Olympics have fewer sponsors, but price is up


July 30, 1992|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

Quick, now, can you recall the "official underwear" of the 1976 Olympics? How about the "official small car" of the Montreal Games?

Having trouble? You're not alone. There were 628 official sponsors of those Summer Games, an Olympic record that organizers hope is never broken.

This year's Games still feature some puzzling promotions -- the U.S. Postal Service is the official courier of the Barcelona Games, although it cannot move mail overseas -- but there are far fewer products bearing the Olympic rings.

Corporations view the Olympics as a golden opportunity to associate their products with the supposed purity and nationalism of the Games. But Olympic organizers, fearing growing commercialism and confusion for fans, have reduced the number of sponsorships while increasing the price over the past 15 years.

In 1976, the 628 sponsorships raised $7 million. This year, a dozen sponsors have paid $10 million to $40 million each in cash, goods and services for a four-year package of exclusive worldwide rights. The number of companies might be reduced more for the 1996 Olympics, said Michael Payne, director of marketing for the Swiss-based International Olympic Committee.

"There were an awful lot of companies, and it wasn't bringing in a lot of support or money," Mr. Payne said of earlier years.

Sponsors generally seem pleased with the reduction, although it has driven up the cost.

"The more sponsors you have, the more difficult it is to get any one recognized," said Gary P. Hite, vice president of international sports marketing for Coca-Cola Co. of Atlanta, one of the biggest and oldest Olympic sponsors. "There is clutter in the mind of the public."

The current dozen worldwide sponsors, along with a variety of corporate "partners" and "suppliers," provided 40 percent of the International Olympic Committee's $1.9 billion budget for 1989-1992, or about $760 million, Mr. Payne said. The sponsors are the second-largest source of money for the committee, behind television rights.

Companies also have deals with individual national Olympic committees. Forty-one companies, including the 12 international sponsors, are official sponsors of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Still others sponsor individual sports federations, such as cycling and swimming, or individual athletes.

Corporate sponsorships and licensing agreements are the largest source of money for the U.S. Olympic Committee, about 42 percent of its $300 million, four-year budget.

"There's magic in the Olympic rings," said Thomas D. Shufelt, marketing director for tissue products at Georgia-Pacific Corp. of Atlanta, a sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Committee. "It's patriotic. It's a real feel-good relationship, and something everyone wants to be associated with. It's a great promotional vehicle."

Sponsorships have been around as long as the modern Olympics. Kodak advertised in the official program of the first modern Games, in Greece in 1896 (the company is the official "still-imaging consultant" in Barcelona). The practice spread in the latter half of this century, peaking in the Montreal Games.

To protect the image of the Olympics, Olympic organizers have stopped accepting sponsorships from tobacco and liquor companies. This has a cost: During the 1964 Tokyo Games, before the ban, a specially licensed cigarette brand called "Olympias" generated $1 million for Olympic groups.

Brother has provided 2,000 typewriters adapted to 20 languages for use in the Olympic Village. Bausch & Lomb has set up an optometry center in Barcelona with 40 specialists from 13 countries to test the vision of athletes, who also receive free sunglasses.

Athletes begin days with donated Kellogg Co. cereals and end them in the showers with donated shampoos and deodorants. U.S. athletes left for Barcelona with sundry bags stuffed with free cameras, watches and other sponsored goodies.

A new wrinkle this year is the Dream Team. The U.S. men's basketball team, made up mostly of National Basketball Association players, might end up drawing so much attention that it will diminish the exposure of other sports and their sponsors, said David Burns, a sports marketing consultant with Burns Sports Celebrity Services in Chicago.

"I think there will be criticism that the Dream Team has so many sponsors that you don't know who to connect with the team," he said.

Kellogg thinks it's worth the risk. The company has spent about $1 million to become the official cereal sponsor for the U.S. Olympic Committee and has signed up five Dream Team players for endorsements. In addition to the usual ads, the company is selling Olympic-related clothing, posters and trinkets to customers who mail in proof-of-purchases from cereal boxes.

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