On a pro rata basis, the world's most lucrative sporting event is the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, at least for the organisers and advertisers, it only lasts for a few hours. It also has limited geographical appeal. By contrast, the quadrennial extravaganza that is the Summer Olympics is truly global and runs for weeks, dwarfing the Super Bowl in terms of both audience and overall revenue.
In the four years that culminated in the Sydney Games of 2004, the Olympic Movement generated in excess of US$4bn, just over a third of it via corporate sponsorship. Both figures are set to be surpassed during the cycle encompassing Beijing 2008. The price of becoming one of the 12 Olympic partners (TOPs) for the Games in the Chinese capital is estimated at US$65m and there are two other levels of sponsorship to take into account ('Sponsors' and 'Suppliers'). The London Games promise to be still more expensive for advertisers. In August 2007, Adidas announced that it would be paying £100m for the privilege of being a top-tier sponsor of the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Since its creation in 1894, the organisation with custody of this four-yearly sponsorship bonanza has been the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Not that the revenue stream is one way. While the costs of building the venues and infrastructure for the Games are borne by the host nation, financing the staging of them (which in the case of Beijing is expected to cost US$2.4bn) is the IOC's responsibility. Accordingly, it distributes about 92% of its marketing revenue to the Organising Committees for the Olympic Games (OCOGs) established in each host city for this purpose. The IOC retains the remaining 8% to cover its operational and administrative costs.
The US Olympic Committee is attempting to prevent the author of a guidebook to Washington State's Olympic Peninsula using the word 'Olympic' in its title.
Given the sums at stake, it is no surprise that the IOC is rather vigilant about its IP Rights, and that's putting it mildly. Little escapes the attention of the Olympic Movement's lawyers, whether at micro or governmental level. In the former category can be cited the case of Dennis Spurr, a Dorset butcher who made the mistake of placing a sign with the date 2012 and five interlocking rings made from sausages outside his premises in Weymouth. He was told in no uncertain terms to take it down as it infringed the copyright of the Olympic logo. Mr Spurr's response was to replace the sign with a version featuring five squares of sausages and the date 2013. In a similar vein, the US Olympic Committee is attempting to prevent the author of a guidebook to Washington State's Olympic Peninsula using the word 'Olympic' in its title. They argue that he is illegitimately attempting to cash in on the 2010 Winter Games in neighbouring Vancouver.
The IOC's efforts to safeguard the IP of its sponsors and the Olympic Movement in general are equally impressive at governmental level. A commitment to drafting appropriate legislation is now a precondition of a nation being awarded the Games. The Chinese government has introduced numerous laws with the Beijing Olympics in mind, including legislation protecting the ring symbol. The Olympic Bill passed in the UK in 2006 goes even further. To the displeasure of the Institute for Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), it effectively bans all advertisers, apart from official sponsors, from using a list of words that includes 'games', 'gold' and 'silver', 'medals' and '2012' in any combination for a period of six and a half years.
It remains to be seen whether the IOC will stem the tide of 'ambush marketing' that has been a feature of recent Games. Celebrated examples range from Nikesponsored Michael Jordan obscuring the official Reebok logo on his kit with the US flag when receiving a gold medal at Barcelona in 1992 to Amex's ads at the Lillehammer Winter Games that correctly, but mischievously, reminded US visitors that they didn't need 'visas' to travel to Norway. One thing is for certain: the IOC's lawyers will be watching and learning.