It’s only 287 days until the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, but nearly 100 of the U.S. team’s top athletes have come together this week, from gold-medalist skier Lindsey Vonn to ice-skating phenom Ashley Wagner to snowboarding legend Shaun White.
But they’re not at the site of the 2018 Games, Pyeongchang, South Korea; they’ve assembled at a Los Angeles production facility. And though it’s a sunny spring day, they are surrounded indoors by snow, albeit the kind of faux flakes made of paper that are pumped into the air in order to evoke the winter wonderland in which they’ll assemble again less than 10 months from now.
Though this is not the actual Olympics, think of what NBCUniversal and the U.S. Olympic Committee have assembled here as a decathlon of a different kind: a gauntlet of 20 different promotional shoots primarily intended to service the vast array of programs and platforms where these athletes will be featured long before the torch is lit in order to light a fire under consumers to tune in next year.
This massive “content capture” operation is known at NBCU simply as “WeHo,” a nod to the West Hollywood neighborhood where it is being held for the sixth time in the past 10 years.
NBCU traditionally kept WeHo a secret, requesting the athletes not even post on social media about it. But since the 2016 Games, they’ve loosened the reins a bit in recognition there’s no time of year when Olympics marketing doesn’t matter, and the collective social footprint of the many participating athletes is too considerable not to leverage. “There is so much content we have, there is no reason to hold back,” said Jennifer Storms, CMO of NBC Sports Group.
Attending athletes are marched from one stage to the next for 20 minutes each, where they pose, mug or chat depending on which NBCU outlet they are talking to, including “Today,” “NBC Nightly News,” “Access Hollywood,” the TV-station group or Buzzfeed, which the conglomerate has a sizable investment. Much of the footage obtained will also be put in the proverbial can for usage when the Olympics blanket NBCU’s networks and streams for a few weeks next February.
Then there is the stunning visuals that appear in interstitials throughout the Olympic telecasts. To give viewers a sense that the athletes they are shooting in balmy California are actually in the South Korean winter, one soundstage recreates the vista of a Pyeongchang mountain range across a 5,280-square-foot space. When moguls skier Morgan Schild is photographed in her jumpsuit and ski boots (see photo above), they spew enough fake snow and condensation her way to make you forget it’s actually 70 degrees outside.
But the great outdoors can’t entirely be replicated; there are additional shoots at various snow-and-ice-capped locations from nearby Mammoth Mountain to Lake Placid.
The star power isn’t limited to the athletes. Mike Tirico, who is taking over for Bob Costas…