For Many Athletes, The Olympics Are A Time For Branding 25

Are Ryan Lochte's diamond-encrusted grillz teeth his idea of fashion, or for branding?

Let me begin this post by saying that I love the Olympics. I spent a large part of my weekend watching the events and can’t wait until the Track & Field events begin. It was so exciting watching some of the U.S. athletes compete – such as Kelci Bryant and Abby Johnston. The synchronized diving duo claimed silver in their event yesterday, which brought on tears of joy and exhilaration (go to the 4:05 mark of this video to watch). It didn’t seem like they could possibly be any happier, and it was amazing to watch them celebrate with each other, coaches and teammates.

Other athletes, such as Ryan Lochte, are also competing at the highest levels, but they seem to be looking for much more than a gold medal. For many of them, the Olympics have become a one-time opportunity to showcase themselves to companies and score big sponsorship deals that can make a huge financial impact on their lives. Shawn Johnson and Michael Phelps have cashed in big since the Beijing Olympics, and now the next group of athletes is chomping to get in on the action.

But the three weeks when athletes are most marketable – now – are also blocked by International Olympic Committee’s Rule #40 (via USA Today):

In accordance with Rule 40 (formerly 41) of the Olympic Charter, no competitor, coach, trainer or official who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes except as permitted by the IOC Executive Board.

Another guideline from the IOC states:

Participants and other accredited persons are not permitted to promote any brand, product or service within a posting, blog or tweet or otherwise on any social media platforms or on any websites. Participants and other accredited persons must not enter into any exclusive commercial agreement with any company with respect to their postings, blogs or tweets on any social media platforms or on any websites, unless they have obtained the prior written approval of their relevant NOC.

In protest against these rules, many athletes have taken to Twitter, posting identical tweets:

While we certainly don’t want advertising and sponsorship to become the focus of the Olympics over competition, there are two things to consider:

  1. The Olympics are a huge money maker, with dozens of official sponsors such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Visa and BP.
  2. The athletes in the Olympics don’t get paid.

Since athletes don’t get paid in the most visible and noteworthy competition of their lives, it’s no surprise they want the ability to market themselves during the Games. After all, many of the athletes have short careers (think Gymnastics) and have put in years – if not decades – of hard work to get to this point. Furthermore, with social media front and center in the Summer Olympics for the first time, athletes have a new avenue to attract fans and followers, and turn their brief moment of fame into a long-term revenue opportunity.

So should athletes have more sponsorship opportunities leading up to and during the Olympics? It’s a big debate that has valid points on their side. What do you think?



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