The Devaluation Of Sports Sponsorship Rights

Have you heard of Rule 40? It is a rule instituted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that regulates the rights of official sponsors and partners, and severely limits what non-sponsors can do. The official sponsors and partners are allowed to use trademarked Olympic terms, phrases, and images in their advertising. For companies that are not official Olympic sponsors or partners, certain phrases are banned, such as “Olympic,” “Rio,” “Gold,” and even “Games.”

For the Rio Olympics, there was a blackout period between July 27 and Aug. 24 during which non-sponsor or partner brands that support athletes at the Games technically couldn’t even wish them “good luck” or “congratulations on your medal” on social media or other marketing materials. Yes, that's right, the IOC tried to control what was posted on social media, paid or otherwise.

The rule was put into effect for the London Olympics in 2012, and because of athlete protests, the IOC relaxed the rules a little for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.



That didn’t help. We saw athletes in all manner of branded stuff on a variety of (digital) media, happily ignoring Rule 40.

And consumers? They thought everyone was an official Olympic sponsor. Which, in effect, was true — although it depends on your definition of “official.” This is what Bobby Brittain, Coca-Cola’s former UK marketing boss, had to say in a recent panel discussion: “The model just does not function… because whether you are hosting the games or not, competitively [against Coke] the easiest job in the world is to be the Pepsi marketing director.”

In the eternal quest for ever more income, almost all “official” leagues and sports organizations today have struck deals with official partners, granting them the rights to their names and logos. The problem? Individual teams do the same, granting yet other sponsors the official rights to associate themselves with the team’s insignia and marketing collateral. And players, not stupid, do the same as they strike individual deals with personal sponsors. And then there are the venues and stadiums, which are also individually sold for naming (and bragging) rights.

And so is it that you can watch the Coca-Cola 500 at the Bank of America Race Track sponsored by Sprint, where T-Mobile can be seen as the official partner of Team Penske, with driver Tony Stewart sponsored by Slim Jims. Of course, the broadcast is brought to you by the Honda Dealers of North Carolina (substitute with your state), and the blimp overhead shots are provided by Goodyear.

Official sponsor much?

So what can a marketer do? Well, forget the need to showcase your sponsorship. Instead tie the investment to measurable sales goals, and promote the hell”out of your marketable rights (your tickets, your meet and greets, your exclusive access, your digital content, etc.). And please, PLEASE try to measure some kind of ROI. Perhaps consumers may not recognize you as the official partner that you are, but at least you sold some stuff.

And please, PLEASE stop saying “proudly” when talking about your investments. You should be proud about results, not about your ability to strike a (probably) overpriced deal with a cluttered entity. On your mark, get set, rethink!

Next story loading loading..