‘Olympic Games have become social games’: Sport Chek bets 80 percent of its Rio Olympics ad budget on digital

As an official sponsor for the Canadian Olympic Team, Sport Chek – Canada’s largest sportswear and sports equipment retailer – is one of the few that is not spending big on TV. The brand allocates 80 percent of its Rio Olympics ad budget to digital, with 60 percent devoted to mobile.

This is a big shift even from Sport Chek’s marketing strategy during the Sochi Winter Games in 2014, where it ran seven different TV commercials and spent a mere 40 percent of its budget on digital.

“We’ve learned from London and Sochi that big sporting events are becoming very noisy from an advertising perspective, filled with TV commercials from sponsors,” said Frederick LeCoq, svp of marketing and e-commerce for Sport Chek. “At the end of the day, consumers could feel sick of tired of those ads. Olympic Games have become social games. Advertisers need to create more buzz that is relevant to their brand rather than create noises that are not relevant at all.”

In order to have ad relevancy during the Rio Games, Sport Chek is taking a real-time approach where it has been running two “war rooms” 24/7: one at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto and the other at the Sport Chek’s headquarters in Scarborough.

The former is operated by a production team of four (sometimes more) – consisting of staffers from broadcaster CBC, Sport Chek, ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day New York and PR firm North Strategic – where they produce short videos on the fly based on real-time footage from Rio Olympics. The latter is operated mainly by Sport Chek’s marketing team of five, where they monitor social media conversations around the game and analyze the brand’s campaign performance.


With the two teams working together, Sport Chek debuted a manifesto spot via Facebook on Tuesday as part of its #WhatItTakes campaign. The video features Team Canada from the last 72 hours in Rio and has garnered more than 325,000 views to date. The retailer will create more clips like this throughout the Games and use Facebook’s mobile products like Canvas and Carousel ads to tease those videos on the platform.

“Producing live content in real time is really tricky because it’s a quick turnaround. But by doing so, we can get more relevancy,” said LeCoq, adding that real-time marketing can also help the brand minimize potential financial loss. For instance, if Sport Chek developed its ad campaigns around one athlete who didn’t end up qualifying for the Games, its marketing dollars would be wasted.

But Sport Chek’s big focus on digital doesn’t mean that the brand has zero TV presence. Under its agreement with CBC, the retailer can run CBC-produced videos in the form of sponsored content to highlight the best Canadian stories from the game. Those clips are not aired during commercial breaks, but they are integrated into the network’s broadcast programs at least once a day.

“I don’t think TV is dead but it is going to play a different role,” said LeCoq. “I don’t see TV as a reach tool. I use TV to produce unique content that I don’t have access to and then use it as a targeting tool to complement my social.”

While LeCoq thinks that it’s becoming critical for retailers like Sport Chek to “own the moment and own the conversation on social,” Aki Spicer, chief digital officer at TBWA\Chiat\Day New York doesn’t see enough retail marketing taking a real-time stance, particularly with content marketing.

“It is a big miss for most retail marketers,” said Spicer. “Sport Chek gets the opportunity, and we are both hungry and aggressive in forging new approaches together to capitalize on the opportunity. Keep watching. More is in store next week.”


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