July 18, 2012

Sponsors Benefit From Olympics, But Do The Athletes?

The 2012 summer Olympics based in London are only a few short weeks away. Anticipation and excitement alike have been mounting with televised trials and previews into what the games will hold this time around. Not only are the Olympics an exciting time for athletes all around the world, but for big brands looking to do some significant marketing as well. The Olympics are of special interest to big brands due to the lack of major sports events and decreased television viewing rates in the summer. The Olympics are a global event that can be enjoyed by the whole family and big brands everywhere are eager to be a part of it.

The money that will be in play from corporate advertisers in the 2012 London games has reached unheard of amounts, an estimated six to seven billion dollars from advertising alone. Brands everywhere are very aware of the impact that advertising during the Olympics can have. Visa and Samsung are two high-profile companies that saw significant improvements in their brands from Olympic sponsorships. For example, in 1986 Visa was ahead of MasterCard in market share by just a few points, but after being an official Olympic sponsor for many years they are now ahead by leaps and bounds. Samsung experienced success as well, surpassing Sony in total brand value in 2005. One brand hoping to become a success story as well is Citibank, who is hoping to utilize these Olympics to revamp their image. They have recently become an Olympic and Paralympics sponsor and plan on heavily promoting their Every Step of the Way social media campaign, in which fans can vote to distribute roughly $500,000 between eleven lesser known athletes and their charities. Fans have already voted to allocate nearly $11,000 dollars between two athletes.

Big brands clearly benefit significantly from advertising and creating sponsorships during the Olympics, but do the athletes benefit financially from the games? The answer might surprise you. Without big brands paying millions of dollars for sponsorships and exclusive rights, the Olympics might cease to exist. In order to protect these sponsors, athletes are not allowed to promote themselves, their brands, or their non-affiliated sponsors in any way during the weeks leading up to and the actual games themselves. Forget tweeting a picture of that energy bar you ate for breakfast if the company who made it isn’t an official sponsor. And don’t even dream of walking around Olympic Village with a Puma shirt on when Nike and Ralph Lauren have paid for the clothing rights. All of these strict rules make it easy for the brands sponsoring the games to overshadow the athletes.

American middle-distance runner Nick Symmonds is speaking up and challenging the highly restricted branding rules in place that seem to benefit everyone but the actual athletes in the games. Earlier this year Symmonds took to eBay to auction off a section of his skin on his deltoid, open to advertisers as an unconventional way for their twitter handle to be seen during the 2012 track and field season including the Olympics, which he did indeed qualify for. He had up to 85 different brands vying for the spot, but outdoor lifestyle agency Hanson Dodge snagged the space for $11,100. He has agreed to wear a temporary tattoo of the agency’s twitter handle on his arm, which is visible at all time except for when he is running in an actual race. Regardless, the company’s Facebook likes and Twitter followers have skyrocketed due to the stunt. Although other athletes haven’t taken such drastic measures, they have taken to Symmonds Facebook wall to support him as well as voice their own unhappiness with the restrictions.

Even though the 2012 Olympics are set to generate billions of dollars, most of the athletes competing in them are struggling to get by financially. More and more athletes are beginning to speak out against the limitations placed on athletes restricting them from wearing advertising or endorsements during the games which directly affects their individual earnings. The cost of training, coaching, and traveling for those hoping to qualify for an Olympic team is estimated to reach into six-figures yet many of these athletes earn well below that. For many, it is hard to secure a sponsorship and make a living off of their athletics alone. To make up for the difference, many athletes are forced to pick up part time jobs in order to sustain their dream. “I got tons of gear, but you can’t take a Nike shirt to the grocery store and buy food with it,” Says Ben Bruce, one of the United States top steeplechasers who was forced to go on food stamps after Nike refused to increase his pay.

All of this considered begs the question: who exactly is allowed to make money off of the Olympics? The games are a tradition centered on athletes and celebrating their amazing talents, but in recent years it seems they have turned into more of an opportunity to advertise. “This country runs on advertising. To rob athletes of the right to sell our advertising space?” asked Symmonds. The Olympics are no doubt a great opportunity for brands, but with more and more athletes rallying to express their unhappiness about the restrictions placed upon their ability to advertise it will be interesting to see if it is enough to inspire change in future Olympic Games.

Contributed by Nicole Juliano

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