Will The Olympic Movement Change Its Marketing Rules? (It Better)
Aug 9, 2012
A key issue between the end of the London 2012 Olympic Games this Sunday and the beginning of the Sochi Winter Games 18 months from now will be what, if anything, the IOC will do regarding the restrictions placed on sponsors, non-sponsors, athletes and others.
Although the issue of ambush marketing arises during every Games, it typically disappears off the radar screens of everyone but marketing professionals in the interim between competitions. But the discussion these past few weeks has been different than before; leading me to think the issue will not simply fade away for Olympic marketers this time around.
The distinction is the involvement of the athletes in the conversation. When the heavy hand of the IOC is directed at global conglomerates, the ambush marketing debate can be viewed as mostly academic. Even the stories of crackdowns on local businesses in Games cities—while certainly not winning the Olympic barons any friends—haven’t generated a large enough hue and cry in the past to spur changes to the rules.
But now that the focus has turned to the athletes, and the fact that they cannot promote their individual sponsors for a month before, during and after the Games, the public has become more invested in the story. The idea that Olympians who give up full-time occupations to train are unable to capitalize on their own efforts during the time they are most marketable is unpalatable to millions of people.
This means that for the first time, the IOC’s marketing restrictions have the real potential to damage the Olympic brand, turning people away from its positive attributes of excellence and achievement and toward describing it as greedy, uncaring and unfair.
Thus it is time for the IOC to pay attention to what people are saying about it and find ways to relax its restrictions while still protecting its sponsors.
When I began thinking about this post a couple of days ago, I was ready to write that even though the IOC should take a long, hard look at its policies, it probably wouldn’t. But something happened yesterday that makes me less sure about that.
Those big-time sponsors themselves—the one group that holds the most sway over the IOC—have begun to enter the debate, and they are entering on the side of relaxing the restrictions designed to protect their investments. This comes from their own self-interest, trying to avoid being painted with the “greedy and unfair” brush.
Both Lloyds Bank—a London Games sponsor—and Visa—a TOP global partner—issued calls for change to the IOC’s marketing rules, which the Olympic leaders will be hard pressed to ignore.
Those companies surely are not the only sponsors who will weigh in, although others may choose to do so privately after the London Games end.
We all know the IOC does not embrace change easily—and an equitable solution to the issue, while necessary, will be far from simple. But the weight of public opinion—the only one that really matters in the end—plus the appeal from sponsors to turn the tide will leave the leaders of the Olympics with no choice.
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