According to SportsBusiness Daily, 33.4 million viewers tuned in to watch Olympic legend Michael Phelps win yet another gold medal earlier this week. That’s a lot of eyeballs on a screen littered with commercials, ads, plugs, and promotions.
In addition to TV airtime, athletes and companies from around the world are taking to social media to share their experiences, support, and brand messages. However, thanks to Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter there are strict limitations on what can be said, and who can say it.
This is similar to restrictions the NFL places on advertising around the Super Bowl. It’s in an effort to protect official event sponsors which pay for exclusive marketing rights during the Olympics. Sponsors are reportedly paying up to $200 million to sponsor the Olympics, so it’s understandable they would ask for some exclusivity.
While Rule 40 makes sense for those big-name sponsors like McDonalds, smaller companies are struggling to fully leverage the Olympics to gain attention for their brand or their sponsored athlete. The reason being, most companies cannot manage the cost of sponsorship and thus land on the side of censorship and restrictions.
Some marketing executives say this puts their company at a disadvantage, and it also is unfair to the athletes who also must abide by Rule 40. This includes any sponsors the athlete has regardless of how much said company invested in their athlete along the way to Rio. Once they qualify as an Olympic athlete, they can only reference (or be seen with) products of official sponsors when paired with Olympic branding.
One Seattle-based company, Oiselle (Women’s Athletic Wear) opted out of the Olympic spotlight because of excessive cost and requirements of simply being present, let alone an official sponsor. Sally Bergesen, Oiselle CEO, said, “It’s ridiculous. It’s like a surcharge. The only companies that are going to benefit are the ones that have the three or four top household names.” She continued to point out that lesser known athletes suffer as well, with less opportunity to promote themselves and their sponsors they remain lesser known.
This doesn’t mean all non-sponsors are shying away from even have a loose affiliation with the Olympics. For example, Under Armor produced a commercial with Michael Phelps in which the Olympics were neither portrayed nor referenced, but were definitely implied.
Here’s a great article discussing the challenges businesses face when partnering with the Olympics, and what some companies are doing to overcome the strict Rule 40 parameters.
Photo Credit: Mark J. Terrill