It’s almost Olympic time again and soon the International Olympic Committee will again pull out its crying towel and complain about ambush marketing campaigns aimed at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Years ago, as a young man, I bought the sports business propaganda message that “sports are good, sports are pure.”
But very shortly after landing a job with a New York City daily as a sports reporter, before moving on to PR, my opinion of sports changed did as I witnessed unsportsmanlike behavior on all levels of the sports scene – high school, college and the pros.
Also changed was my opinion of the sanctity of sports sponsorships, and when sports became a multi-billion business I saw no problem with ambush marketing. After all, isn’t free enterprise an important part of the American economic system and restraint of trade against the law? I always thought so. But the sports cartels cry “unfair” when a company unleashes an ambush marketing campaign without breaking any laws.
While my approval of ambush marketing continued to grow through the years, the major reason for my unconditional support occurred during the London Olympic Games, when U.S. track and field athletes, sustained by brands that are not official sponsors of the games, protested about the gag rule which prohibited them from mentioning their sponsors.
Because of new restrictions leading up to the games in Russia, it will be more difficult for some athletes to count on sponsorship money than in the past. The SportsBusiness Journal reported in its October 21-27 issue that prior to the Sochi games some associations made its athletes agree not to sign with sponsors in certain categories.
What’s nonsensical is the ban on athletes from promoting their sponsors, unless they are officially sanctioned, despite the fact that many of the athletes competing in the Olympics are supported by brands that are not official sponsors and the Olympics needs these athletes to compete.
Permitting these athletes to promote brands that support them makes sense. Instead of accusing these brands of evil doings the IOC should be thankful that these athletes can train throughout the years between Olympic games. But the IOC claims that ambush marketers that support these athletes are outlaws.
Why should ambush marketers be labeled immoral by sponsors of multi-million dollars sports events and the cartels that control them? It’s ridiculous to claim that ambush marketing is disgraceful considering the totalitarian countries that have been awarded the games and all the alcoholic beverages and junk foods that are accepted as official sponsors.
If the IOC was as pure as the snow it hopes will be present during the Sochi games there might be reasons to take their anti-ambush stance more seriously. But the IOC’s political machine makes those of the Democrats and the Republicans look amateurish.
Another major reason for not supporting the IOC’s ambush marketing policy is because, ever since the successful 1984 Los Angles Olympics, the boys from Lausanne, Switzerland, have become too powerful and delusional, proven by their ridiculous appeals before the United Nations General Assembly asking for an Olympic Truce during their games.
IOC offers up a powerful propaganda tool
The IOC claims that they stand for human rights, but cave when host countries deny those rights to its citizens because, as former IOC president Jacques Rogge said numerous times, the IOC is only a sports organization and cannot control host governments. But by awarding their games to totalitarian countries the IOC knowingly provides a powerful propaganda tool to those governments.
And the IOC’s ludicrous contention that politics has no place in sports, despite the IOC being the most political of any sports organization, was once again proved untrue when President Obama announced that Billie Jean King, Brian Boitano and Caitlin Cahow, three openly gay athletes, would be among those representing the U.S. at Sochi, an obvious slap at Russia’s anti-gay laws (and probably also for Russia giving refuge to secret leaker Edward Snowden).
In addition to the U.S. not having a high-ranking elected official attend the opening ceremonies, an editorial in the Dec. 20 Wall Street Journal said that leaders of France, Germany and Canada are among other countries that plan to stay home instead of attending the ceremonies in Sochi.
Not surprisingly, the United States Olympic Committee, whose team refuses to dip its flag into any other country’s leaders during the opening ceremonies, also places Citius-Altius-Fortius above human rights and warns its athletes about the possible consequences of freedom of expression if they don’t follow the IOC dogma against athletes speaking about issues like Russia’s anti-gay laws during the Sochi games.
Sadly USA TODAY reported on October 1 that at a media event only two U.S. athletes spoke against the anti-gay laws that will be in effect during the Olympic Games that the IOC awarded to Russia. They were figure skater Ashley Wagner and Bodie Miller, the Alpine skier.
Fortunately, companies that are proficient in ambush marketing aren’t cowed by the cartels of the sporting world. And that’s good for commercial competition and what’s good for business competition is good for all Americans, not just the monarchs of the sports realms.
The IOC has no problem about awarding its games to totalitarian governments and countries that practice censorship and enact discrimination laws. Why anyone feels that an organization with such a checkered history deserves special marketing privileges is beyond me.
So, let the marketing campaigns begin and let the most creative and promotional ones be declared the winners.
As long as no laws are broken, ambush marketing is okay with me and let the crying of those being ambushed also begin.
* * *
Arthur Solomon, a former senior VP at Burson-Marsteller, is a frequent contributor to public relations and sports business publications, consults on PR projects and sits on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at email@example.com.