Live from PyeongChang: It’s the 2018 Olympic Winter Games!

With the cauldron lit to officially open the XXIII Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, the three-Games long “Asian swing” of the Olympic Movement, with the 2020 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo and 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, also commenced.

On its surface it’s a risky bet to hold three consecutive Olympics in one region, especially as traditional viewing habits fragment and media consumption trends evolve across all markets, but especially amongst the highly desirable millennial or youth demographic – which obviously represents the next generation of Olympic fans. However, organizers are optimistic that the 14-hour time difference between PyeongChang and the U.S. Eastern time zone won’t be as significant of an issue as one might first assume. The hosts are leveraging the fact that many winter sports require natural light, and as a result they will be held in the optimal morning hours in South Korea, which puts their live broadcast in primetime in the U.S.

European countries have historically dominated the Winter medal tables and there are once again very strong contingents from the traditional powerhouses ready to shine. And thanks to live streaming, VR applications, broadcast enhancements and partnerships with content producers and even leading influencers, global Olympic fans will be able to consume an abundance of content from South Korea when, where and how they want.

Some interesting storylines and lessons on and off the field of play to follow during the next two weeks include:

New Events and Live, Live, Live!
The 2018 Olympic Winter Games will feature nearly 3,000 athletes from 88 nations (plus the Russian Federation – more on this later) competing in seven sports for 102 medals. There also will be four new events at these games – big air snowboarding, freestyle skiing, mass-start speed skating and mixed doubles curling – not to mention exhibitions and demonstrations of both esports and “snow volleyball”, all of which will doubtless result in further interest by younger audiences.

Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself
Beyond the Vonns, Whites and Shiffrins of Team USA, and international stars such as 10-time cross country skiing medalist Marit Bjorgen of Norway, nine-time speed skating medalist Claudia Pechstein of Germany and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, the reigning men’s Olympic figure skating champion (dubbed “the Michael Jackson of ice”), there are a LOT of new, fresh faces poised to capture the attention of Winter Olympic fans and build their own legacies. Team USA’s Chloe Kim (snowboarding), Nathan Chen (figure skating), Jessie Diggins (cross-country skiing) – to name just a few – may not be household names right now, but they may very well be in two weeks’ time. Internationally, there are several athletes ready to break out, from 15 year old Russian figure skater Alina Zagitov, who is already a gold medal contender, to Canadian freeskier Mikael Kingsbury, who won 13 straight competitions in the run up to PyeongChang, to Nigeria’s bobsled team who will be looking to be remembered as more than just a novelty at these Games. And, for those of us who have been following these athletes – and working with many of them on behalf of Ketchum clients – believe me, they are ready to go from “Next” to “Now.”

A Thaw in Relations
For quite some time, there was a lot of anxiety about a potential international incident involving North Korea occurring prior to or during the Games. However, in January tensions began to ease as the North accepted the South’s invitation to send athletes to the Games, marking the first time in eight years North Korea has participated in the Winter Olympics. North Korean athletes will be integrated into the South Korean women’s ice hockey team, and all eyes will be on pairs figure skaters Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik, of North Korea who will be the first in that country’s history to compete in the Olympic Winter Games. At its purest, this is a fantastic example of the essence of the Olympic Movement – bringing the world together – in action.

O.A.R., not just a band
There will be a couple of glaring absences in PyeongChang, probably the most significant being Russia, which was banned from these games because of a doping scandal. Any athletes competing from that country will do so under the moniker “Olympic Athlete from Russia,” or O.A.R., and won’t have the benefit of hearing the Russian anthem played should they win gold, nor will these athletes’ medal hauls be added to Russia’s overall historic tally.

Another Miracle Moment?
Also missing in South Korea are players from the National Hockey League in the men’s ice hockey tournament. Ice hockey has become one of the most popular attractions and viewership draws of the Olympic Winter Games, and while the women’s competition certainly won’t disappoint as Team USA seeks to extract a degree of revenge from rival Canada following a bitter loss in the gold medal game in Sochi, on the men’s side the NHL decided not to put its regular season on hold. As a result, minor leaguers, collegians and players from other professional leagues will be filling all the Olympic team rosters, resulting in a wide open draw with the team comprised of Russian athletes (largely from the KHL) the current favorites.

The Hard-Won Hardware
The 259 sets of medals for these games are crafted in a texture to resemble tree trunks and feature dynamic diagonal lines, representing “discipline” and “determination” across the face, while the back features the emblem for the Games and the name of each event. They are also the heaviest medals in history (gold, 1.29 pounds; silver, 1.28 pounds; bronze, 1.09 pounds) and are attached to a teal-and-red ribbon comprised of a traditional textile embroidered with patterns of the host country.

Over the next two weeks, history will be made, heroes will emerge, new brand ambassadors will be born, and there will be no shortage of drama, pride and inspiration. But, just as importantly, the IOC, Games organizers and broadcast partners will be learning valuable lessons that will be carried forward through the next two Olympics as the international sporting spotlight shines on Asia.

About Shawn McBride

Shawn McBride, EVP of Sports at Ketchum Sports & Entertainment, and head of Ketchum Sponsorshop, has more than 15 years’ experience building brands through sports marketing and PR programming.