Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Olympic Officials Stay Tuned To Commercials Across the Globe

CATCHING Michael Payne, the busy marketing director of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), requires a visit to the clubhouse of the Lillehammer Winter Games. The official name is the International Olympic Committee Marketing Club, a large tent-like structure limited to VIPs - sponsors, guests, Olympic officials - and those with appointments.

The only cheering here is heard over the TV sets, one of which Mr. Payne peeks at occasionally while being interviewed. Freestyle skiing, his former sport as a British national champion, is on the ``telly.''

About these ads

Inside, the club has the feel of a bustling ski lodge. People, many wearing matching sponsor-supplied ski jackets, swarm the lobby; a piano player tickles a baby grand; dining areas are doing a brisk business.

Placing his cordless phone on a stack of guest passes, Payne welcomes this reporter into the IOC's own special lounge, furnished with chairs fit for the Guggenheim Museum.

Payne sits at the commercial heart of the Games. He and his marketing department colleagues are responsible for implementing the IOC's marketing policy. This involves everything from sponsorships to licensing agreements to protecting the Olympics' turf.

Each morning he receives a report on broadcasts of the Games worldwide to make sure no nonsponsoring companies are trying to ride on the Olympics' coattails without paying for the privilege. Toyota in Australia, for one, was served an injunction during these Olympics.

And as always, the IOC warily eyes the ads of American Express, with which it wages a constant battle over what the IOC calls ``ambush'' or ``parasitic'' marketing, in which American Express notes businesses in Olympic cities that honor only its charge card.

Payne also has a team of 40 people assigned to the Olympic venues who report any unwanted commercial incursions. Even the blimp floating over the Games has had to cover up the word ``Goodyear.'' In Barcelona two summers ago, Reebok and Fuji had blimps grounded by IOC legal action. Reebok has made an end run at these Games through its sponsorship not only of the Russian hockey team but also of the international hockey federation.

One Russian speed-skater was seen receiving her medal wearing a hat bearing the word ``Reebok'' prominently above her forehead. ``That probably never should have happened,'' Payne says, citing Olympic rules that bar conspicuous display of equipment markings. There are restrictions on how big manufacturer identification can be, and those found exceeding the limits have brand names and logos taped over.

About these ads

But there is some flex in the system. Reebok, for example, has an enlarged version of its striped logo on the shoulders of all the hockey jerseys.

``I'd be surprised if many people recognize it,'' Payne says, while acknowledging that there are a lot more case-by-case judgments at the Winter Games than the summer ones because of the amount of hardware and equipment used.

``I think you've got to look at the sporting-goods industry in a slightly different way,'' Payne says. ``You have to recognize that all of the manufacturers in one way or another are supporting the athletes and the teams.''

Accommodation to what many regard as present-day realities, of course, has not always put the Olympics in a good light.

``It's funny,'' Payne says, ``because we occasionally get criticized for the commercialization of the Games. That amuses me, because there is no advertising [inside the Olympic venues] and because there used to be far more sponsors 15 to 20 years ago than there are now.''

Indeed, at the 1976 summer Olympics in Montreal, 628 sponsors and suppliers participated. Today, the IOC maintains a tighter leash.

Ten multinational companies are worldwide sponsors in something called TOP, short for The Olympic Program. Their participation generates about $40 million for the Olympic movement.

Below them, nine Scandinavian companies have lined up behind the Lillehammer Games. These ``Team Birkebeiner'' national sponsors have contributed about $10 million each in financial support, products, services, and personnel to the local Olympic organizing committee. Then come suppliers and licensees who have been selected to produce official Olympic products.

``What you've got now,'' Payne says, ``is a smaller group of companies playing a much more critical role in the staging of the Games. It's really moving into a technical partnership. Without their support you couldn't even stage the Games.''

He cites such worldwide sponsors as International Business Machines, which provides the vast computer network at the Olympics, and Kodak, which is processing the film for more than 600 photojournalists in Lillehammer and has provided accreditation services for more than 50,000 individuals.

Commercial business relationships have always been a part of the Games, yet only once, at the 1924 Paris Olympics, was advertising in the venues.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.