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Volume 22 No. 7


The language used to announce Samsung’s eight-year extension of its global Olympic sponsorship sheds new light on how the International Olympic Committee handles its increasingly complicated tech portfolio, experts said.

Samsung’s exclusive category is “wireless communications and computing equipment,” unchanged from its current IOC deal. But last week, the IOC’s press release included the following new addendum: “… including the ability to promote the Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and 5G features of that equipment.”

That is merely a partial description of what Samsung may market while activating, not an expansion of its rights, the IOC confirmed. Here’s why the IOC is spelling it out now, according to Olympic marketing experts:

Eighteen months ago, Intel was announced as a new IOC sponsor. At the time, the official announcement made no mention of a specific category for Intel, instead saying the chipmaker would assist the IOC and other sponsors in a range of initiatives, including artificial intelligence, virtual reality, drones and 5G connectivity. Intel promoted all of those projects in its Pyeongchang 2018 campaigns.

Now, the IOC is clarifying that while Intel and others may help the IOC develop those capabilities, that doesn’t prevent other sponsors from promoting those tools in the context of their own products.

“It’s a little bit of drawing the line between where Samsung tech enables these features from a user’s perspective, which is different from a technological enabler from a production or development perspective,” said Hayle Chun, vice president of partnerships and Olympics at Endeavor Global Marketing.

Experts said the situation evokes memories of IBM, which as a global Olympic sponsor in the 1990s tried to claim that its rights included exclusivity over the internet. That might have carried a certain logic when only specialists used the internet, but it quickly became clear that it was a tool for all of society and the IOC rejected IBM’s claim.

“Things like artificial intelligence and virtual reality are, well I’m not saying they’re becoming generic, but they’re so ingrained into several different partners’ businesses that no one TOP partner owns it exclusively,” said Michael Payne, an independent consultant who advised Chinese tech giant Alibaba when it became an Olympic sponsor in 2017.

Overlapping interests have become a bigger challenge for the IOC as its portfolio becomes more tech-heavy. In practice, major tech firms often cooperate with each other on certain projects while competing on others, and it’s sometimes difficult to anticipate how tech will change — who’s to say what the most marketable feature will be on a Samsung phone by 2028?

“The IOC, with the evolution of the TOP categories in this space, has to be very realistic about how the market needs to evolve,” Payne said.