Question: Which February sporting event will generate almost $900 million in television advertising revenue and deliver thrills and chills for more than 200 million people?
No, it's not the finale to Skating With Celebrities. And no, I'm not talking about that annual ad juggernaut, the Super Bowl, where marketers go out of their way to make some waves.
I'm talking about the Winter Olympics. You remember them, right? Those motley contests on ice, snow, skis, and sleds that generate huge ad revenue for GE's NBC and much more in total sponsorship dollars. (Say, who's your pick to win the curling competition this year?)
My initial aim was to determine which of the big corporate spenders would benefit most from their sponsorship dollars. U.S. Olympic Team "partner" sponsors spend up to $60 million for premier Olympic sponsorship rights in the U.S., and that doesn't count the other marketing dollars they spend during the actual Olympics. But alas, it's not really possible to make a direct connection between sponsorship outflows and cash inflows.
So I've decided to do the next best thing -- complete with awarding medals. To get us all in the spirit for Torino 2006, I've decided to polish the old crystal ball and see which of the big sponsors will perform best by 2010, when the winter games set up shop in Vancouver.
Is it worth it?
These six companies were willing to pony up the money to be a partner to the U.S. Olympic Team: Anheuser-Busch
It would have been interesting to see which of these companies would benefit most from their partner status. From both a business and an investment perspective, it's important to know whether this type of expenditure is money well spent.
Unfortunately, it's not so easy to attribute a possible increase in operating performance to a specific marketing or advertising expenditure. As Warren Buffett has pointed out, a company like Coca-Cola
So I imagine these partners know what they're doing. The Olympics present a huge brand-building opportunity for companies that already have very big brands. I suspect we'll be hearing a lot about Bud Light and Band-Aids, for example, over the next few weeks.
Faster. Higher. Stronger.
Undaunted and eager to hand out medals, I've decided to consider which of these partners would make the best investment idea over the next four years. So let's take a closer look at these six companies. I thought it might be fun to turn this into a little competition. It is the Olympics, after all.
Here's the contest: Which of these partner sponsors will see the greatest investor returns, including dividends, by the time we all rendezvous four years later in Vancouver for the XXI Winter Olympics? I'll make some predictions, and then we'll check back in four years to see how smart (or dumb) I am.
First, before I give you my winners list, think of your own. Which company will give us the biggest bang for our buck? Which one will stink things up? Got your answers? Great. Let's compare them with mine.
Let the games begin!
Gold Medal: Anheuser-Busch.
Three Reasons Why It Can Win
- BUD is the undisputed King of Beers in the U.S. Even though it's had a tough 2005, I'm convinced that the domestic beer market will turn around in either 2006 or 2007. And BUD's distribution dominance sets it up nicely to benefit when consumers return to tossing back some cold ones.
- The company uses its cash flow to buy back loads of shares ($1 billion to $2 billion a year for the past few years), thus making each dollar earned more valuable for existing shareholders.
- BUD is starting to push aggressively into China. This investment will take a few years to pan out, but I like that the company is starting to make the investments.
One Reason Why It Might Not
- The reverse of point No. 1 above. BUD makes most of its revenue and operating profits in the U.S. If the beer market is in a permanent froth, BUD will have a tough time increasing profits.
Silver Medal: Johnson & Johnson
Three Reasons Why It Runs a Very Close Second
- It's an interesting play after the Guidant
(NYSE:GDT)merger fiasco. JNJ's stock has fallen 15% since peaking at $69 a share last April.
- The company leads each of its health-care lines: consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices.
- It has a pristine balance sheet, it's a huge cash generator, and it actively buys back shares. Plus, the shares sell at a forward P/E of 15. Not as cheap as in the early '90s, but not too expensive, either.
One Reason Why It Might Not
- JNJ faces some daunting challenges in its pharma line. If the pipeline doesn't come through, sales and earnings growth could suffer.
Bronze Medal: Bank of America
Three Reasons Why BAC Could Take the Bronze
- The current dividend yield of 4.5% is a nice start to 2006. The company has a strong history of increasing its dividend, too.
- A P/E of around 10 times next year's earnings and a price-to-book-value ratio of 1.8 make it a nice value play.
- The MBNA merger will start to pay off this year -- although it also adds in some additional risk.
One Reason Why It Might Not
- BAC is a huge financial company that touches consumers in so many ways. Any significant downturn in the economy will definitely hurt.
And just as a bonus, I'll toss in my Eddie the Eagle "winner": General Motors. The metaphor of an inexperienced skier hurtling down a ski-jumping platform is well-suited for GM in the current environment. Don't believe me? Check out GM's most recent earningsmiss. I just hope the managers at GM are wearing their crash helmets. They'll need 'em.
Foolish bottom line
I think JNJ is a pretty interesting opportunity, and not just because I own the shares. The press reaction to losing out on Guidant has been very negative, and the shares have been slammed as a result. But I think investors are missing something here, especially considering JNJ's pedigree and financial strength.
In the end, I think BUD remains too good of a value to not give it the gold. It will be able to raise some prices this year and, hopefully, not lose any more market share.
So there you have it -- my 3 USOC "partner" stock picks for the next four years.
Yes, it could take another year to 18 months for BUD to work through the U.S. beer doldrums. JNJ, meanwhile, is facing new competitors and generic substitutes to its best-selling drugs, not to mention a future without Guidant. And last quarter, Bank of America reported slow deposit growth and a lower net interest margin. But over four years, I believe that investors in all three of these companies will be pleased.
Enjoy the Olympics! Oh, yeah, and the Super Bowl, too.
Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, and Home Depot are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Bank of America is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick . Whatever your investing style, we have a newsletter for you. Check out our entire newsletter family , and take your favorite for a free, 30-day trial run.
Fool research analyst Andy Cross is looking forward to watching the commercials during both the Super Bowl and the Olympics. At the time of publication, he owned shares in AT&T, Home Depot, and Johnson & Johnson. The Fool has a disclosure policy.