Capitalizing on Culture: Are the Olympics Of the People or Of the Sponsors?

July 26, 2012 With the 2012 Olympic Games mere days away, the lead up to them has been watched in the media and perhaps one of the most talked about story has been the debate over the business of Olympic Games trademark and sponsorship. Global sponsors like McDonald's, Visa and Coca-Cola pay $100 million each for the right to be official global sponsors of the Games, reports National Public Radio. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) raises $1.1 billion in sponsorship, its second largest revenue source behind broadcast rights, reports Bloomberg Businessweek. With these sponsorship revenue opportunities obviously comes enforcement of copyright protection to maintain the sponsors' exclusivity in use. Stories of cited infringement have appeared in the news, with culprits ranging from a butcher shop to lingerie store to little old lady knitting for charity.

It all raises the fundamental question: how far can we go as marketers to capitalize on a world-wide cultural event?

Where is or where should the line be drawn between citizens celebrating their cultural pride in a world event and copyright infringement?
  • Is an enthusiastic shop owner's creative window display with colorful hula hoops and sports bras the same as paid advertising including the Olympic Games logo and claims of being a sponsor? No.
  • Should the IOC have the right to protect the use of their brand? Yes.
  • Should the IOC appreciate the global appeal of the cultural event to which they own the rights and show discretion in their enforcement? Yes.
Marketing around these types of globally anticipated events (such as the World Cup, Superbowl, etc.) aim to capture people's enthusiasm for global cultural event. Prohibiting people's ability to participate in the games at a personal level detracts from our ability as marketers to capitalize on their enthusiasm. While obviously the International Olympic Committee has the right to protect their trademark, the extent in which they are currently inhibiting individual citizen's ability to embrace the Games is perhaps a bit overreaching and shows a lack of foresight. Read additional stories of reported copyright infringement as well as some Brits' satire of the trademark enforcement here.

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