Ah yes, it’s that season again. You know the one. The season that only comes every four years and brings with it such a hullabaloo that no one can escape the blaring images of multi-colored rings, panoramic venue shots, and tearful athletes. Social media has been buzzing about amazing feats of human endurance for the last week and a half. These successes are so amazing you might even call them
Oh wait. You can’t.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is extra committed to keeping their intellectual property to themselves and official sponsors this year. Essentially the IOC and the 11 sponsor companies own the rights to wishing athletes luck on social media, mentioning the city the games are held in, the year the games are held in, the year or the city the next two games will be held in, and adding “lympic” to the end of other words to make them sound like they have something to do with the games.
Despite the IOC “loosening” their restrictions on rules for advertising during many events that are happening in a certain South American country, it’s still a big challenge for many brands to get their campaigns on the podium.
For example, if your brand sponsored an athlete but not the Big Event itself, you could fill out waivers (which had to include your campaign plans) to the U.S Olympic Committee by the end of January 2016. This would have allowed your brand to use generic sports advertising without getting sued!
That being said, you still weren’t allowed to use certain trademarked images or phrases like what year the event happens, the name of a certain Brazilian city, or even the periodic element Au. Oh, your brand also can’t even retweet content created by an official sponsor. The IOC was clearly very generous with these “looser” terms.
Although these restrictions have led to some wonderfully creative ads, and some even better newscasts, some are questioning how these trademark laws restrict businesses’ speech and saying the USOC has overstepped the authority these laws give them. Many brands (especially small businesses) are simply asking to be allowed to retweet content or congratulate their local athletes.
All of this begs an important question: can the games be owned? Of course sponsorships are a huge part of any athletic event; for the longest time I thought Real Madrid was actually called Fly Emirates. However, with an international event the size of the Games, is it ethical to ban brands from joining the conversation entirely? The playing field is inherently uneven. A sponsorship can cost over $200 million—cash that a small business just doesn’t have. Businesses of all sizes though have the same pride in our country and athletes. Shouldn’t they be allowed to celebrate too? The spirit of the games is about opening borders and joining together in sport—not instituting petty barriers over who owns words.