Li Ning Backs Away From CCTV Deal

Sponsorship Agreement Violated Ambush Rules

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BEIJING ( -- Li Ning Co., China's largest local sportswear marketer, has suspended a controversial sponsorship it deal with China Central Television, or CCTV, last year.

The agreement called for the announcers and reporters on CCTV 5, the state-run broadcaster's sports channel, to wear only Li Ning branded apparel and shoes on camera.

The deal rankled official sponsors of the 2008 Olympic Games, namely Adidas. As the official sportswear partner of the 2008 Olympic Games, the German sportswear marketer is supplying apparel for the staff, volunteers and technical officials during this summer's games. Adidas is also outfitting the Chinese Olympic teams competing in Beijing. Its coveted and expensive status as an official sponsor that would have been severely comprised if Chinese athletes interviewed by the country's national broadcaster were wearing a competing brand, according to the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games (BOCOG).

The organization has promised to curb ambush marketing since Beijing was chosen as the host city for the 2008 games. But that promise to sponsors has proven harder to enforce than the Beijing organizers expected. With the games growing closer, BOCOG publicly renewed its efforts to stamp out ambush marketing in early June. (See "Beijing battles ambush marketers ahead of Olympics," AdAgeChina, June 20, 2007.)

That pressure led Li Ning to quietly withdraw from the CCTV agreement until the games are over at the end of August, although it only applies to sportscasters and guests inside CCTV's studio. Its journalists reporting on the ground at the Olympics can still wear Li Ning clothing.

"It's a good sign," said Greg Paull, principal of Beijing-based consulting firm R3, which tracks the brand awareness and performance of major Olympic sponsors in China. It gives sponsors "reassurance that the government [and] CCTV will be protecting sponsors rights during the game period."

The Adidas deal itself, however, is unique. At the highest international sponsorship level alongside veteran Olympic partners like Coca-Cola, there is no official sportswear category. BOCOG broke with tradition and selected Adidas as its Official Sportswear Partner for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, one of dozens of national level sponsors it has selected in one of the most commercialized Olympics to date.
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