This week, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) has revealed the next two locations for the biggest sporting event on Earth – Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028.

For the first time in its history, the IOC broke tradition and released two locations at once. Media coverage suggests that this was a response to the lack of nations willing to host the awards after several cities pulled out because of costs. But that’s not the entire story.

Kevin Groome
Kevin Groome

IOC Television and Marketing Services vice president of legal and business affairs Kevin Groome says that the games have never been so important “in a world of increasing isolationism and tension”.

Groome, whose legal team powers the IOC-owned TV and marketing services subsidiary IOCTMS, claims that one of the reasons for deciding the double award was that the Paris and LA bids “were so good”, and demonstrated how both cities planned to use a record number of existing and temporary facilities to promote the Olympic spirit. “The IOC, including president [Thomas Bach]  recognised that it had two candidatures from iconic cities, whose bids embraced Olympic Agenda 2020 [the IOC’s roadmap for evolution of the Olympic Movement]” he explains.

“It represented a unique opportunity to ensure the stability of the Olympic Games for 11 years.”

Until this week, Groome’s team has been poised to start the race to 2024. One of the first tasks is to to form an organising committee for each host city and to “put in the framework for a local marketing programme”. That marathon starts now.

Funding the Games

Groome’s 10-strong legal team completes a crucial task for the IOC – they provide support to the business that funds the Olympic movement.

“This involves the funding of the Olympic Games, the showcase product, through to the funding of all 205 national Olympic committees – the likes of the British Olympic Association (BOA) and the US Olympic Committee, international sports federations and what we call ‘solidarity projects’, which is grassroots sporting projects around the world,” Groome says. The team strikes deals with broadcasters, commercial partners, sponsors and licensees. “The funding that we generate through those deals [to the tune of $5bn over a 4-year period] is allocated to those stakeholders in these projects by the IOC,” he adds.

“We need to work closely with them [the institutional IOC legal department] and make sure that the deals are in line with IOC strategy. Ultimately every deal needs to be approved by them, but we have such an excellent working relationship with them that it makes the process really fluid.

“We interact with Howard Stupp [the IOC legal director] and a number of his team members on a daily basis. I think it’s an arrangement that works very well and both entities understand the value that the other brings to the table.”

The team also closely interacts with the IOCTMS commercial team. “We aren’t seen as some eleventh-hour approval system,” he says. “We are in there from the start during the deals, to make sure that they meet IOC standards.”

Big deals that the team has driven this year include an Intel agreement focused on enhancing the Olympic fan experience, developing VR content and enabling 5G networking in the Games and the application of next generation technologies for the benefit of the spectator experience; and a “game-changing” deal with Alibaba that completed in January 2017 and refocused a sports sponsorship to become a more tech partnership, drastically reducing the cost of the games.

The legal team’s structure

Groome’s 10-lawyer team is divided into two parts: one focuses on marketing and one on media, led by Susanne Pollatschek and Andrew Ryan respectively. There is a lot of cross-over between the two teams.

Ryan’s team supports the broadcast rights deals with partners such as NBC or Discovery Eurosport and leads legal support to the commercial activities of the Olympic Channel; while Pollatschek’s team manages the international sponsorship deals (known as the “TOP” programme) as well as having oversight of the domestic commercial programmes of the Olympic Games organising committees.

At the moment, this IOC team has helped conclude and implement sponsorship deals with 13 “TOP” partners such as Coca-Cola, P&G, Visa, Toyota and Alibaba, Omega and Intel.

The commercialisation of sport

Groome’s background in commercial sport business comes in handy in the day-to-day tasks, having worked in the sector both in private practice and in-house. “Many sports lawyers talk about the commercialisation of sport – they look at Premier League football or other major sports where there is a huge amount of money,” he comments.

“However, most sports properties, particularly most Olympic sport disciplines, really have to work to structure themselves, their teams and events in a way to be attractive to sponsors and other commercial partners. I worked with a number of these organisations at a national level and helped to transform their fortunes from paying to be broadcast in the middle of the night on some obscure channel to the point where people were willing to pay them for these rights.

