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Olympic Committee has strict rules for how athletes can market themselves

Olympic superstars like Michael Phelps will make most of their life savings through advertising, but come actual Olympic time there are very strict limits to how they can market themselves. During the Games, the Olympic Committee has a stranglehold on companies who wish to use Olympic athletes to market their products. From July 18 to Aug. 5, a period known as the “blackout” prevents Olympic athletes from appearing in any advertisements by companies that are not official Olympic sponsors.

One example that NPR.com pointed out is Phelps’ situation with Subway. Phelps has been arguably Subway’s strongest endorser in recent years, but since Subway is not an official Olympic sponsor they are not permitted to air ads featuring Phelps during the “blackout” period. On the other hand, Head & Shoulders can because they are owned by Olympic sponsor Procter & Gamble.

Chief marketing officer for the U.S. Olympic Committee Lisa Baird called the “blackout” rule and others “great protection for the sponsors” and a “commitment that the athletes make to the International Olympic Committee.” It also happens to be a tremendous way that the IOC reaps most of the benefits from having an audience of approximately 4 billion.

However, there are ways to skirt the rules. At the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, sprinter Linford Christie wore contact lenses with the Puma logo on them to one of his press conferences. Reebok was an official sponsor of the Olympics that year. This year, Baird says the rules will be enforced more strictly.

“You may not use any of our marks,” she explained. “You may not use our licensed footage. You may not use insinuation even to really convey that you might have a relationship with either the committee or the U.S. Olympic Team.”

You hear that, beach volleyball players? Better think twice before parading onto the court with tattoos like this one on your arm.



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