Sponsorship market research firm Performance Research has released findings from its national study of what U.S. consumers took away from the Vancouver Games when it came to sponsorship activity.

Key results from the survey of TV and online viewers of the Games, as reported by Performance Research president Jed Pearsall, are:

“Big Three” outperform other Olympic sponsors in awareness. Consumer awareness of Olympic sponsors continues to be dominated by a small group of stalwarts, with about two-thirds of respondents confirming the involvement (aided recall) of TOP partners Coca-Cola (confirmed by 68 percent), McDonald's (68 percent) and Visa (66 percent).

Most other official Olympic sponsors—whether TOP, VANOC or USOC—were far behind.

U.S. Olympic Team outfitter Nike was next at 52 percent aided recall, followed by AT&T (36 percent), newcomer Procter & Gamble (27 percent), Polo Ralph Lauren (26 percent), General Electric (25 percent), Samsung (24 percent) and Panasonic (21 percent). Nike supplied apparel worn by U.S. athletes on the medal podium, while Polo Ralph Lauren clothed the U.S. team for the opening and closing ceremonies.

The “Big Three” came out on top when respondents were asked to name the company “Doing the most to support the Olympic Games”—with Coca-Cola at 19 percent, Visa at  15 percent and McDonald's at 13 percent—as well as for the company “Best showing the spirit of the Olympics”—Coca-Cola, 18 percent; McDonald’s, 14 percent; Visa, 11 percent.

The same trio also accounted for respondents’ favorite Olympic TV commercials. Coca-Cola headed the list, with 19 percent naming (unaided) Coke's “Snowball” ad as their favorite.  McDonald's spots featuring athletes eating chicken McNuggets were named as a favorite by 11 percent, and a collection of Visa commercials featuring various Olympic athletes was reported as favorite by 7 percent.

Ambush marketing proves effective for Subway and Verizon. Despite not having an official affiliation, Subway was associated with the Olympic Games by 26 percent of survey respondents. Nearly one-half (49 percent) said they had seen Subway's Michael Phelps TV ad related to the Olympic Games. Among those seeing the ad, 79 percent believed “Subway supports the U.S. Olympic team” and 64 percent agreed that “Subway embodies the spirit of the Olympics.” 

Verizon, an official sponsor of U.S. Speedskating, also earned a level of Olympic association. Forty-two percent of respondents confirmed they had seen Verizon’s spot featuring speed skaters. An overwhelming majority of those seeing the ad (83 percent) believed “Verizon supports the U.S. Olympic team,” and almost two-thirds (64 percent) indicated that “Verizon embodies the spirit of the Olympics.”

By comparison, just 35 percent said they saw USOC sponsor AT&T’s ad depicting snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler riding through outer space. Among those seeing the AT&T spot, 86 percent (nearly identical to Verizon’s results) believed“AT&T supports the U.S. Olympic team,” and 77 percent agreed that “AT&T embodies the spirit of the Olympics.” 

The Olympic Games are not seen as an overly commercial event, and there is a respectable level of support for Olympic sponsors. Two-thirds of Olympic viewers (67 percent) reported the level of commercialism associated with the Olympic Games to be “acceptable,” while 27 percent believed the Games to be “over-commercialized.”

Those results were virtually unchanged from data collected during the Beijing Games in ’08, where 26 percent stated the Games were “over-commercialized.”

In a favorable nod toward sponsors, 60 percent of respondents indicated they were “very” or “somewhat” interested in knowing who the sponsors of the Olympics are, and three in 10 reported that compared to the last time they watched the Winter Games their overall reaction to corporate sponsorship was “more positive” than it was before; 62 percent claimed that it has remained the same.

Moreover, the majority (55 percent) agreed “very much” or “somewhat” with the statement: “Corporate sponsorship of the Olympics, in order to keep the events going, is more important now than ever.” A majority (54 percent) also agreed “very much” or “somewhat” with the statement: “Corporate sponsorship of the U.S. Olympic team, in order to keep U.S. athletes competitive, is more important now than ever.”

The “Big Three” sports did not deliver the Games’ stars. Figure skating (51 percent), snowboarding (34 percent) and hockey (32 percent) led the race for Winter Olympic events that U.S. fans are most passionate about, with all others mentioned by fewer than one-fourth of the sample. 

But in a twist, the most familiar athletes hailed from less popular sports. Using a scale of 1 to 10 where one means “not familiar at all” and 10 means “very familiar,” short-track speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno headed the list with 64 percent assigning ratings of 7-10.  Snowboarder Shaun White was a close second at 62 percent, followed by skiers Lindsey Vonn (50 percent) and Bode Miller (44 percent).

Rounding out the top five was speed skater Shani Davis, with 41 percent. Figure skating gold medalist Evan Lysacek earned a 7-10 familiarity rating among just 36 percent of respondents and was matched by teammate Johnny Weir at that level.

As for who took the gold for being the most admired athlete from the Winter Games:
Ohno and White shared the podium, with each being mentioned by 27 percent of the sample. Vonn followed with 13 percent, with all other athletes named being mentioned by roughly five percent or less.

Performance Research conducted the study online among a national random sample provided by Survey Sampling Int’l of U.S. consumers aged 18 to 65, during each night of the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. A total of 514 respondents were included. All respondents were screened to have been watching the Olympic Games, either on television or online; the average number of nights watched at the time of interviews was five.

The margin of error for this sample is no more than plus-or-minus four percent.