Olympic Sponsorship: Remember the Positives 30th July, 2012

Whilst awareness of Olympic-association is of course growing for official sponsors of the Games, the recent controversy surrounding LOCOG’s increasingly stringent sponsorship policies and the subsequent public outrage is resulting in certain sponsorships becoming dangerously close to having an adverse effect on certain brands – quite a significant problem after investing hundreds of millions with the aim of using the platform to enhance brand perceptions.

Although some sponsors may have demanded a little too much exclusivity i.e. Visa and McDonalds, the latest issues have taken complaints to a new level. The first concerns Coca-Cola and Lord Coe’s comment stating that attendees ‘probably wouldn’t be walking in (to the Olympic Village) with a Pepsi T-shirt’ which is, of course, ridiculous. Despite the off-chance of hundreds of fans herding into the Village wearing Pepsi-branded clothing, this would have miniscule, if any, effect on either brands’ perception or the Olympic campaigns, activations and initiatives executed by Coca-Cola. The second issue is the numerous events proving to be half empty due to ticket allocations not being utilised – this resulting in understandable public outrage however the blame spreads across multiple parties including National Olympic Committees, the IOC and the media in addition to sponsors.

With a negative cloud beginning to descend over the concept of sponsorship in general, I wanted to add to the refreshing comments of Evening Standard Editor, Sarah Sands’ recent article shedding some light on why ‘sponsors are the good guys not the villains’.

On the whole, sponsors are providing vital products and services to the Olympics whilst simultaneously raising awareness of the event in all corners of the world. Acer, the official computing equipment partner of the Games, has been responsible for the installation of an enormous technology infrastructure – no small feat and a significant cost saved for LOCOG. Likewise for GE who have contributed heavily towards key infrastructures across transportation, energy, lighting and medical equipment. Coca-Cola, despite the controversy over branding and health, have invested millions in grass roots sports and vow that 75% of their products consumed at the Games will be sugar-free. With significant value being added by all Olympic partners, the positives of sponsorship significantly outweigh the negatives. (Of course, there is also the added benefit that they provide hundreds of millions of pounds in revenue and in turn lower the cost of the Games to the tax-payer.)

It is important to remember that the art of successful sponsorship is creating a relationship that simultaneously benefits the sponsor, the audience and the rights holder with it ultimately being the responsibility of the latter i.e. LOCOG to get as close to this harmonious balance as possible.

The Olympic Committee is evidently yet to find this balance with certain partners but when weighing up the pros and cons, sponsors cannot be viewed as the bad guys. After all, despite recently sympathising with protesters, Jacques Rogge hits the nail on the head when stating that “Quite simply, staging the Olympic Games would not be possible without our partners.”

London 2012 and the cost of Ambush Marketing 29th May, 2012

With just under two months before the long awaited London 2012 Olympic Games begin, the media spotlight is certainly on Britain. Companies across the country are expecting the Olympic Games to have a positive effect on business with the influx of tourists creating a rare opportunity for an expansive global audience. Some companies in the UK simply want their marketing messages to support the Olympic Games as a matter of British pride,  however other companies have less than honest intentions and want to trade off the ‘goodwill’ of the Olympic Games. This exists in the form of ambush marketing where one brand hopes to eclipse the marketing of an existing event sponsor through a publicity stunt to gain exposure, or where a brand attempts to simply ride on the coattails of the Olympic Games hoping the public will perceive an official association.

The truth is that there are some important commercial barriers in place restricting marketing and advertising around the Olympics. Whether your intentions as a business are honest or not, any advertisement from a ‘non-authorised user’ that would lead a member of the public to presume an association to the Olympic Games will result in infringement of the London Olympic Association Right (LOAR) 2006.

Listed Expressions

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) has highlighted the statutory rights for marketing around the Olympics. Companies using the listed expressions in the course of trade, categorised below, will need to do so with care to avoid: removal of their merchandise, unlimited fines, or even a criminal conviction for flagrant abuse of the law.


‘Two Thousand and Twelve’


‘twenty twelve’








The court will take into consideration the following:

Any two of the words in List A such as: “Backing the 2012 Games”


Any word in List A with one or more words in List B such as: “Supporting the London Games”

Ricoh Arena

This legislation has been received both positively and negatively by brands and the public. Some argue that the law is extremely restrictive and the rights assumed by LOCOG are out of their remit. An example where this legislation has been regarded as particularly impractical occurred at the Ricoh Arena, home to Coventry Football Club. This stadium which is hosting football matches during the Olympics  were informed that every non-official Olympic sponsor brand within the stadium, right down to the design of the hand-dryers must be covered up due to a conflict with existing sponsors. According to the facilities manager Antony Mundy, this has left them with a “mammoth task”.

Nike vs Reebok

What LOCOG are trying to protect is ambush marketing and publicity stunts that seem to be common place at competitions such as the Olympic Games. They are right to do so; brands such as Nike have been guilty of ambush marketing with their pop-up ‘Nike Town’ which appeared on the doorstep of the Olympic Park during the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games.  In this instance the result was that 36% of the public believed that Nike, not Reebok were the official sponsors.

2010 FIFA World Cup

The Olympics and the FIFA World Cup have been the prime targets for ambush marketing over recent years. As each competition comes to a close the law has become progressively more robust to prevent those seeking to associate themselves as official sponsors or partners. Some may argue that current measures in the light of ambush marketing are now too protective of the existing sponsors and that marketing around the Olympic Games is trying to negotiate around a minefield. This degree of protection was comically mocked during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. South African budget airline Kulula decided on the marketing slogan ‘The Unofficial Carrier of the You-know What’ in the lead-up of the World Cup. Ironically this still became censored by the FIFA committee.

Does the legislation strike the right balance?

Coming from a professional sponsorship agency, we are well aware of the level of sponsorship that goes into the Olympic Games and the strategy behind the investment from brands. In tough economic times companies are investing large sums of money into the Olympic Games. Brand exposure and exclusivity in your industry is undoubtedly the primary reasons behind sponsorship. To a certain degree it could also be argued that in the spirit of competition, one-upmanship in being the headline sponsor between global brands such Nike and Adidas is just as fierce as the competing that will be seen in the Olympic Park this summer. What we need to remember however is that, money raised from sponsorship amounts to nearly half of the capital required to stage the Olympic Games in the first place. If these brands don’t feel that their investment has been appropriately protected, then the level of support into the Olympic Games is severely jeopardised for future competitions.

We all want the London Olympic Games to run at the best of its ability, for the sake of both the public and the athletes. Furthermore, despite arguments that too much power is afforded to LOCOG, and the level of protection given to official sponsors, London 2012 will undoubtedly undergo some degree of ambush marketing this summer. Whether you agree with the legislation surrounding the Olympic Games or not, it is important to not get caught out unawares of the restrictions in place.

So if in doubt check the legislation: