Anne-Sophie Voumard, MD of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Television And Marketing Services (TMS)
Image: IOC/Greg Martin
It’s nine months to the Olympic Games in Paris, but Anne-Sophie Voumard, the managing director of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Television And Marketing Services (TMS), isn’t worried.
“If there’s anything that keeps me up at night, it’s the excitement about what the Paris Games will deliver for the athletes, the fans and the local communities,” she says, while speaking to Forbes India on the sidelines of the 141st IOC session in Mumbai.
Voumard, a qualified lawyer, joined the TMS in 2009, and has been the vice-president of the broadcast and media rights, working alongside Timo Lumme, whom she now succeeds. As the managing director of the TMS, IOC’s commercial programme, she’s not only building up to Paris 2024, the first Olympic Games in the post-pandemic era, but also navigating a geopolitical terrain fraught with the war in Ukraine and, more recently, between Israel and the Hamas. Voumard admits the “tectonic plates have moved post the pandemic”, but is confident that, with the robust legacy that she has inherited, the IOC will be ready to face the new realities. “Geopolitical imbroglios haven’t affected the IOC’s commercial goals,” she says. Edited excerpts from the interview: Q. In January, you took over from Timo Lumme as the managing director of IOC’s Television and Marketing Services (TMS). As we head into the Paris Games next July, what priorities have you set for yourself?
I must say I was lucky enough to inherit a great legacy. The IOC has an extremely robust commercial programme which Timo worked very hard in establishing. So I have to recognise that the legacy is stable and strong. Nevertheless, like all of us, the last few years have changed quite a lot of things for us at the IOC, including from a commercial and economic standpoint. So, while my big priority is to build on the very strong legacy that we have in our hands, at the same time, we don't be not be complacent–we want to structure our organisation and commercial programmes for the future to be able to respond to the realities of today’s world that have been shaken after years of the pandemic. We do see those tectonic plates moving and we have to be ready as an organisation to face this new context. Q. Can you elaborate on that, especially in the context of the upcoming Paris Games, which would be the first Games in the post-pandemic era?
There's a very high expectation from us and also our commercial partners of what the Paris 2024 Games will deliver, since we’ve just gone through two back-to-back Games within the pandemic–the Summer Games in Tokyo, and the Winter Games in Beijing–where we couldn’t gather spectators and fans in the way the Games normally do.
What we're focusing on at the moment is two things. One, on the media side. We had a strong media coverage and we reached over 3 billion people for the Tokyo Games even within the pandemic. That was an incredible reach we managed to secure. What we've been doing since then is to secure distribution, media, television, distribution across the globe–so every single country has a distributor or a broadcaster that will cover the Games. This was an absolute priority for us. In India, we have a new partnership with broadcasters Viacom18 and their wide network–going from TV all the way to digital platforms. So, India will have a strong coverage for the Paris Games.
On the sponsorship side, the priority ahead of the Paris Games is to make sure that our TOP partners [The Olympic Partners programme, the highest level of Olympic sponsorship awarding category-exclusive marketing rights] can actually experience the full capacity of their rights in Paris 2024 and bring back this festival of sports spirit by activating fully within the city and by showcasing their products to a larger audience.
Also read: Explained: Why the 141st IOC session in Mumbai could be significant for India Q. The TOP programme, launched by the IOC in 1985, has grown significantly over the years–from about $96 million revenues it brought in the 1985-88 cycle to $2,295 million in the 2017-2021 cycle. Give us a glimpse of how this programme has shaped up.
It's a unique sponsorship programme–I don't think there is any other programme that matches this. Not only because it's the widest and has got a global footprint, but also because it's the deepest. And when I say the deepest, it means that once you become a TOP partner, you are associated with every single stakeholder within the Olympic movement–you are a partner of the IOC, of the organising committees, and of the 206 National Olympic Committees across the globe. Its scale is the real strength of the TOP programme.
The reason why those leading global companies want to associate with us is, of course, because of the brand and the activations that you can do with it, but what is very critical to the TOP programme is what we call ‘partnership with purpose’. Yes, there is a financial component that, as a privately-funded organisation, we use this money to fund the Olympic movement. And the TOP partners are critical in the delivery of the Games through their products and services–they actually make the Games happen.
But there's a third dimension that is very important, and one that is growing–our partners help us achieve and support us in achieving our goals of building a better world through sport. How do they do that? Not only do they share their expertise in the areas of sustainability–whether it's gender equality, diversity, women’s empowerment, mental health–but we can also work together to actually develop and fund specific dedicated programmes, like the Olympic Refuge Foundation and the Olympic refugee team, where, working together, we can actually support all those initiatives that makes us stand out as a sports programme. Q. The Tokyo 2020 Games garnered $0.5 billion in revenues in TOP sponsorship, and over $3 billion in domestic partnership. What are your sponsorship goals for Paris 2024 and where are you in terms of meeting that?
