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Volume 26 No. 60
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New Rule Could End "Blackout Period" For Olympic Marketers

The IOC made changes to the Olympic Charter yesterday that could portend a major liberalization of marketing rules criticized by athletes for limiting their endorsement income. A rewritten bylaw to the charter’s Rule 40 now says that Olympians may allow their name and likeness to be used in ad campaigns during the Olympics “in accordance with the principles determined by the IOC executive board.” Previously, the rule said athletes cannot be in campaigns during the Olympics at all unless exceptions are made. Those exceptions were only made for official Olympics sponsors. The full nature of the changes will not be known until more detailed guidance from the IOC and each country’s Olympic committee is published, expected in the coming weeks. However, experts said the change could mean the end of the “blackout period” -- the window around the Games in which brands without Olympic rights must sideline their campaigns involving Olympians, even if it is a longstanding relationship and the ads do not mention the Games. “To me that implies the blackout period is almost non-existent, or watered down,” said Univ. of South Carolina professor John Grady, an expert in Olympic marketing. The IOC has long said those restrictions on athletes enhances the value of Olympic sponsorships, which in turn benefits all Olympians. But the rule is an outlier in sports business, and athletes have been pressing for changes for years. A group of German athletes this winter won rollbacks of those rules in court. The IOC and USOC in '16 experimented with granting waivers to non-sponsors under certain conditions. Senior Australian IOC member John Coates said the new principles are “much more liberal” than rules in the past, but the IOC’s marketing staff decided it can “live with” the concessions made.