HOLMES REPORT: Summer Olympics alienating its spectators in the name of loyalty to company sponsors

think I'll be boycotting the Summer Olympics this year.

think I'll be boycotting the Summer Olympics this year.

Not that it's a great hardship for me. As far as I'm concerned, running is only a sport if you have the pigskin in your hand and there's a 250-pound linebacker bearing down on you. And gymnastics is one rung above synchronized swimming in the hierarchy of athletics. Baseball is a real sport, but because none of the world's best players will be competing, it's hard to take the tournament seriously. (Let's not even get into the TV coverage, in which every US athlete has a saccharin sob story of hardship overcome, the kind of triumph against the odds that is only possible in the world's wealthiest, most advanced nation.)

But it's not the quality of the sporting competition or the coverage that really turned me off this year; it's the fact that an event once notable for celebrating the spirit of amateurism has achieved an almost unimaginable level of crass commercialism. In fact, I'm not only boycotting the Games; I'm boycotting the companies that sponsor them.

What put me over the edge is the announcement by the organizers that they will be harassing paying spectators - those for whom the Olympics theoretically exist - in order to appease sponsors that are too dull-witted to derive any competitive advantage from the millions they spend on the event.

Post-Olympic surveys often show that people don't remember who the official sponsors were and often give more credit to non-sponsors. So this year's organizers are clamping down on anything that might allow TV audiences a glimpse of a non-sponsor's logo. People carrying bottles of Pepsi (or any bottled water not made by Coca-Cola) will have them confiscated at the gate, and people with a Nike logo on their T-shirts will be asked to turn the shirts inside out. Stewards, supplied with uniforms but not sneakers, already have been warned about wearing footwear that isn't made by official sponsor Adidas.

If non-sponsors can get as much value out of an event as sponsors, then that means sponsorship has - please excuse this statement of the obvious - no value. And it's unlikely that value will be added by this kind of heavy-handed policy, which will only alienate paying customers.

I'd rather see the Olympic organizers worry about concerns that official merchandise is being made in sweatshops that don't observe international labor standards. "Americans want to know that the workers who make the clothes we buy are treated fairly," says John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO. "Some companies are starting to take this seriously, but not the Olympic Committee."

The committee has bigger issues to worry about, like frisking people to make sure they're carrying Big Macs and not Whoppers.

? Paul Holmes has spent the past 17 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of www.holmesreport.com.

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