| LONDON, Sept 6
LONDON, Sept 6 With top athletes competing in
front of sold-out stadiums and global television audiences in
the millions, the Paralympic Games are starting to look a lot
like their able-bodied equivalents - and big business is right
Although the money for TV rights, ticket sales and athletes'
earnings is not on a par with the Olympics, the rapidly growing
profile of the Paralympics has made them a commercial
opportunity in their own right.
And while it took the Olympics the best part of 90 years to
evolve into the business they have become, the transformation of
the Paralympics is much more swift.
"The media coverage has increased exponentially over the last
12 years," said Greg Hartung, Vice President of the
International Paralympic Committee, which organises the Games.
"These Games seem to be breaking all records."
Tickets have sold out for most events at the 14th
Paralympics, held in London weeks after the Olympics, and
organisers hope the sale of more than 2.7 million tickets will
bring in close to 45 million pounds ($55 million).
While most of the tickets were available for 10 pounds or
less compared to the hundreds of pounds charged for many seats
at the Olympics, tickets were often given away in the past - if
seats could be filled at all.
A cumulative total of more than 4 billion people are
expected to watch the London Games on television, compared to
3.8 billion for the 2008 Beijing games and 1.9 billion for
Athens in 2004, the Paralympic committee said.
U.S. network NBC is only covering highlights, but
the criticism it has faced for limiting coverage itself points
to the growing importance of the event.
The higher profile can also be seen in athletes' earnings.
'Blade Runner' Oscar Pistorius, the South African face of
the Games, can expect $2 million a year in endorsements from
sponsors including Nike and BT, according to
research from IMR sports marketing & sponsorship intelligence.
That's a lot less than the $20 million or so estimated for
Usain Bolt, the world's fastest man, but it's more than many
able-bodied athletes will get.
Businesses sponsoring both the Olympics and Paralympics see
some additional benefits in sponsoring the latter - and more
than just from being able to put up their logos alongside
running tracks and swimming pools.
"The Paralympics can bring an additional emotional
connection, even over and above the incredible emotional
connection that the Olympics delivers," Mike Sharrock, of oil
giant BP's London 2012 partnership said.
"It's not about selling more fuel. It's a deeper, more
That could certainly serve the objectives of BP, still
trying to rebuild its image and show a softer side two years
after its Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
And the interest in the Paralympics is a far cry from the
past. In Atlanta in 1996, workmen began dismantling the Olympic
village as the Paralympians were still competing.
Much of the demand from companies seeking to associate
themselves with the Paralympics came after the success of the
London Olympics, said Martin Sorrell, chief executive of the
world's largest advertising group WPP.
For the first time, the Paralympics also have their own
major sponsor. British supermarket Sainsbury paid 20
million pounds for the right, local media said. It did not
sponsor the Olympics.
"What we're seeing is a significant degree of warmth towards
Sainsbury's as the Paralympic sponsor, in particular from
families," Jat Sahota, Sainsbury's head of sponsorship, said.
It is hard to break down exactly how much sponsorship the
Paralympics gets because the organising committee does not give
figures. The Locog local organisers signed around 700 million
pounds in sponsorship for both the Olympics or Paralympics.
No figures were available for global sponsorship paid to the
International Olympic Committee and its counterpart for the two
events, but businesses said they would not have considered
sponsoring the Olympics and then ignoring the Paralympics.
"We don't have an Olympics and a Paralympics plan," project
director Nathan Homer of Procter & Gamble, said. "We have
Long term however, the growing commercialisation has raised
concerns among some followers that it could go too far - a
complaint often made of the Olympics itself.
Among the worries is that it could endanger the more relaxed
family feel to the Games that many spectators have praised.
One person who has noticed the changing atmosphere is
Allison Graham, a consultant physician at the Stoke Mandeville
hospital which hosted a competition for disabled people in 1948
and the 1984 Paralympic Games.
"In 1984 you could just walk into the beer tent, but it's
not like that now," she told Reuters. "It's gone a bit
commercial and posh."
The other big question is whether the commercial success of
the Paralympics can be sustained when they move to Rio in 2016.
In Britain, perceptions of disability have progressed to the
extent that not featuring Paralympic athletes in advertising
campaigns would now be a dangerous strategy, according to Pippa
Collett, managing director at Sponsorship Consulting.
But attitudes are changing globally too.
"The appeal of the Games has grown alongside the public
appeal and acceptance of Paralympic sport as a high performance
sport," the IPC's Hartung said.
Among countries where broadcasting rights for the
Paralympics have been sold for the first time are Iran,
Singapore, Malaysia and Pakistan, the local organisers said.
They did not say how much TV rights made in total.
In Brazil itself, there is every sign that interest will be
as great as it has been in Britain.
Brazilian Paralympic athletes are having to spend hours
talking to their media after each event and their country has
risen to eighth on the medals table, well above countries
including France and Italy.
With Brazilian Alan Oliveira as the only man to beat
Pistorius in the London games, the prospects look bright.