US Insights

The endorsement Olympics

Jon Swallen

Chief Research Officer, Kantar Media Intelligence North America

TV 08.02.2016 / 21:00

stadium lights

Rule change gives advertisers more chances to tie into athletes’ success

For many spectators and fans, the Olympics is primarily a competition among athletes for gold, silver and bronze medals. But for elite athletes, it’s also a high-profile stage to translate their talents and appeal into corporate sponsorships and income. This parallel competition is of great interest to marketers.

Even as Olympics officials have changed the rules to enable more athlete endorsements, however, new polling raises the question of how many Americans will be paying close attention: 57% of respondents to a recent Lightspeed GMI mobile survey say they will watch as many events as possible, but 43% of respondents aren’t interested in watching any of the 2016 Olympic Games.

Key Numbers

  • 57% of poll respondents will watch as much of the Games as possible
  • 43% aren't interested in watching any of the Games

Prior to the Rio Games, International Olympic Committee (IOC) rules permitted only official corporate partners to run ads featuring Olympic athletes during a defined blackout period surrounding the Games. The threat of penalty was borne by the athletes in the form of disqualification and sanctions. But a recent rule change by the IOC in response to lobbying efforts by athletes has created an optional but narrow pathway allowing non-partners to use Olympians in their ad campaigns during the Games.

Companies running these campaigns must secure IOC approval and adhere to restrictions intended to preserve some advantages for paying corporate partners. The campaigns had to be in-market by March 27,, 2016 and must run continuously through the end of the Rio Olympics, a period of five months. (Many of the companies have used owned media, rather than paid media, to fulfill this requirement). Ad messages must be “non-Olympicized” and avoid language or images that tie the brand to the Games, restrictions that don’t apply to non-partners who choose instead to accept the Olympics blackout period.

In effect, a non-Olympic partner can spend money on a generic campaign that runs during the Olympic Games but says nothing about the Olympics. As a result, some non-partners who pursued IOC approval are featuring well-known athletes that the viewing public associates with the Olympics—such as swimmers Missy Franklin and Michael Phelps, or track-and-field star Allyson Felix—due at least in part to their otherwise highly limited exposure to the athletes’ respective sports.

In some cases, these endorsers also have contracts with official corporate partners. For example, Felix endorses both General Mills’ Wheaties (non-Olympic partner) and Procter & Gamble’s Bounty as well as Chobani (Olympic partners); Franklin endorses Wheaties, Speedo and Go Pro (non-Olympic partners) and Coca-Cola’s Minute Maid as well as Visa (Olympic partners); and Phelps endorses Under Armour (non-Olympic partner) and Hershey’s Krave (Olympic partner).

As the athletic competition unfolds on the track, water, courts and fields in Rio, Kantar Media will be monitoring the parallel “Endorsement Olympics” and the amount of ad spending connected to Team USA participants in addition to trends in who’s advertising and how much they’re spending on the Rio Games.


Source: Kantar Media, Lightspeed

Editor's Notes

Lightspeed survey conducted June 2016 on Lightspeed GMI’s US Mobile Panel; 1,060 respondents age 18+. Journalists, for inquiries or to speak with the author, contact us. Follow us @Kantar and sign up for our alerts.

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