As the Olympics near, I find myself in anticipation mode. There’s something about the world’s greatest athletes assembling in one place to display the best of speed, strength, grace and competition that exists on this big blue planet. Yes, locally, there are grumblings of traffic coming to a grinding halt, missiles being uncomfortably close to our city parks, and rains that will inevitably dull the shine of this great city—but these are just a handful of the concerns of this Olympics.
What I’m increasingly at odds with is the brand steward on one shoulder, and the sports purist on the other. Reading the latest news regarding what is and isn’t OK for athletes to brandish [and even talk about] raises several issues. Is the Olympics about the individual or the nation it represents? Is it any better or worse for the athlete to be a branded spokes model than it is for the nation to determine which brands it wishes to align with (aka sell itself to)? And at the very top of the heap are the Olympic sponsorship agreements.
For example, who’s to say what shoes somebody wears? But wait, it doesn’t stop at such a simple question. Discussions about what shoe (as an example only) can be worn in competition versus on the podium versus at the opening and closing ceremonies is at stake. Is it just me, or does this all just seem a little to ridiculous?
The Olympics certainly aren’t the only sport that has put the spotlight on this debate. This week the NBA came to the conclusion that it will be the first of the “Big Four” to sell jersey space to sponsors. Yes, it’s ironic that American sports have stayed “pure” (I use that term strictly in regards to team sponsorship branding) while its European and world counterparts have gone the NASCAR route long ago. But that—in my eyes—has been one of its redeeming qualities. And though it isn’t in the headlines, I couldn’t help but notice the similar such sponsorship branding making an increasingly garish role at the British Open this last weekend. Players can now be spotted with logo patches adorning every lapel, collar, and square inch that can be embroidered. I guess the bottom line is…
Where does sponsorship support stop, and sellout start? And what does it mean for the sports and athletes themselves?
On a similar, but different note, let me plug my latest DVD eye-candy, Kon Ichikawa’s “Tokyo Olympiad”. This documentary of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics might be the most beautiful 3 hours of sport every captured on film.
And it is a reminder of what sports looked like nearly 50 years ago.