Olympic Sponsors – Worth Their Weight in Golden Arches?

There’s been a lot of talk this year about the sponsors of the London Summer Olympics. As is always the case with gossip, that conversation has been primarily negative. From Ralph Lauren’s Chinese-made uniforms to obesity-promoting sponsor McDonald’s, large corporations are accused of corrupting the purity of the Games.

It’s easy for us to point the finger at corporate giants and highlight the obvious hypocrisies. I’m certainly guilty of it myself. I think it’s important we remember, however, that things aren’t always so black and white.

First of all, let me point out that the US Olympic Team is one of the very few teams in the world that doesn’t receive public funding. All the training, travel, and other expenses that help our (very large) team to be one of the primary dominating forces at the Games are paid for by private donations and sponsorships.

One of those sponsors is Visa. Visa, along with its associated banks, could be considered evil incarnate for its high interest rates, hidden fees, and enabling a country that is addicted to debt. Let’s ignore for the moment that Visa has little to do with setting credit card interest rates, etc., and instead focus on what Visa has actually done. First, Visa has joined the other ten Olympic sponsors in donating a total of nearly $1 billion dollars to the Games. Second, Visa, along with McDonald’s and GE, has publically announced it would be waiving any charitable tax break. And finally, Visa––a 25-year sponsor, by the way––gives additional funds to athletes and athletes-in-training (both Olympians and Paralympians) to help them gain access to our best resources, ensuring Americans spots on the medal podium.

McDonald’s, the “cause” of America’s obesity epidemic, has always been a sponsor that makes people turn their heads and say, “Really?” Sure, a diet of Big Macs and Shamrock Shakes is probably not going to turn little Janie or young Friedrick into the next superstar Olympian. However, the global reach and international impact of McDonald’s is hard to deny.

A sponsor since 1976, McDonald’s has contributed billions of dollars, employed thousands of workers, supported volunteers, and even airlifted food to US athletes in Grenoble, France, during the 1968 Olympic Winter Games. The company just signed a contract to extend its sponsorship through 2020. While it’s hard to make a case that McDonald’s is the food of all athletes, I don’t really think that’s the point (although the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt, ate chicken McNuggets every day before the Beijing Olympics). Corporate sponsors like McDonald’s have been incredibly successful and, whether it’s mutually beneficial or not, are doing a lot to help people around the world.

Sure, a mistake was made when Ralph Lauren, the company chosen to produce the US team’s clothing, wasn’t thoroughly vetted. But, in the Committee’s defense, Ralph Lauren is an American-based company. It’s just unfortunate that it––like every other American clothing brand, it seems––outsources production.

Like I said, it’s easy to go through each company and find discrepancies. It’s our job as marketers to show both sides of the coin to the world. Does it kill me that many of these large companies hurt small businesses? Sure, of course. Do I want to support BP after one of the worst oil spills ever? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean these companies aren’t trying to help the world, too.

Companies are built by people. And people are both selfish and altruistic. They can have integrity, and they can make mistakes. If you have the fortune (or misfortune, depending on your take) of being an agency representing these behemoths, make your own assessment, distinguish gossip from fact, and share the story with the world as truthfully as possible.

Propaganda or not, it’s hard not to get caught up in some of it: http://www.olympic.org/sponsors

Author: Eric Swenson


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