CHICAGO ( MainStreet) -- The Summer Olympics, which kick off this weekend in London, remain one of the most potent brands in the world. The competition between athletes from almost every nation symbolizes our most cherished ideals of sports: the thrill of competition, the power of perseverance, the bonds of national pride.
And yet, despite the focus on amateur athletes, the modern Olympic Games are also about money -- lots and lots of money. Sales of tickets and broadcasting rights aren't enough to cover all the costs that come with staging such a large-scale, multiweek event, so the International Olympic Committee -- just like every other sports governing body -- has turned to corporate sponsors to help foot the bills.
It is precisely because the Olympics conjures up such powerful, inspirational images that large corporations are willing to pay big bucks to be associated with it. For the London Games, 11 companies paid for highest level of sponsorship, The Olympic Partner program, which allows them to feature the Olympic five-ring logo in their worldwide advertising and guarantees industry sector exclusivity. (
is the only beverage sponsor, for example, just as
Procter & Gamble
is the only one representing personal care products.)
Below that top tier, there are three other levels of domestic sponsorship (National Partners, Official Supporters and Official Providers and Suppliers). All totaled, the London Olympics Organizing Committee has raised more than $1 billion dollars from sponsorship deals. Although the exact agreements are confidential, it has been reported that some of the largest companies paid $100 million or more for the privilege of allying themselves with the Olympic brand.
But all that corporate spending has prevented smaller companies in the U.K. from latching on to the excitement generated by the Games. The British Parliament passed a law barring nonsponsor businesses from using any word or phrase associated with the Olympics in their signage or marketing (including "London 2012" and any reference to gold, silver and bronze medals). Hundreds of enforcers have begun patrolling the area around major venues, and violators can be fined up to ₤20,000.
Grumbling about the so-called "brand police" has led to the expected outrage over minor infractions (such as a butcher who was ordered to take down a sign of intertwined rings made from sausages). Even Prince William's in-laws were told to remove some Olympic-inspired content from the website of their party-supply business.