We have not yet published the numbers for the Olympic cycle that finishes with Paris, so I'm not able to give you a final number. But we're in very good shape to get to the same numbers as Tokyo 2020, because our roster of TOP partners is similar to the ones that we had in Tokyo, with the addition of one partner—Deloitte—that we have signed and announced in 2022. This takes the number of our TOP partners to 14. I can’t give you the final numbers now, but it’s looking very positive. Q. How have you seen the growth of India as a market? Has the emergence of Indian champions like Abhinav Bindra and Neeraj Chopra given a fillip to India's stature as a market?
I will give you one statistic, in relation to how much Indian athletes made an impact during the Tokyo Games. Neeraj Chopra's gold-winning javelin throw in Tokyo 2020 totalled about 60 million views from India on our platform–that number is more than the entire Indian audience we had in the Rio Games [in 2016]. That gives you the magnitude of the power of the Indian market and the popularity of the Indian athletes in the Olympic Games.
So, now, India, and the Indian subcontinent, is a very important region for us. I was in India back in 2017, and I must say, it’s a changed country. It's dense in population–very young and a vibrant population interested in sports–but also what we see today is that being one of the fastest growing economies, India, from a global perspective, now sits as one of the leading economies. It has a lot of companies that are gamechangers in their field. We definitely see India and those companies, the private sector of India, supporting the Olympic movement in the future. And I invite the Indian private sector to associate and partner with us to support the development of Olympic sports. We've had a lot of meetings here in the last few days and I’m very confident that we're going to soon see the first Indian company joining the TOP programme. Q. How do you see that value growing now that cricket’s going to be added to the 2028 Games in Los Angeles, given the sport’s massive following in the Indian subcontinent?
Cricket is a very important sport, but not only for India and the subcontinent, but also across the globe. For the IOC, it's a really good development for cricket to be joining the programme. It will resonate with the Indian market and in the private sector, which will spark interest in corporations to be associated with us. And also associating cricket with the Olympics will give access to the Indian fans to watch and be interested in participating in other sports too. So it benefits crickets and also Olympic sports. Q. A lion’s share of the IOC’s revenues comes from broadcasting rights–in the Tokyo Games cycle, it accounted for about 61 percent. Can you tell me how it's shaped up from cycle to cycle?
The broadcast revenues have evolved in a way that has been quite extraordinary for us. The strength of that broadcast is not only do we have an excellent product, we continue to invest in this product by making sure that we add new sports. You've seen the different sports that we have added in the recent future, maybe for the younger demographic, like skateboarding, climbing, surfing. We’ve also continued to add new events–like the recent announcement of the Olympic Qualifier series that will be launching in Shanghai and then Budapest. That will capture the audience beyond the period of these Games. We’ve also put our foot into esport, and the recent Olympic Esports Week was a test case. Q. Tell me about the IOC’s experiment with esports, the trends you’ve noticed from the Singapore event.
We're noticing a very engaged audience with esports. It's a young audience and definitely a demographic we want to make sure continues to be acquainted with and engaging with sports in future. We want to make sure that we find a path for how we can integrate esports into the Olympic movement. I'm not going to tell you we have all the answers, but what the event in Singapore has taught us is that this is an area and space we want to occupy more in the future. Q. Do you see esports being included in the Olympic Games sometime in the future?
Possibly. Q. One of the recommendations of the Olympics Agenda 2020+5 to innovate for newer revenue generation models. What are some of these areas that the IOC is exploring, and how far have you been successful?
We rely on two major revenue sources today–media, which you’ve mentioned earlier constitutes 61 percent, and sponsorship, which is about 30 percent. The rest of the revenues today mostly come from licensing and revenue share. A couple of things that we are now exploring, one is ecommerce. We've developed our own ecommerce platform where we sell, not only merchandising from the Olympic Games, but we have also Olympic-dedicated lines.
We have also started to create our own content licencing business, and a few years ago released a successful documentary, The Redeem Team, which we produced and licenced to Netflix. We’re continuing on that route by creating and licensing content that resonates beyond the Games and makes people acquainted with Olympic sports across the globe.
Also read: The spirit of Olympics, through art and films Q. Of late, a number of geopolitical imbroglios have come up, like the war in Ukraine, and the recent Israel-Hamas one too. Have these impacted the IOC’s sponsorship goals?
They haven’t, because global companies are living in the same environment that we are. Every corporation in the world faces those challenges and has to respond according to their own values. Q. On the digital front, Tokyo 2020 was the most–watched Games ever, with a 74 percent increase in digital traffic. What’s IOC’s strategy for digital growth for Paris 2024?
One, the efforts that we make when we seek distribution of our media rights. Today, we absolutely emphasise the importance to our media rights holder of providing access to the Games footage on their digital platforms. While the bulk of our audience has traditionally come from television, we see that trend changing because consumption habits are changing.
In particular in India, we've been observing how the audience behaves, we see that the younger population consumes predominantly through digital devices. And it’s a trend that’s growing. It’s difficult to give you a percentage, but I'm expecting that, probably in India, the total consumption on digital will be higher than any other country in the world. Q. Do you see it overtaking linear TV?
It may in certain countries, but I don't see it overtaking on a global level yet.