Brands are now rolling out Olympics documentaries

With the Rio Olympics already outperforming the 2012 London Games in terms of sponsorships, expect a lot more advertising online and on your TV sets in the coming weeks — even if the video you’re watching doesn’t look like advertising at first.

Take, for instance, NBC’s hourlong documentary “Kerri Walsh Jennings: Gold Within,” which follows the three-time U.S. Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist as she trains to win a fourth consecutive gold in Rio this summer. The show, aired on Sunday, was produced by Tribeca Studios, a content arm associated with the Tribeca Film Festival, on behalf of Dick’s Sporting Goods. Most viewers wouldn’t be able to tell that the documentary was made on behalf of Dick’s Sporting Goods, which received a “produced by” credit on the project but doesn’t appear within the film itself.

“We like to play in the space between nine seconds and 90 minutes,” said Andrew Essex, CEO of Tribeca Enterprises, which runs Tribeca Studios. “The only thing we don’t want to do is 30 seconds — we’re not making commercials here.”

Four other films produced by Tribeca Studios for Dick’s Sporting Goods and United Airlines follow a similarly minimalist approach. The aspiring Olympians profiled in the three short films airing on ESPN and ESPN2 are Dick’s Sporting Goods store employees, which means there are a couple of scenes filmed while they are at work. Tribeca’s “Destination: Team USA” documentary for United Airlines includes a scene where one of the athletes is traveling and checks in at a United gate.

Jennings and other athletes featured in these documentaries are sponsored by Dick’s Sporting Goods, which isn’t an official Olympic sponsor. (Dick’s and United Airlines are Team USA sponsors.) Whereas before only official Olympic and team sponsors could run campaigns tied to the games, other advertisers are now able to join in the fun as long as they follow a list of rules set by the IOC.

And advertisers are not only playing ball but getting more creative. Yogurt giant Chobani, for instance, is also running documentary-style videos and TV commercials featuring athletes like Alex Morgan and Melissa Stockwell. As part of its “Stand for Progress” campaign, Citi is rolling out content across TV, YouTube, Vine, Instagram and other social platforms.

In the case of advertisers working with Tribeca on Olympics-related content, it helps that Tribeca takes a stricter approach to the brand-funded content it produces. While clients are involved in the production process, filmmakers working on these projects are given a great deal of artistic license to execute on their vision, said Hollywood producer and evp of Tribeca Enterprises Paula Weinstein.

“We want the filmmakers to have a connection [to the project] as opposed to someone being just for hire,” she said. “If a filmmaker responds to the brief, then it’s a story he or she is passionate to tell.”

Image via Tribeca Enterprises

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