Smart media companies are thinking about 2020 Olympic sponsorships

By Alvin Lim


Singapore, Singapore


The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio just ended and it was a good one for Southeast Asian countries. Collectively, the athletes from the region collected a record haul of 18 medals, the best ever in the history of Olympic participation by the group of 11 nations with a population of more than 600 million people.

There were several breakthroughs. For instance, Singapore swimmer Joseph Schooling, 21, won the first ever Olympic gold medal for the country, beating his childhood idol, Michael Phelps, along the way in the 100-metre butterfly event.

Media companies in Southeast Asia were warned not to use Olympic success to catapult their brands.
Media companies in Southeast Asia were warned not to use Olympic success to catapult their brands.

Not to be outdone, Vietnamese shooter Hoang Xuan Vinh, 41, gave the country it’s first ever gold on the opening day of the Olympic Games. Vinh then collected another medal four days later.

These two are just among the many other big wins in Southeast Asia for this Olympic Games. Media frenzies and crowd crazes are bound to follow as the triumphant athletes return home and everyone wants to gather together with them in the limelight.

This was precisely what happened after Schooling won his gold medal for Singapore.

Suddenly, many companies that previously had never done any sports sponsorships started running ambush marketing campaigns to “congratulate” him. Many ran full-page ads in newspapers, and all sorts of marketing promotions rode on the Schooling publicity wave.

Most of these were not well-received by the public. You can read my blog post on the backlash some companies like Singapore Airlines faced as a result of being too opportunistic.

In fact, things got so out of hand that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) wrote to the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC), raising the issue of Rule 40.

The rule was established to protect official sponsors of the Olympics, prevent over-commercialisation of the games, and ambush marketing that might use athletes to create an unlicensed association with the Olympics.

Rule 40 of the IOC charter states that except as permitted by the IOC executive board, no competitor, team official, or other team personnel who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture, or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games.

For news media companies, the spike in interest in Olympics news coverage is a boon. This will translate into higher circulation numbers, sales copies sold, and pageviews, which, in turn, draw more ad revenues.

Then, there is a sudden spike in ad buys from companies doing ambush marketing to hijack the publicity and goodwill generated from the Olympics medal wins.

This is where things get a little tricky.

How do news media companies avoid the backlash from those who disagree with the ambush marketing tactics of the paying advertisers?

I was thinking, why not sell these advertisers packaged series of sponsored sports content the next time around for Tokyo 2020?

Instead of running a congratulatory ad and risk backlash from an unforgiving public, why not get brands to sponsor a series of relevant content over a longer period of time to show commitment and resolve toward supporting particular sports or athletes?

For instance, in the case of Schooling in Singapore, a weekly or monthly sponsored series about other promising swimming talents can be commissioned to inspire more public interest in the sport and generate goodwill for the brand.

This beats ambush marketing every time.

What do you think? What other ways can news media companies bank in on Olympics successes?

About Alvin Lim

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