Who: The International Olympic Committee (the “IOC”)
When: February and August 2015
Law stated as at: 30 August 2015
In March, MarketingLaw reported that the IOC voted to relax strict “black-out” rules that have historically prevented athletes from appearing in any advertising for non-sponsors during an Olympic Games period. In accordance with the IOC release, the change to the rule was subject to full IOC approval in the 128th IOC Session in July.
In the absence of any confirmation on the official website as to whether the proposal had received full approval following the 128th IOC Session, MarketingLaw approached the IOC and found out that the change to the guidance on Rule 40 was made in February 2015 and no full IOC approval was in fact required.
Can Rio 2016 athletes continue to be used in advertising?
In light of this, and in time for Rio 2016, the use of an athlete’s name, picture or sports performances for advertising purposes where “such use clearly does not create, whether directly or indirectly, the impression of a commercial connection between, on the one hand, the company or brand and, on the other hand, the Olympic Games, the IOC, the Olympic Movement, the Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, or the Participant’s National Olympic Committee or National Olympic Team” is permitted.
To take advantage of this change, advertisers will need to apply to the athlete’s National Olympic Committee for approval for national campaigns or the IOC in the case of international campaigns. The IOC advised that, crucially, advertisements must not refer to or suggest any association with the Olympic Games and any long-running campaigns must not be changed in the lead-up to the Games.
Why this matters:
Athletes have been fighting for this change for a long time, arguing that it significantly reduces their potential earnings from endorsements and sponsorship. The change is also good news for brands and media owners that are not official sponsors of the Olympics (“non-sponsors”), because it removes the need to change advertisements during the Olympic games and also allows a wider range of advertisements to be run during this period. Nonetheless, non-sponsors still need to be careful with their advertising and make sure applications to National Olympic Committees or the IOC are made in a timely fashion to protect their sponsored athlete, who will be penalised first in the event that a breach is found.