Final Analysis: Olympic Gold Miners

| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

Will it someday come to this?

 

LONDON (AP) — United States pole vaulter Justin Athleat was banished from the Olympic Games today for drinking Pepsi, wearing Ray-Bans and using an iPad. Athleat could face further penalties for dining at Burger King while in London, texting with a Nokia smartphone and refusing to wear a wristwatch. Representatives of Coca-Cola, Oakley, Acer, McDonald’s, Samsung and Omega say they are considering a class-action suit against Athleat for violating the “true commercial spirit” of the Games.

 

Implausible? I’m not so sure. Remember when the Olympics were strictly for amateurs? The whole idea was the purity of athletic competition, unsullied by commercial interests. That ideal ended during the Cold War when Americans got their gym shorts in a bunch because Olympians from state-sponsored programs in the former East Germany and Soviet Union were eating our lunch. Now, nearly every Olympic sport allows paid professionals to compete. This approach levels the playing field for a handful of big countries and essentially says to the small nations, “Thanks for playing. Here’s your souvenir pin.”

Similarly, the overcommercialization of the Olympic Games is essential because, without it, NBCUniversal would not be able to put on 5,500 hours of stateside coverage from the London Olympics. This is the kind of number columnists make up for hyperbolic effect. But I’m not exaggerating. Across its many platforms, NBC will air five thousand, five hundred hours of programming. The Olympic Games only last 17 days—or 408 hours. So kudos to NBC for saturating our lives with the equivalent of 229 days of coverage. Take that, you former commie-pinko poseurs!

For London 2012 this month, 11 Worldwide Olympic Partners ponied up $1.1 billion for the right to be the official this, that and the other thing of the Olympic Games. Coca-Cola, for example, is the official provider of hot and cold nonalcoholic beverages, so it’s safe to assume that any Olympian caught quaffing someone else’s product will be forced to recite the Olympic oath while wearing a sequined unitard and twirling a rhythmic gymnastics ribbon. The other Worldwide Olympic Partners are Acer, Atos, Dow, GE, McDonald’s, Omega, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, Samsung and Visa. There are also seven domestic Tier One Partners, seven domestic Tier Two Partners, and 28 domestic Tier Three Suppliers and Providers. The website of the Olympic movement describes the games as “one of the most effective international marketing platforms in the world, reaching billions of people in over 200 countries and territories.”

I loved the Olympics as a kid. And since I became aware of them by watching Jim McKay on ABC, it would be disingenuous to dismiss TV coverage and commercialization entirely. Besides, the International Olympic Committee points out that about 94 percent of its marketing revenues are used to help the have-nots. “If the IOC did not get the support of the commercial world and the television rights,” said IOC President Jacques Rogge in 2006, “then we could not afford to spend money in developing countries as we do now.”

Sorry, Jack. Spending millions on helping “developing countries” get competitive is a fool’s errand. As long as countries like the United States throw even more money into their sophisticated Olympic training factories, the idea of fairness in Olympic competition will remain an illusion. Kind of like my winning gold in the decathlon or an athlete trying to get a Pepsi in the Olympic Village.

 

JOHN LEVESQUE is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine.

Related Content

It’s easy to get discouraged by the torrent of bad news of late, but now is not the time to jump ship

The increased reliance on telecommuting spawned by the COVID-19 opens the door to new information-security vulnerabilities

‘We need the federal government to move quickly to invest in people, nonprofits, small businesses and employers’ to stabilize the economies of our urban centers

It’s time to have a national conversation about the path forward for our way of life

It’s time to have a national conversation about the path forward for our way of life