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Volume 23 No. 29
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USOC, NCAA agree to allow schools to promote their Olympic ties

Schools like Stanford with Katie Ledecky (left) and Virginia with Leah Smith will now be allowed to celebrate and promote their ties to the Games through the new “Olympians Made Here” campaign, where a school’s mark can appear with the official Team USA mark.
Photo: ap images

For the first time, colleges will be allowed to use a U.S. Olympic team logo to promote their Olympic sports under a groundbreaking deal between the NCAA and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Historically, the USOC has resisted sharing its marks with colleges and universities without being paid, because selling the rings is the committee’s primary source of funding along with media rights.

But under former CEO Scott Blackmun, the USOC formed a collegiate partnership division and began reconsidering its hard line on intellectual property. In fact, USOC director of collegiate partnerships Sarah Wilhelmi said, NCAA institutions already pay a massive in-kind contribution to talent development.

“There’s obviously a wide range of sponsors and different ways of contributing to the Olympic movement,” said Wilhelmi, who joined the USOC in 2016 from the West Coast Conference. “We ran some numbers, and Division I schools alone spend $5.6 billion on Olympic sports [annually]. When you think about that contribution and how significant it is, we really need to consider them part of who we are.”

The marketing arrangement is the first major result of the USOC and NCAA’s attempts to work together, and they are exploring other ways of bolstering Olympic sports, said Stan Wilcox, the NCAA’s executive vice president of regulatory affairs. The USOC now sees the persistent cuts in low-revenue-generating Olympic sports programs on college campuses as a significant strategic concern. It hopes the co-marketing effort will remind donors, alumni and fans of their importance.

Interested schools will be able to opt into a free agreement that would allow use of a template with the USOC’s “flag and rings” logo on the right and the school’s mark on the left, with the words “Olympians Made Here” in the middle. There also will be a Paralympics version available.

The “Olympians Made Here” campaign will kick off July 24 — one year before Tokyo’s 2020 opening ceremony — and is designed to help schools document their athletes’ stories as they train, qualify and compete in the Games. But the rights agreement is intended to cover other uses over the long term, so schools can celebrate particularly prominent Olympians by themselves and promote their history of contributing to Team USA.

Schools can use the imagery across all marketing channels, but other corporate brands cannot appear in the Olympic context. So, for instance, background corporate logos in college venues would have to be removed.

USOC Collegiate Advisory Council

Sandy Barbour, 
Penn State AD
Bob Bowlsby, Big 12 commissioner
Greg Byrne, Alabama AD
Bubba Cunningham, North Carolina AD
Bernard Muir, Stanford AD
Rob Mullens, Oregon AD
Chris Plonsky, Texas women’s AD
Gene Smith, Ohio State AD
Scott Stricklin, Florida AD
Kevin White, Duke AD

No schools have officially opted in yet, but Duke University is committed, the USOC said. Duke Athletic Director Kevin White is a USOC board member and chair of the USOC’s Collegiate Advisory Council. Wilcox, the former AD at Florida State, expects the athletic directors on the USOC’s Collegiate Advisory Council to bring the program to their campuses.

The USOC will offer the rights to any school that has ever had a current student or alumnus make the U.S. Olympic or Paralympic teams — which amounted to 150 schools at the 2016 Rio Games alone.

“When you look at the percentages of the kids that make up the U.S. Olympic team [who play NCAA sports], it just makes sense for us to have a collaborative working relationship,” Wilcox said.

The NCAA, college conferences and USOC-governed national governing bodies also can activate the campaign. The USOC is seeking institutional opt-in by April for the “Olympians Made Here” campaign, but there is no hard deadline considering some schools may not be sure of their Olympic connection until the 2020 Olympic trials.

Talks grew out of the 2016 Games, when school and college conference social media teams first started to develop large volumes of social media content celebrating their athletes’ victories in Rio. Those schools are always free to refer to the factual results of Olympic competitions without formal rights, but the robust expansion of social content began to raise the question of how much Olympic intellectual property they could use without a USOC contract.

At Rio 2016, 446 U.S. athletes — nearly 80 percent of the entire team — competed for an NCAA championship before making the Olympics, or were beginning school that fall, according to USOC figures. The American university sports system is “arguably the envy of the world,” Wilhelmi said, but it’s not well-promoted in the context of the Games.

“We hope that through this cross branding, it will increase the awareness nationally of how important the college contribution is, and hopefully keep those programs embedded on campuses and strong,” Wilhelmi said.