Citi Drops Team USA Olympics Sponsorship

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Scout Bassett
Scout Bassett Credit: Citi

It's the end of the track for Citi's Team USA Olympics sponsorship. The New York-based bank confirmed Monday that it will not be renewing its marketing partnership with the U.S. Olympic Committee, which began in 2012.

"We have great respect for the Olympic movement and the values it represents," said a Citi spokesman in a statement. "We were proud to partner with the United States Olympic Committee for the last three games and wish them the greatest success going forward."

As a first-time sponsor of Team USA four years ago, Citi was spending a reported $30 million. At the time, Citi, which was the first financial brand to sponsor the games since Bank of America's sponsorship ended in 2008, also donated $500,000 to the USOC for its Every Step of the Way program to benefit Olympic and Paralympic athletes and hopefuls. Citi renewed the Olympics sponsorship in 2013 through this year.

With changes to the USOC sponsorship rules introduced earlier this year, marketers grappled with concerns about brand dilution for the Rio summer games. For the first time, non-sponsors were allowed to run ads with Olympic athletes during the August games provided they met certain qualifications. Meanwhile, competing brands of existing sponsors were also able to advertise at the games due to certain loopholes.

Experts say the value of an Olympics sponsorship, which is steadily increasing in cost, might not be what it once was under the new rules.

"People are spending five, six, or ten times the value to be an official sponsor when someone can spend a couple hundred thousand and run a commercial—the average viewer might not know the difference," said Roger Payne, director of research and analytics at Dallas-based The Marketing Arm, noting the ability to use inferences and likenesses. "It comes down to the value proposition." He said some sponsors are concerned about paying more for similar results to non-sponsors who are also advertising.

However, Mr. Payne noted that it is typical for sponsors to end renewal options every quadrennial, which would mean more brands may choose to drop out in January. With Citi gone, the sponsorship door is open to another financial brand, but whether that means a traditional bank operator or a more modern, digital startup, remains to be seen.

Sports Business Daily first reported the news of the end of Citi's sponsorship.

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