Olympics aims to blunt commercial criticism

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The Olympic marketing hierarchy is trying to close loopholes that can allow for over-commercialization and for non-sponsors to undermine, if not ambush, their marketing partners.

As the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee court buyers for long-term, $100 million-plus sponsorship packages, they have more reason than ever to guard against over-commercialization. Olympic executives say potential sponsors expressed wariness of buying into these plans after witnessing the uglier aspects of Atlanta's marketing spectacle.

FLEA-MARKET ATMOSPHERE

That was frustrating for the IOC, since much of the derided commercialization was beyond its control: the city of Atlanta hired a marketing firm to sell vending rights to its parks and street corners, creating the perception to some of a flea market.

"It never occurred to us that a city, which accepted no financial responsibility for staging the Games, would go out and do something like this," said Dick Pound, chairman of the IOC's committees for TV and new sources of financing.

He said future contracts with host cities will require that all marketing and signage programs be approved by the IOC.

Meanwhile, the USOC wants to make it more difficult for non-sponsors like Nike to detract from sponsors like Sara Lee Corp., which paid $60 million for sponsorship and licensing rights for its Hanes and Champions brands and spent twice that to leverage its effort.

NIKE'S $100 MILLION

Nike spent possibly upwards of $100 million on an Olympic program that included a $35 million ad campaign, a sports amusement complex in downtown Atlanta, sponsorship of U.S. Track & Field, athlete endorsements and a massive publicity effort.

"It's truly a shame," said John Krimsky Jr., the USOC's deputy secretary general. "Our sponsors supported all 700 athletes. Nike cherry picks the top athletes and shouts louder."

The USOC sees ways it can help sponsors communicate their messages. The changes being mulled range from limiting the use of athletes in publicity during the Games to curtailing the marketing rights that a governing body like U.S. Track & Field can offer.

NIKE STANDS TO LOSE

The changes could hurt Nike, since its ties to athletes and track and field currently are its only Olympic-related marketing assets.

Said a Nike spokesman: "We've certainly given as much support to track and field and to individual athletes over the years as anybody, if not more. How can someone tell a marketer not to get some return on that investment?"

Copyright August 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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