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Brands exploit Rio Games rule change

News, 05 April 2016

NEW YORK: Brands and athletes are looking to take advantage of a change in the rules surrounding marketing at the Olympic Games that has stripped away some of the exclusivity reserved for sponsors of the event.

The International Olympic Committee's (IOC) "Rule 40" had created a "blackout period" during the lead up to the Games and during the Games themselves when athletes were not permitted to promote the brands sponsoring them unless those brands were also official Olympic sponsors.

A relaxation in the rule permits ongoing advertising campaigns to continue without disruption, although the brands involved will have to apply for a waiver and there will continue to be restrictions on the use of terminology and imagery associated with the Games.

According to Reuters, Mondelez, General Mills, Under Armour and Adidas – which earlier this year pulled out of a sponsorship deal with the International Association of Athletics Federations – as well as Gatorade are among those seeking to exploit the new dispensation.

And NBC has reported it is already seeing a boost in ad spending from non-official sponsors as a result of the rule change.

Observers have suggested that the change could have a major impact on the sponsorship deals negotiated by IOC partners.

"If 'Rule 40' isn't policed properly, top sponsors will use it to argue for better pricing for top sponsorship deals," according to Frank Ryan, head of intellectual property at DLA Piper, a law firm that has worked on sponsorship deals with the IOC and the USOC (US Olympic Committee).

And he warned that "social media is the spot where there's the most opportunity for ambush marketing and commercialisation that would be an irritant to a top sponsor".

The USOC will have a team monitoring commercials for any breaches of the rule, with sanctions ranging from possible legal action against companies to the expulsion of athletes from the competition.

Data sourced from Reuters; additional content by Warc staff