Citi puts Rio Olympic ad dollars behind gymnast Gabby Douglas, rugby

Mon Mar 21, 2016 11:03am EDT
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By Liana B. Baker

(Reuters) - Citigroup Inc will go to the Rio Games this year with a sponsorship roster deep in household names like gymnast Gabby Douglas and beach volleyball's Kerri Walsh Jennings, but the U.S. bank is also betting on rugby, a new Olympic sport unfamiliar to many Americans.

Citi, which announced its Olympic lineup on Monday, believes its sponsorship of Carlin Isles, an Olympic hopeful little known outside rugby, could bring attention to "rugby sevens," a TV-friendly format of rugby that sponsors said could catch on with American audiences, much like soccer has in recent years.

Isles, 26, is also a sprinter trying out for the U.S. track team. If Isles makes the cut, Citi could get a two-sport athlete for the price of one, said Tina Davis, managing director of marketing and corporate sponsorships at the bank.

Early on, Citi had an interest in sponsoring rugby or golf, both medal sports in the Olympics for the first time in about a century. It settled on rugby partly because it already had a golf sponsorship with the Presidents Cup, a tournament that pits U.S. golfers against international players, Davis said.

Citi is not the only official sponsor to unveil its rosters of athletes well ahead of the 100-day countdown to Rio that begins in April. Visa Inc, a global Olympics sponsor, said earlier this month it was backing swimmer Missy Franklin and fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first Muslim-American to complete in a hijab, at the Olympics in August.

Dick's Sporting Goods Inc, another U.S. sponsor, has also unveiled its lineup, which features beach volleyball's Jennings.

Citi's Team USA contract expires after this year's Paralympic Games, and it will have to decide by the end of the year if it wants to return as a sponsor.

Davis said backing the Olympics could boost the profile of the bank's different lines of business, from retail branches to private banking and that there were also benefits to hosting hospitality events with clients.   Continued...

Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas accepts the Best Female Athlete Award during the inaugural 2014 Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Sports awards at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, California July 17, 2014. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni