Lang Insights: The complexity of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing | Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics

Lang Insights: The complexity of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing

Posted on Monday, February 7th, 2022

bobsledders racing down a track

Lang faculty and graduate students comment on the business challenges related to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.

The Olympic games are a celebration of the human spirit and national pride. However, this year’s Olympic Games in Beijing, China will most likely be much different than any games we’ve seen.

Several countries have enacted diplomatic boycotts over concerns about China’s human rights violations. This has also triggered many global sponsors to rethink their marketing approach. At the same time, the Chinese government has threatened to punish athletes who speak in ways that it deems offensive. Add to this the complications of COVID-19, and the daily testing of athletes and coaches that come with it, this year’s Winter Olympic games has the potential to be much different than years past.

In this piece, Lang faculty and graduate students provide their insight into the complexity of this year’s Olympic Games in Beijing.


photo of ann pegoraro

Adapting to the new "normal" at the Olympic Games

“From a marketing perspective, the 2022 Beijing Games present more obstacles than previous Olympics. With the lack of spectators and ongoing human rights issues in the host country, sponsors, athletes, and national Olympic committees are faced with having to be creative in using these Games as a marketing avenue. As we saw with the 2020 Tokyo games, sponsors are taking a more contentious approach to their activities. Athletes are competing under extreme COVID restrictions and limited use of social media platforms from China, which limits their marketing opportunities in a time when athletes are finally allowed more freedom due to changes in Rule 40 restrictions. From a Canadian perspective, the Games see the launch of a new key partnership for the COC and the CPC, with Lululemon becoming the official merchandise sponsor for the teams. If social media response during the opening ceremonies is any indication, it seems Team Canada was unofficially voted as the best-dressed team. Athletes have been sharing their Lululemon outfits on their Instagram and Tic Tok accounts, creating even more buzz for this new partnership. 

Regardless of how Team Canada performs, these Olympic Games, have become something to watch and Lang researchers are certainly tuning in to see how brands, athletes, teams and the host nation perform over the next two weeks.”

Dr. Ann Pegoraro,
Lang Chair in Sport Management
School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management
Director of the International Institute for Sport Business and Leadership

Are consumers “tuning-out” Olympic-sponsor advertising?

“Consumers’ sense of national identity is heightened during the Olympic Games, and consumers are usually receptive to advertising messaging that shows in-group favouritism toward anything related to “Canadianness”. When individuals and teams win, consumers tend to talk about how “we won” and “we have so many medals”—and brands take advantage of this opportunity to include themselves in the “we” and “togetherness” narrative. At this time, consumers may be more resistant than usual to advertising messages trying to evoke national pride. Consumers may be facing advertising wear out: they already received this type of messaging continuously during the recent Summer Olympics and also throughout the pandemic (many brands made use of the “we are in this together” message). Furthermore, consumers may be resistant to messaging that highlights in-group versus out-group competition, which would remind them of the hosting country and the concerns surrounding human rights issues in China. Advertising messages around the Winter Olympics this year seem to be subdued compared to previous years, and it is unlikely that advertising will ramp up much more throughout the Games.”

Dr. Jing Wan
Assistant professor
Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies

photo of josh gonzales

Enticing corporate sponsorship

“In a normal year, the sponsorship team would have a fair amount of control over brand interactions at sponsored events. Unfortunately, COVID restrictions and human rights questions mean there are a lot more uncertainties surrounding these Olympics, making potential sponsors less confident in their investments. The sales and sponsorship team would have had to convince new sponsorship partners that their company would be able to get the same level of engagement through other channels if circumstances change, or face having to drop prices.”

Joshua Gonzales
Ph.D. Management Student (Service Management)

zoe sherar photo

Building the athlete’s personal brand

“The Games usually offer an opportunity for us to get to know the world’s top athletes through their engaging, behind-the-scenes social media content. Due to the political climate of the Beijing Games, we may not see as much of this type of content as we’ve seen in previous years due to the restrictions and repercussions of social media use in China. With security concerns around privacy, and the increase usage of burner phones, athletes may not feel as comfortable in sharing their brand on social media. However, we have seen some athletes post videos of their daily training or an Olympic Village tour. From this standpoint, some athletes may post limited content, but the added security concerns and political climate will likely create hesitancy for most athletes.”

Zoe Sherar,
MSc Tourism and Hospitality Management Student 
Gryphon Track & Field Athlete

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