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I had never watched a rugby match in my life. Although I lived with a South African rugby-obsessed fanatic during my early twenties in New York City, I always wrote the sport off as some version of American football where you had to toss the ball backwards in order to move it forward (what?). Yet there I was, watching the U.S. Women’s Rugby team take on Australia in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
I’m an American. Like everyone else in this country, I bleed Team USA. But I’m also a realist and I knew that the chances of our U.S. Women’s Rugby team medaling were pretty low when matched up with rugby powers, such as Australia and New Zealand. However, that didn’t stop the middle-aged woman sitting behind me, dressed and painted from head to toe in red, white and blue, from jumping up and down, screaming, whistling and cheering every second that passed – and in the process, , losing her balance on the bleachers and kneeing me in the back of the head. She was relentless. I was annoyed.
About ten seconds before I lost my cool, Team USA broke away from the Aussies to run down the field and score. Everyone cheered, and as I stood to let out a Go USA!, I looked behind me to see that the same woman who was previously screaming herself silly was now silent and in tears. Her mouth was open, but nothing was coming out. We made eye contact, and amidst the chaotic celebration around us, she grabbed hold of my shoulders and hugged me. After 3 or 4 seconds of awkward hugging – she was about 5’6” and on an elevated bleacher standing behind me – she found her voice and yelled at the top of her lungs, “That’s my daughter!”
I was floored. I choked up. Tears welled up in my eyes. Holy shit, I’m crying.
THAT was the Olympic spirit, an Olympian’s story being written, and I had the chance to rub shoulders and experience the very passion of that story.
Having played sports growing up and having always been somewhat of a competitive person, it’s not surprising to me that I ended up working at an agency like Taylor. With the Olympics woven into the agency’s history – this was Taylor’s 17th consecutive Olympic Games, dating back to the LA 1984 Games,– activating on behalf of its client partners – there’s a certain type of person that sports marketing attracts. If you dig down deep, I think you’ll find the common thread to be storytelling.
Stories. We like to tell them. We like to create them. We like to be PART of them.
Sure, the same can be said for every creative marketer in every niche category, but there’s something unique about sports, and more specifically, about the Olympic Games. It’s the world’s largest competitive stage, featuring the most elite level of athletes who have worked their entire lives for the chance to stand on the podium. It’s why so many iconic brands have long embraced the Games as the ultimate story-telling opportunity.
Whether it’s the continuing heroics of Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky turning her childhood dream into a reality or the little known Majlinda Kelmendi from Kosovo who just won her nation’s first-ever Olympic medal, the stories are endless. And while they tap into human emotions that are extremely hard to explain, we can all feel them.
I settle into my seat for my flight back to LAX, surrounded by a high school girls’ soccer team from the U.S. that somehow managed to score a trip down to Rio to watch some of the Games. I guess my current demeanor is begging for conversation because these girls begin pummeling me with questions about my background, my job, my hobbies, etc. and I need it to stop before things get weird.
I grab my bag and pull out the spare rolls of branded Team USA KT Tape I have left over from my work in Rio.
“Here. You all take this. It’s…”
Before I can complete my sentence, they scream with excitement, “It’s KT Tape!”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m like everyone else. I love free stuff, but this is different.
Without pause, they start buzzing about how much they love Kerri Walsh Jennings and how she always wears ‘this stuff’ because it supports the shoulder she injured years ago. They then begin taping each other up at 36,000 feet.
I put my headphones on and go back to watching Gerard Butler’s London Has Fallen (it’s a horrible movie by the way) and recline my seat back, feeling a sense of satisfaction. What we’re doing, the story we’re telling, is working.