One of Nashville’s largest companies will be prominently linked with this year’s winter Olympics, which open Friday night. Bridgestone, which has its American headquarters downtown, is one of 13 official Olympic partners.
The partnership means the company financially supports about 100 athletes, as well as providing snow tires for Olympic vehicles and even self-propelled bikes.
But the relationship goes further. To unpack what it means to be an Olympic partner, WPLN interviewed Bridgestone Executive Vice President Chris Karbowiak.
What does an Olympic partnership entail?
“For Bridgestone, being an Olympic partner is an opportunity to grow our brand on a global scale,” Karbowiak said. “There is probably no other platform that allows you to really communicate with just about everybody on the planet. When you look at things like American football, soccer, hockey, tennis — they all have very broad support, and wide interest, but there’s nothing as universal as the Olympic Games.”
It’ll be hard to watch the games without seeing Bridgestone, and just as tough to buy one of their tires in a store or online without noticing the “Chase Your Dreams” Olympic branding. Karbowiak calls this a “360-degree” campaign.
“The challenge with the Olympic games, obviously, in Korea, the time zone challenge is going to always be with us,” she said. “So it’s going to be really interesting to see how the ratings go for these games.”
What are the costs and benefits of partnering?
While Bridgestone won’t say what it costs to be a partner, analysts say that a 4-year agreement would cost more than $100 million — and Bridgestone is committed longer than that, till 2024.
“This is a long-term investment by Bridgestone on a global platform that is really strategic,” Karbowiak said.
She notes a difference between being an “international” company and a global one.
“International means that you may have a presence in various countries, but you don’t have a unified, consistent message about your brand, about your initiatives, your philosophy,” she said. “This platform allows us to push toward that goal.”
The Olympics are not without controversy. What are the risks to associating with the Olympics?
“There is always controversy with any large, very visible platform,” Karbowiak said. “I think you have to step back and say: ‘What do the games stand for?’ They really stand for integrity. They stand for athleticism. They stand for team — you know, higher, faster, strong. They are really intended to bring the world together for a period of time.
“Obviously, the issue around some of the hot button items — the (athlete) doping issues that have been raised — they’re there. But I think the [International Olympic Committee] has taken very strong and decisive action around those issues, ensuring clean games and clean athletes.”
And what’s it like to actually travel to the games?
Bridgestone employees will invest a lot of effort into hosting high-profile customers and guests from around the world, helping give them access to marquee events.
“It’s an opportunity to share that global message with these really key customers,” Karbowiak said.
“There will be challenges,” she noted. “It’s going to be really cold.”
She said her experience at the Rio games two years ago proved what she had long heard:
“The Olympics bring people together,” she said. “It was remarkable to see all these different cultures, different countries, athletes just pulling together and working together and really putting aside nationalism for that period of time.”