the enduring appeal of an Olympic Partnership
Coca-Cola has supported every Olympic Games since 1928, refreshing Olympic athletes, officials and spectators with its beverages and building public excitement ahead of each edition of the Games through its global marketing campaigns.
As well as being a founding member of The Olympic Partner (TOP) Programme, Coca-Cola has a long tradition of entertaining fans on-site during each Games with its interactive activations and showcases, and, since the Olympic Games Barcelona 1992, has been a proud partner of the Olympic Torch Relay on 12 occasions, helping to build excitement among fans throughout each host country.
Earlier this year, Coca-Cola and the IOC announced an extension to this long-standing relationship, with the China Mengniu Dairy Company Ltd partnering with The Coca-Cola Company in the first-ever Joint TOP Partnership Agreement.
The agreement will extend Coca-Cola’s association with the Olympic Games through to 2032, and includes unprecedented investment in traditional and digital media to promote the Olympic values globally.
As Coca-Cola celebrates this extension, Olympic.org speaks to Ricardo Fort, the company’s Vice President of Global Sports & Entertainment Partnerships, to discover more about it’s enduring relationship with the Olympic Movement…
Q. What are some of your earliest Olympic memories?
A. The earliest one that I can remember is 1980 with the Moscow Summer Games. I don’t really remember what happened on the competition side, but I remember the Closing Ceremony and the mascot Misha crying at the end of the Games. That is my oldest memory, but then there is also the absence of a memory; growing up in a country that is as hot as Brazil, I had no idea the Winter Games existed until late in my teenage years! And then I learned to like it a lot after that.
Q. How did your career lead you to Coca-Cola and the Olympic Games?
A. I led a project related to entertainment in Brazil years and years ago and someone that was managing global entertainment here at Coca-Cola invited me to come lead the international entertainment projects. Soon after they realised that, being Brazilian, I knew something about football, they asked me to work with global football. The Olympic Games were added later in my responsibilities.
Q. Do you have any favourite moments from the Games you have attended?
A. There are so many. The first Games I attended were Sydney 2000, and more than anything I just remember how much of a party atmosphere it was. The whole city embraced the Games and the environment on the streets was very special.
I also love the absolute silence in the Olympic Stadium right before the start of the 100m final. You see a crowd of 80,000 people in silence, waiting for the gun to fire. It’s always a unique experience.
But if I have to pick one moment… being Brazilian, the Rio 2016 Games in Brazil were something very special. I saw the city in which I lived being transformed thanks to the Olympics, so personally it was the most special Games for me.
Q. What makes Coca-Cola’s relationship with the Olympic Movement so unique?
A. Well firstly, we’ve been together forever! So everybody who has worked for Coca-Cola appreciates the value in the partnership with the Olympic Games. They’ve seen how the Olympic Games help us to engage consumers, how they help us win deals with customers and have our brands more available at the points of sale. Employees are proud to work for a company that helps the development of sport through this sponsorship. All of our partners are special in their own way, but when it comes to being truly global, the Olympic Games is the one thing that talks to everyone. It’s powerful when speaking to people from China to the US and to Brazil, and that has a big value for us because scale is very important for our business.
Q. How relevant are the Olympic values to Coca-Cola as a brand?
A. It’s a great platform for storytelling. You don’t need to explain inclusion or to talk about being global in the context of the Olympic Games. People naturally associate these values with the Olympics. These are values that we try to build for our brands as well. The Olympic Games are almost the perfect reference for us to tell the story of the brand in a way that is interesting to people.
Q. Are sports sponsorships as relevant today as they have been in the past?
A. It has never been harder to cut through the clutter to talk to consumers, than it is today. As I said, people don’t care as much about brands; they are just too busy taking care of their lives to think about what one brand has to say. So we have to be interesting and useful for consumers. When we associate our brands with things they care about, like sports and entertainment, they start to pay attention. It increases our chances of telling our story and hopefully convincing people that when they are thirsty, they should pick our beverage and not any of the others.
Q. How did the new Joint TOP Partnership with Mengniu develop?
A. The two companies already have a relationship because the owners of Mengniu, a food and beverage conglomerate in China, also own one of our largest bottlers in China. So we have been working with them through this ownership group and we are very familiar with them. When it came to our renegotiation of the relationship with the IOC, Mengniu expressed interest in being involved and because Coca-Cola, until the end of this current contract, owns all of the beverage categories, including dairy products, we saw the opportunity of partnering with them and bringing them into this relationship with the IOC. So we brought it to the IOC, the idea of a joint effort to market even deeper for beverages in which Mengniu, because of their expertise, will take care of the dairy beverages and Coca-Cola will take care of all the other beverages. So it’s still one category, it’s just counting on the support of two companies to help promote it now.
Q. How do you see Coca-Cola’s Olympic partnership developing in the future?
A. The evolution of the Olympic Games really is demonstrated through each of the new hosts. Tokyo will bring a lot of innovation, Paris is going to be a landmark for sustainability of the Games, and then the overall commercial execution in LA will help a lot to tell the Olympic story.
So if you fast forward 10 years from now to the LA Games, you will probably have all the partners a lot more engaged in everything related to sustainability and there will probably be a deeper relationship between the TOP Partners and the broadcasters.
Because of where the Games are going to be held, I think there is going to be a different balance of companies involved as well. Because of the location of the last few Games, the pendulum went towards Asia. I think, in the next decade, you’ll see companies from the west coming back to the Olympic Movement, which is something natural given the location of the future hosts. The last thing is how we are going to start bringing the Games outside the venues and extending its reach using technology, allowing people who are not able to travel to the Games to have a “second best” consumption experience through AR or through other sorts of technology.