Pi Attitude Zone: Affiliation & Cohesion

Five Rings To Bind Them

Has the Olympic Games become a tainted brand?  And should advertisers still be lavishing their millions on sponsoring them?

The Olympic ideal has strayed a depressingly long way from its origins, when Pierre de Coubertin revived the Games in 1896 to promote international peace and understanding.  Russia’s is the latest in a long line of regimes to see  opportunities for international image-laundering, a list that includes Nazi Germany in 1936, Russia’s Soviet forebears in 1980 and China in 2008. The movement has become a vehicle for muscle-flexing nationalism and a target for extremism.  Too many athletes (and their trainers) have been shamed by doping scandals, and the powerful International Olympic Committee (IOC) has failed to counter the queasy impression that it is awash with questionable money.  Little remains of Coubertin’s vision that “it’s not the winning but the taking part”.  It’s the winning now, at every level.

Doubts about the workings of the IOC money machine no longer stop with its behind-closed-doors way of selecting countries to host the games.  There is increasing awareness of the billions of dollars sucked in from broadcasters in exchange for TV transmission rights, costs which are passed on to advertisers in ad sales and sponsorship dues. 

Even this leaves aside the eye-watering sums directly extracted by the IOC from the so-called TOPS, a dozen or so official Olympic sponsors who pay for the right to display the Olympic Rings alongside their own logos.  These global deals run for at least eight years.  Details are kept secret, but in 2009-12 they made the IOC over $950 million US.  The price has risen inexorably over the years.

What do sponsors get for their money?  Aside from the global image-building and reflected glory, there may be chances to use the Olympics themselves to demonstrate corporate capabilities, like time-keeping, computer-powered administration and travel or security services.  But the big prize for major Olympic sponsors like McDonalds, Omega and P&G is sector-exclusive association with ‘The Rings’, the Olympic logo.  The Olympic Committee has thus found a brilliant way of getting other people to pay for the privilege of spreading their (the IOC’s) commercial symbol across the world, thereby increasing its desirability and price still further.

Some canny marketers have figured out that the Olympic Committee probably benefits more from all this than they do.  But big advertisers keep coughing up the money anyway.  Why? 

A significant part of the answer is that doing so stops a brand’s competitors from getting access to the Olympic symbol, and raises the ‘cost of entry’ for rival firms that might challenge their dominance of a market sector.  In effect, they spend the money not because they need or want to, but because they can.

Pi says:  it may all come down to spoiling tactics.  And how sporting is that, exactly?

Zone: Affiliation & Cohesion Country: Multiple Geographies Product – Communications