Non-Games sponsors seize an ad-vantage

CASHING IN: US swimmer Michael Phelps in an Under Armour commercial. Under new rules, non-official Olympic Games sponsors can now run restricted advertising campaigns featuring athletes heading to Rio in August.


    Apr 05, 2016

    Non-Games sponsors seize an ad-vantage


    DOZENS of major companies and speciality brands that are not official Olympics sponsors have applied to run advertising campaigns featuring athletes ahead of the Rio Games.

    They are taking advantage of new rules that are shaking up the business of marketing surrounding the event.

    United States multinationals, including Mondelez International, General Mills, Under Armour and Gatorade, said they have applied to the US Olympic Committee (USOC).

    They are seeking a waiver that will let them compete with official Games sponsors during the Olympics in August and Paralympics in September.

    Others that have applied include Austrian energy drink maker Red Bull, camera maker GoPro, footwear brands Asics, Skechers and Brooks Running as well as Speedo and Johnson & Johnson.

    The applications underline how the Rio Games are set to herald a radical change for advertisers, even if viewers may not notice much difference as US household names such as two-time gold medallist gymnast Gabby Douglas appear in commercials for everything from banks to cereal.

    Thanks to a rule change by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) after years of lobbying by athletes, official Olympic sponsors will have to share the big names with brands that have paid nothing to the IOC or a national Olympic committee such as the USOC.

    Companies running these campaigns will have to operate under detailed restrictions aimed at retaining some exclusivity for official sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Visa and McDonald's.

    Still, the change to the IOC's "Rule 40" could have a big impact on the multi-billion-dollar marketing engine that drives the Games, said Frank Ryan, head of intellectual property at law firm DLA Piper.

    Athletes had long argued that the old rule deprived them of income during their most marketable moments.

    Whether on TV, online or billboards, only ads from official sponsors could feature Olympic athletes during the Games.

    Under the new rules, the USOC is banning unofficial sponsors from using words such as Olympics - and even "summer", "victory" and "effort" in some contexts.

    But the average consumer still might not notice much difference between official and unofficial ads, said David Abrutyn, executive vice-president at Bruin Sports Capital, an international sports marketing firm.

    In March, Under Armour released a commercial showing Michael Phelps swimming to a song called The Last Goodbye.

    He then faced a barrage of cameras - images that evoke his Olympic successes.

    The USOC says a team of marketing staff will closely monitor commercials for any rule breaches.