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Sponsors celebrate the success of Pan Am Games

July 29, 2007|From the Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO — As records fall, Brazilian athletes rack up medals and Rio de Janeiro revels in praise in some areas for its good show at the Pan American Games, sponsors are smiling.

And they're looking ahead to helping attract future global sports events, maybe even the 2016 Olympics or the 2014 World Cup.

A group of major Brazilian and foreign companies are the official sponsors, partners and suppliers of the Brazilian team at the Games, and the results have met or exceeded their expectations. Still, it's a long climb to being awarded by the IOC or FIFA with their premier events.

The nearly 24,000 rooms of Rio's hotels are 95% full this month, in the heart of the South American winter season. About 5,500 athletes from 42 countries came to this city of 6.5 million, as well as some 2,000 delegation members, 3,000 journalists and 15,000 volunteers.

And with the eyes of the hemisphere on Rio, the sponsors like what they have seen.

"The first half of the games was very positive, and we can only hope it continues this way to the end," said Jose Roberto Campos, executive vice president in Brazil for electronics giant Samsung. "Our investment was worth the expense and continues to be."

Samsung is an official partner of the 2007 Pan Ams, with a degree of participation that includes backing for six sports, the Brazilian delegation, the torch-bearing team and a "Blue Medal" group of 11 athletes in sports as varied as indoor soccer and table tennis.

Campos expects the company to profit immediately and down the road, he said. Samsung doesn't project an instant increase in sales, although the company has gained name recognition from the constant exposure of the Samsung logo in the media.

It's the long-term impact that especially pleases the company.

"There's no doubt about the medium- and long-term effect," he said. "Brazilians start seeing the company as more local, more Brazilian, more involved with health and sports. It becomes a stronger brand that is respected by consumers, which influences their choice."

Samsung, which earned $1.6 billion in Brazil last year, has a long history of association with top sporting events. Worldwide, it sponsors soccer, including Brazil's 2005 national champion Corinthians, road running, PGA golf, stock car racing and the Olympic Games.

Would it like to be involved in the Olympics if Brazil is chosen as the host, a long-standing dream of this country?

"We don't know when Brazil will get the Olympics, but we'll send a big team next year to Beijing," Campos said. "For a good return you must be consistent and have an obligation. That's one of the pillars of our marketing."

Rio will be in against some tough competition for the 2016 Olympics. Chicago is perceived as the favorite now, with the thought by many in the Olympic community that it's time to return to the United States -- Atlanta in 1996 was the last U.S. Summer Games -- and the city offers something new instead of Los Angeles, which twice has hosted the Olympics. Madrid nearly won the 2012 Games that went to London, and it is bidding again. So are Doha, Qatar; Tokyo; and Baku, Azerbaijan.

Although the Pan Am Games have lost some of their appeal as a first-rate pre-Olympics competition, hosting them was a necessary step for Rio. The United States, which routinely takes first place on the medals chart, did not send as many top athletes as in the past, with no members of the world championship swimming team, for instance. And it still ran away with the medals race.

But the Games are a showcase for veterans and up-and-comers, and Brazil has exceeded expectations on the podium. That has to have an effect on sponsorship, too.

Swimmer Thiago Pereira, 21, was an instant star with a record six gold medals, breaking the 40-year record held by Mark Spitz, plus a silver and a bronze.

And Hugo Hoyama's ninth gold medal in table tennis made him the most successful Brazilian athlete in Pan Ams history and gave Brazil a national record 30 golds on Tuesday, which grew two 37 on Friday.

On the negative side, Brazil was accused of cost overruns and misspending to prepare for the games, and raced to get the game sites ready in time. Organizers failed in one instance, with baseball and softball severely plagued by poor facilities and weather that exacerbated the problems.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the final cost was $1.7 billion, more than three times what the respected Getulio Vargas Foundation projected it would be in 2001.

Should Brazil get the 2014 World Cup, which no other country has officially expressed interest in hosting, it would need to spend millions or billions more on transportation and stadiums in other cities.

But the high-profile success of the Pan Am Games has overshadowed the issues in the business community.

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