Intel bids to change technological face of the Olympics in deal to 2024
By Simon Ward
Intel, the USA-based computer chip manufacturer, has pledged to help change the way sports fans engage with the Olympic Games after today being installed as a new TOP sponsor of the International Olympic Committee.
The deal, which had first reported last week, runs until 2024 and will involve Intel working with the IOC and its broadcasting and technology partners to enhance television and digital coverage of the games, incorporating elements such as virtual reality, 3D and 360-degree content, artificial intelligence and drones.
The new sponsor will initially focus on integrating 5G platforms, which will deployed in force for the first time at an Olympics at the 2018 winter games in PyeongChang in South Korea.
The deal also includes the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, the 2022 winter Olympics in Beijing and the as-yet-unallocated 2024 Olympics.
The agreement with Intel takes the number of TOP sponsors back up to 13 after McDonald’s, the fast food chain, withdrew last week, and is a further example of the movement away from consumer brands and towards technology since the Rio 2016 Olympics, where various hi-tech trials were conducted, and demonstrated by the 11-year deal with Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, signed this January.
Under the new tie-up, Intel is planning the first virtual reality broadcast of a winter Olympics, via its True VR application, with 16 events to be shown live and 16 on-demand from PyeongChang.
The company is already active in sport in this area, streaming weekly games in VR from North America’s Major League Baseball in a recent three-year deal, and has also provided similar experiences in the NFL, Spanish soccer’s LaLiga and golf.
Winter sports that will benefit from such coverage will include ski jumping and figure skating.
Speaking at today’s announcement in New York, Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich said: “This will allow people who would never be able to get to Korea to see the Olympics and to get up close to these events. This is about bringing the Olympics to many, many more people.”
Intel will work in tandem with host broadcaster Olympic Broadcast Services, The Olympic Channel, NBC, the established US broadcaster of the Olympics, and other media-rights holders and other IOC technology sponsors to enhance the coverage of the games.
In addition to VR, there are plans for drone light show technology to create images in the sky and Intel 360 replay technology to enable viewers to watch the action from all angles.
Krzanich said the deal had been put together relatively quickly given that talks only began in January, although it will have taken some time to settle on a product/category given the IOC's existing partnerships with technology companies, with Intel ultimately granted exclusivity in the areas of 5G, virtual reality, drones, artificial intelligence and processors.
Asked why the partnership only runs for the next four Olympics, when some other sponsorship deals run until at least 2028, Krzanich said: “2024 was a good starting point for both sides to see how far we can advance the technology. The Olympics is a great platform and synonymous with the introduction of technologies to bring the games to more people.
“Our goal is to deliver more and more at each Olympics. We’ll try and do something new every time so you [the viewer] can be the player at any event, be it on the soccer field, or one of the fencers. We need to bring some of these experiences and our success will be how well we achieve this. I expect this to go on [beyond 2024]."
Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, said: "It's exactly our goal to engage with the public and the fans and have the athletes and coaches benefit at the same time. Speaking about an eight-year commitment already says something because in today's business world, to plan ahead for eight years is almost impossible.
"It shows on one hand our confidence that Intel will keep their leadership in innovation for eight years and on the other hand the great long-term commitment of Intel towards the Olympic Games and the IOC."
He added: “The Olympics are entering the digital age, that we could already see in Rio, but since then we have made further progress in this respect.
“In fact it is one of our goals which we have established that the co-operation with sponsors is really becoming more and more a partnership to shape the Olympic Games and better share it with the world as a more immersive partnership.
“This is why since Rio we have entered into partnerships with Alibaba and Intel and we’re continuing to work with rights-holders like NBC here in the States to benefit from those partnerships.”
The IOC generated a record $1.02 billion in revenue from its TOP sponsorship programme between 2013 and 2016 and said last week that it was "on course" to surpass that in the current cycle to 2020.
Following the withdrawal of McDonald’s, three years before its deal was due to expire, there are now seven TOP sponsors signed up until 2020 (Atos, Coca-Cola, Dow, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, Samsung and Visa), four to 2024 (Bridgestone, Intel, Panasonic and Toyota), one to 2028 (Alibaba) and one to 2032 (Omega).
Given that Intel is based in the technology hub that is California's Silicon Valley, Krzanich was positive when asked if he would welcome an Olympics in Los Angeles, which is competing with Paris for the right to stage the 2024 event.
He said: "For us it would be a great opportunity from a partnership standpoint as a leading-edge technology company. No matter where it [the 2024 games] is, we're going to be there, but Los Angeles would be a prime location for us."
An IOC executive board meeting earlier this month decided that the 2024 and 2028 games will be awarded simultaneously to Los Angeles and Paris at its Session in Lima in September, albeit no decision has yet been made about the process to decide which city should host which edition.