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Nick Friedell

Is an Olympic sponsorship worth all the money?

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Quick! Name five Olympic sponsors.

If you're like me, trying to name even two was a challenge. I can name a lot of different companies, but I'm not sure which ones are actual "Olympic sponsors" anymore.

After reading Frederik Balfour and Reena Jana's story in Business Week, I realized that I must not be alone.

Several major corporations have pulled their Olympic advertising money off the table after these Games, thus probably making Beijing the "high-water mark of the Olympic sponsorship program," according to Balfour and Jana. The amount of money it takes to be a main sponsor in Beijing is staggering.

Companies have paid $866 million, or an average of $72 million apiece, to sponsor the Turin and Beijing Games (BusinessWeek.com, 1/30/06). That's almost one-third more than the $663 million total paid to back the Salt Lake City and Athens Games in 2002 and 2004, and up from $579 million for the Nagano-Sydney cycle in 1998 and 2000.

The problem for companies, especially ones looking to make a name for themselves in China, is that an Olympic sponsorship doesn't seem to matter to the Chinese people.

In a survey of 1,500 Chinese city dwellers earlier this year by London's Fournaise Marketing Group, only 15% could name two of the 12 global sponsors, and just 40% could name one sponsor: Coca-Cola (KO). Adding to the confusion for consumers are 21 additional national-level sponsors, including Adidas and Volkswagen (VOWG.DE). "If you are a traditional marketer, it's a big waste of money," says Fournaise CEO Jerome Fontaine.

I'd have to agree.

In my mind, the Olympics are not as popular as they used to be, at least in America, because there are more options for people on television than ever before. Unlike the Super Bowl, which occurs on one specific day every year in February, the Olympics are spaced out over almost three weeks of time in the middle of the summer, every four years.

Considering that America's attention span seems to get shorter by the day, that's not a good thing for advertisers.

Of course there are some companies like Coke and GE, who are confident that their Olympic sponsorships are paying off. According to the article, GE has made $700 million dollars in revenue from Olympics related projects.

I think this is exception though and not the rule.

Until I read the article I didn't even know Kodak had sponsored the Games, and I didn't care either. I have always watched the Games to see the athletes perform, not to see the commercials. While I don't think the Olympics are ever going to run out of sponsors, I do think that the money is going to dry up faster than some people realize.

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