Just a tad…
To the rest of the world… bring it.
Paralympic Games see sponsorship, expanded TV coverage as keys to growth
By Steve Mertl (CP) – 20 hours ago
VANCOUVER, B.C. — There’s no question the Vancouver Winter Paralympics are a more intimate affair than the big Olympic show that just folded its tent and left town.
There are five events instead of 15, and 1,350 disabled athletes compared with about 2,600 Olympic competitors.
The torch run that begins with the Paralympic flame being lit Wednesday in Ottawa hopscotches to Vancouver over 10 days, instead of the Olympics flame’s 106-day, 45,000-kilometre odyssey that started in Greece.
But the Paralympics are in growth mode and after five decades have evolved from an off-year adjunct to the Olympics into a fully-fledged partner staged in the same host city.
The Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Organizing Committee did not set up a separate group to plan the Paralympics, says Sir Philip Craven, International Paralympic Committee president.
“They’ve gone out right from the start with the intention for it to be one organizing committee and two connected Games in a great festival of sport, and I think it is fantastic,” he says.
Nowhere is the evolution more evident than with sponsorship, a key factor in expanding the Paralympics’ presence.
Korean electronics giant Samsung signed on last week as a worldwide partner for the Paralympics – a position it also holds with the Olympics – as well as an official sponsor of the Vancouver Paralympics.
“The Paralympic Games is part of the Olympic movement,” says Samsung vice-president Gyehyun Kwon, the company’s head of worldwide sports marketing. “It’s inseparable.”
Samsung joins Visa, tech company Atos Origin and Otto Bock, a German health-care company as an International Paralympic Committee global sponsor.
Craven says the addition of Samsung has helped open doors to approach other potential sponsors.
The head of the Canadian Paralympic Committee agrees. Carla Qualtrough says as awareness of Paralympic sport grows, sponsors will see the value of affiliating with the Games at different levels.
“I think the leaders, the forerunners, will be the ones who shine, who get the best deals, for lack of a less crass way of saying it, because the value of the movement will increase,” says Qualtrough, who swam for Canada at the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul.
The dollars, of course, are a fraction of the hundreds of millions in play for Olympic sponsorships.
For example, the Canadian Paralympic Committee’s budget for a Games year is about $3.5 million, roughly half of which has come from sponsorships.
Host-city organizers do their own fundraising. Vancouver’s organizing committee has not broken out how much it raised specifically from Paralympic sponsorships.
The pitch to potential sponsors is canny.
“You can get a lot more bang for your buck when you sponsor the Paralympic side,” says Qualtrough. “There’s not as many rules, there’s not as many conditions (as with Olympic sponsorship).”
A dearth of competition for sponsor slots allows companies to be more creative in their Paralympic programs, she says.
“You have access to people who as a matter of course think outside the box,” Qualtrough points out. “We do sport differently, we solve problems differently. We’re quite creative thinkers out of necessity.”
Shrewdly, the Canadian Paralympic Committee opted not to sell its team-sponsorship rights to Vancouver Games organizers with rights to Paralympic symbols. That leaves room for deals with firms that don’t have the budget for a full Games sponsorship.
“So we can go off and sell our teams and have been quite successful,” she says.
Qualtrough stops short of calling the Vancouver Paralympics a breakthrough. The 2008 Beijing Summer Games were seen as a significant advance. Vancouver moves the bar even further.
Her committee has a list of firsts, though: the first time the word Paralympic has been in the organizing committee’s name, the first time the Olympic and Paralympic flags have flown side by side at city hall, the first Paralympic countdown clock.
“So there’s that kind of symbolic first that people notice,” Qualtrough says.
She also acknowledges the role of former mayor Sam Sullivan, a quadriplegic since breaking his neck skiing as a teenager, in pushing to make Vancouver the most accessible Games ever.
Sullivan, an international celebrity since twirling the Olympic flag in his wheelchair at the 2006 Turin Games, has been named Canada’s ambassador for these Paralympics.
But the biggest advance has been in the Paralympics’ media footprint.
Craven notes the Games will get 150 hours of live and delayed TV coverage, more than Beijing.
In Canada, host broadcaster CTV is committed to 50 hours of coverage through its various channels.
“That is more cumulatively than has ever been broadcast of Canadian Paralympics in the history of the movement,” Qualtrough says.
The expansion of coverage is crucial to growing the Paralympic movement, she says.
“The more people become aware of Paralympic sports – whether it be sponsors or the public or some child with a disability sitting on his couch at home, or their parents – the more you’ll understand it, the more you’ll want to become involved in it.”
That kind of exposure inspired Jean Labonte, the 40-year-old captain of Canada’s sledge-hockey team. He lost a leg to cancer at age 17, ending his dream of an NHL career.
But he discovered sledge hockey watching the 1994 Lillehammer Games.
“Right there I thought I want to be part of that,” he says.
Labonte’s new goal was to be on the team for the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan. He achieved that and will be at his fourth Games in Vancouver.