Should Olympic athletes have the right to traditional sponsorships?

Ari Jacoby, CEO of Solve Media, recently wrote about a topic that I am surprised, in this day and age of media and sponsorships, hasn’t been reversed yet. Why can’t Olympic athletes benefit from the same sponsorship opportunities as everyone else in the world?

First off, if you don’t know Solve Media, check their site out – they offer an extremely innovative way to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of your advertising dollar, while also simplifying a common web annoyance – the randomly generated “type what you (can’t) see” Captcha”. You gotta LOVE companies built on innovation that provide a service that benefits both businesses and consumers.

So before we talk about the Olympics specifically, let’s take a look at the precedent that has already been set worldwide with regards to sponsoring athletes and teams:


(NBA to begin allowing jersey advertisements in 2013)

So what do the above pictures have in common?

They are all athletes.

They are all (relatively speaking) highly paid athletes.

They are all highly paid athletes wearing the logo of a corporation.

So we have established that a precedent has been set, worldwide, that pre-game, in-game, and post-game sponsorship is acceptable to viewers. The public is perfectly OK with seeing corporate logos during competition.

Furthermore, the above players are free to promote any sponsor they want, regardless of the teams’ sponsorship decisions. In-game and post-game press-conference action aside, they can promote that sponsor when they want, how they want. Want to tweet “Coke Zero helped me win!” after the NBA finals? Go right ahead.

Now let’s take that concept and compare it to current Olympic policies. According to Olympic rules in London, no athlete is allowed to promote any non-official-sponsor for (roughly) the duration of the Olympics – July 18th through August 15th. Want to upload a picture of you eating a McDonalds’ salad? A-OK, they are an official sponsor. Panera? No way, they may be YOUR sponsor, but they don’t buy into the Olympics.

Sure, not a big deal for some Olympians like Michael Phelps who have a huge bankroll from post-Olympic sponsorship revenue. However the majority of these athletes are just regular people who are immensely talented, devoting a good portion of their lives to a sport they love. After the Olympics, they see a bit of local fame, then it’s back to reality. An Olympian typically makes just shy of nothing. Travel expenses are funded by private donors, and there are bonuses IF you take home a medal.

The Olympics are all about capable people seizing an opportunity, and the committee’s financial interests should not limit the extent of that opportunity. Companies should be able to invest in athletes and athletes should be able to, in turn, promote their chosen sponsor in the same appropriate way every other athlete can.

Admittedly, I have a soft spot for companies like Solve who aim to improve something so simple, yet so broken. Captchas that contain strange words and distorted letters are annoying, period, and their solution eliminates that annoyance for consumers. My admiration for the company aside, Solve Media did a terrific thing by sponsoring two world-class athletes, despite the mandatory limitations that exist in their ability to actually promote the brand. They are no dummies either – this will certainly result in some positive press. For example, Forbes and others have picked up the story. Simply good business all around.

Now let’s hope Rio thinks big in 2016 by letting Olympians’ share in the same sponsorship benefits enjoyed by their peers all over the globe.

Categories: Sports, Technology | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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