“Restructuring their commercial rights involved a good understanding of how sports events work.”

Bird’s eye view

Groome has worked at the IOC for seven years now, and has managed the legal function for the television and marketing services subsidiary around two and a half years. He is also company secretary and on the leadership board of IOCTMS. “For the past two years, I have had to co-manage the partnership marketing group as well as the legal and business affairs team,” Groome says.

“One of the benefits that we have as a legal function is a birds’ eye view of the functions of the business, to ensure that they are all working together to a common objective and to ensure that a decision is being made by a group that is interacting with one stakeholder takes into account how this might impact another.

“The marketing development and commercial integration teams manage the delivery of commercial partnerships from a marketing perspective and so it is really important for me and the team to understand the challenges on a day to day basis on the contracts that we are working on, to ensure that there is real transversal work between legal, marketing team, finance and the other IOC departments that are responsible for interaction with the Games such as the committees.”

Being David Beckham

The ultimate objective for the IOC is the effective cost-management of the Olympic Games and the focus on governance, protecting athletes and modernising programmes to improve the Olympic programme as a whole.

Another of the key projects was the development of the Olympic Channel, which was approved by the IOC executive board in December 2013 and was launched at the closing ceremony in Rio in August 2016. IOCTMS manages the commercial and distribution aspects of the channel.

“The channel is making sure that there is awareness of what the Olympic movement actually does in between the shop window of the actual Olympic Games,” Groome says. “It’s a commercial venture that is self-sustaining within a finite period of time. So structuring that business and that platform suddenly led us to a point where we had to think like an international media business. We had the added complexity that all of the needs of our stakeholders- commercial and institutional – were being respected.

“I’m really excited about the partnerships my team has helped to create, with founding sponsors, broadcasters such as NBC and Discovery, and social platforms. They’ve also developed balanced solutions to some tricky production and commercial issues.”

With a relatively small in-house capability to handle large pieces of international work, Groome’s team and the IOC’s legal team implemented a panel for external counsel relating to the Olympic Channel in February 2016. This led to continuing its working relationship with Latham & Watkins in the US and selecting  DLA Piper and Olswang (now CMS Cameron McKenna) for the rest of the world, with Olswang focusing on production and distribution matters.

The company also uses Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton for competition law matters and Kellerhals Carrard for Swiss law matters, continuing established relationships with those firms.

“We want to make sure that we go to the people with the right knowledge in a specific area of law.  Whilst sport sector knowledge is relevant, expertise in particular areas of law is more important than whether a firm has a “sports” department or not,” Groome says. “We need high levels of service because of the complexity of our arrangements and the fast pace that we have to move on these projects.”

These experiences show that Groome’s team has become expert in challenging conventional wisdom to make sure that the Games are a success not just in 2024 and 2028, but in the years to come.

But it’s not all about work. Groome’s not-so-secret best perk was quickly revealed when talking about the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics, where he was selected to be a torch-bearer.

“It was a bit like being David Beckham for five minutes,” he jokes. “They dumped me at the side of the road with a torch and I just got mobbed by cheering, dancing crowds in the suburbs of Rio. The atmosphere was amazing. Words can’t describe the experience.

“When you feel the emotion that the Games are bringing to a city, it makes all of the hard work worth it and in perspective. This is what it’s all about.”

Kevin Groome CV

2016-present: Vice president, legal and business affairs, IOC TV and marketing services, International Olympic Committee

2015-16: Head of legal and business affairs, IOC TV and Marketing Services, International Olympic Committee

2010-15: Senior counsel, IOC TV and Marketing Services, International Olympic Committee

2008-10: Senior associate, Bates Wells Braithwaite

2006-08: Head of legal affairs, MotorSport Vision Group

1999-2006: Associate, media communications and technology, Olswang

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