Olympic Games are not only the site of competition, but the Olympics are also the venue where popular brands sponsor sports teams and individual athletes to receive a return on their investments in the future. Indeed, sporting events are considered powerful ways to raise awareness about a brand, increase its strength, and create uniqueness (Keller and Swaminathan, 2020). According to Keller and Swaminathan (2020), supporting a favorite athletic team or individuals makes an organization look more credible from customers’ viewpoints. The provided case study discusses corporate sponsorship at the Olympics, reviews specific examples, examines ambush marketing, and analyzes the effect on the host cities and countries.
Since the Olympic Games is one of the major global sporting global competitions, many business organizations strive to build an association with it to be recognized and receive profit in the future. One of the first examples of a successful corporate sponsorship is the 1984s Games in Los Angeles, where eleven companies provided support that reached $200 million (Keller and Swaminathan, 2020). For example, companies such as Fuji, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, General Electric, Korean Air, Nike, The North Face, Hyundai, and Samsung are known to support the summer and winter Olympics (Keller and Swaminathan, 2020). However, this case study showed that many firms like Kodak, Lenovo, and Johnson & Johnson decided not to renew their sponsorship contracts because people do not memorize or link specific companies with the Olympic Games. Unfortunately, some organizations engage in ambush marketing, which is claiming a relationship to the event without providing financial support to it (Keller and Swaminathan, 2020). Thus, the Olympics Committee tries to fight this behavior by banning the use of terms related to the Games in promotional campaigns.
This case study also assesses the effect of the Olympics on cities and countries that host the event. The only benefit is that it raises national pride, but its financial advantage is unclear. Although the hosting countries’ infrastructure receives significant investments, which helps improve transportation and real estate, the expenses may be much higher (Keller and Swaminathan, 2020). The perception of the Olympic Games is bifurcated because some believe in its substantial commercial profit, while others think that this event is overly commercialized (Keller and Swaminathan, 2020). Overall, it appears that a company’s success after sponsoring the Olympics depends on the quality of the commercial plan associated with it.
The two most recent Olympic Games were held in Tokyo in 2021 and in Beijing in 2022, summer and winter, respectively. Some companies became even more popular due to being the top sponsors of the Games, while others had to provide financial support because of the contract obligations (MediaRadar, 2021). The most renowned corporations that sponsored the recent summer Games were Procter & Gamble, Toyota, Google, Samsung, and Coca-Cola (MediaRadar, 2021). In fact, 93% of the provided funding came from these companies (MediaRadar, 2021). A smaller portion of financial aid was given by such firms as Alibaba, Bridgestone, Intel, Panasonic, Omega, General Electric, Visa, and thirty other companies (MediaRadar, 2021). However, sponsorship of the Winter Games was more complicated because they were conducted in China, which is often criticized by Western countries for violating human rights (Clayton and Dyer, 2022). Therefore, previously popular partners kept a relatively low marketing profile during the 2022 Games in Beijing (Clayton and Dyer, 2022). The geopolitical situation apparently influenced the sponsorship of the most recent summer and winter Olympics.
The Olympic partnership program seemed to be effective during the 2021 Games in Tokyo, but it was not the case for the 2022 winter event in Beijing. The sporting event in Tokyo was successful because funding allowed to significantly increase the broadcasting of the Olympics globally (International Olympic Committee, 2021). Although large international corporations provided the sponsorship in both cases, the companies preferred not to advertise their financial support of the winter Olympics this year (Clayton and Dyer, 2022). The main reason for their 2022 strategy was that the Chinese government is often accused of violating citizens’ rights and not aligning its policies with international standards (Clayton and Dyer, 2022). In fact, the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the U.K. made a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games this year, even though the athletes from these countries participated (Clayton and Dyer, 2022). Hence, many sponsors from boycotting states had to maintain low marketing profiles. Overall, enough financial support was provided during the two recent Games, but the firms performed fewer marketing campaigns in Beijing than in Tokyo.
Some organizations utilize ambush marketing to promote their brands among clients interested in a particular event. This concept can be defined as claiming that one is associated with an event without providing the actual sponsorship to gain credibility from their customers (Keller and Swaminathan, 2020). The Olympic Games is one of the most popular events that attract firms that engage in such practices. Li Ning, a Chinese gymnast, opened the Beijing games wearing shoes of his own brand instead of the sportswear from Adidas, the official sponsor of the Games (Keller and Swaminathan, 2020). His line attracted tremendous attention from the public, but Li Ning’s company did not provide funding for the Olympics (Keller and Swaminathan, 2020). Another example was that one of the British bookmaker firms, Paddy Power created a giant billboard stating that this company is an official sponsor of the largest sporting event in London (Keller and Swaminathan, 2020). They meant the 2012s egg-and-spoon race, but many people assumed it was the Olympics (Keller and Swaminathan, 2020). This type of promotion gives people a false impression that a particular organization supports the Olympics but does not.
Ambush marketing provides an unfair advantage to non-sponsoring companies, affecting the profit and credibility of the actual sponsors; thus, the Olympics Committee strives to minimize this behavior. For instance, non-sponsors are prohibited from running ads and advertising campaigns associated with the Olympics (Keller and Swaminathan, 2020). Specifically, posters, billboards, flyers, and sky-writing within two hundred meters of the Games’ venue were identified as ambush marketing techniques, which were banned by the Committee (Keller and Swaminathan, 2020). Furthermore, in 2012, the British government passed a law to forbid using such terms as “medal,” “sponsor,” “gold,” “silver,” “bronze,” “sponsor,” “Games,” “London,” and “2012” in an unauthorized manner (Keller and Swaminathan, 2020). This ban applied to private companies in the U.K., non-profit organizations, and international tourist firms (Keller and Swaminathan, 2020). All governments now try to limit the use of the Olympics’ brand to make people think that a particular company financially supports this significant athletic event (Keller and Swaminathan, 2020). Overall, these measures are primarily taken to prevent financial damage to the official sponsors.
Clayton, J. and Dyer, J. (2022) ‘Winter Olympics: global sponsors quiet ahead of Beijing Games’. BBC.
International Olympic Committee (2021) IOC marketing: media guide. Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Keller, K.L. and Swaminathan, V. (2020) Strategic brand management: Building, measuring, and managing brand equity. Harlow: Pearson.
MediaRadar (2021) ‘Who are the top sponsors at the 2021 Olympic Games?’ MediaRadar.