A Ringing Endorsement? USOC Considering Relaxing Its Enforcement Of Rule 40
The USOC is considering relaxing its enforcement of Rule 40, a rule that prevents non-Olympic sponsors from associating with Olympians before, during and after a Games. IOC Dir of TV & Marketing Services Timo Lumme indicated the organization has plans to evaluate Rule 40 after the Sochi Games, and the USOC is supportive of making changes to the rule's enforcement. USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said the organization feels that it can protect the commercial interests of Olympic sponsors while also giving non-competing sponsors of athletes opportunities to highlight their support of Olympians. "If you look at the vast majority of our Olympic athletes, they have 16 days every four years to have their brand front and center," Blackmun said. "We would like to find more ways for them to have commercial opportunities without ambushing corporate sponsors. We'd like to have an open dialogue about that." Blackmun said some of the changes the USOC would like to include would be allowing non-competing sponsors like Head skis, which sponsors Ted Ligety, to congratulate the athlete they support after they compete. "It's an open question (how that would work)," Blackmun said. "If there's an ad that doesn't have Olympic marks, images or terminology and doesn't cause any confusion in the eyes of a consumer about whether the sponsor is behind the athlete or the Olympics, then we should consider that."
MAJOR CHANGE IN USOC'S STANCE: This new position is a major change from the one the USOC held for the better part of the last three decades. Historically, it touted Rule 40 so much that athletes even scrub sponsors from their websites before the Olympics begin. U.S. sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross and a number of other athletes attacked Rule 40 on Twitter and at a press conference before the '12 London Games. The athletes' position was that the sponsors who support them year-round should be able to support them when they are competing in their most high-profile event, even if those sponsors are not official Olympic partners. The IOC and USOC have been talking about changing Rule 40 in some way ever since then. However, doing so will not be easy. "The challenge here is it's so subjective," Blackmun said. "If you look at an ad that doesn't use Olympic marks but clearly is Olympic ambush, that's not right and we want to protect our sponsors. But if an athlete has a long-term relationship with a company and they want to continue that and not put it on hold, that's something we need to have a conversation about."