Sunday, August 5, 2012

Olympic athletes earn sponsorship money

Let's face it, many Olympic sports can seem somewhat arbitrary when taken out of the context of the Olympics. Though I have a deep respect for the fine folks around the world that row crew, I'm unlikely to follow them at any level other than the Olympics. The same can be held true with respect to many Americans and many sports.
This being the case, crew members (for example) are far less likely to be used as a marketing tool at any time other than the Olympics. Yet under the International Olympic Committee's Rule 40 the only groups that could even consider sponsoring a given athlete during the Olympics (and even months before and after) are official Olympic sponsors, titans of industry such as Visa, Tide and Nissan. Ironically, oftentimes the only athletes these big-name companies are interested in are the few athletes who don't need the money.
Rule 40 states:
"However, to protect against ambush marketing; prevent unauthorized commercialization of the Games; and to protect the integrity of athletes' performance at the Games, the (International Olympic Committee) places certain limits on how a Participants' image can be exploited during the Games Period. Ambush marketers have, in the past, used their association with athletes and (National Governing Bodies) to suggest or imply that they have an association with the Olympic games. This undermines the exclusivity that Organizing Committees and/or (National Olympic Committees) can offer official Games and Team sponsors, without whose investment the Games could not happen. The implication of an association with the Games through use of athletes is particularly powerful during and immediately before the Games. To protect against this, Rule 40 therefore places limits on the advertising activities of Participants, solely for the period of, and just before and after, the Games."
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is maintaining the legitimacy of what is increasingly being referred to as the "infamous Rule 40," a rule stating that "Except as permitted by the IOC Executive Board, no competitor, coach, trainer or official who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games."
Though the rationale for Rule 40 goes back to the amateur roots of the Olympic movement, ensuring "that athletes maintained their amateur status," the IOC refuses to relent in their obsolete guideline.
Bearing in mind the level of competition in today's world, to be an Olympian requires full-time training, and full-time training requires full-time funding. In short, the IOC is raking in billions while the athlete is severely limited in his/her ability to market his/herself and make sponsorship deals.
What if athletes try to seek sponsors despite Rule 40? What is the sanction for a breach of Rule 40? Participants who do not comply with Rule 40 may be sanctioned by the USOC in accordance with the Code of Conduct Rule 23 of the Olympic Charter allows. "IOC sanctions including, ultimately, disqualification from the Games and/or withdrawal of the Participant's accreditation."
How can the IOC defend this practice of denying the athletes sponsorships? Their basic justification is that they are preventing ambush marketing, the idea that non-Olympics-affiliated companies will try to associate their company with the Olympics without paying up to the IOC, which, after all, dolls out cash to the National Olympic Committees (NOC) around the world, which are all supposed to support the individual athletes.
Yet even a cursory look into the IOC reveals that, for a nonprofit, their activities are highly speculative. With an estimated viewership in the billions, an athlete base of just over 14,000 (including the 205 Olympic teams and 170 Paralympic teams), and the countless hours each athlete has spent honing their skills, why not let the athletes seek sponsors and earn a couple of bucks?

Leave a Reply