Thursday, 17 May 2012

The untold story of Olympic sponsorship

Underneath the optimistic portrayal of sponsorship in the media lies the true effect that sponsorship plays on Olympic athletes.

Some athletes we have spoken to have said they have felt "as if they (their sponsor Adidas) didn't care) so we have to ask - does the Olympic sponsorship system really care for its athletes?

Launch of the team GB kit: Photo from Adidas press
Big sponsors and brands are popping up everywhere in the run up to the London 2012 Olympic games and people are becoming more familiarised with big named athletes, but what about the athletes you don't hear about?

Globally athletes are being used to push mass consumerism, with sports brand giant Adidas being quoted in the Telegraph and on the Economic Times websites as saying:

"If they don't win, then you've had some value out of them in the run-up"

During our investigation we have uncovered and discussed several athletes who lack sponsorship and their personal experiences. From this research and our own exclusive interview we have been able to break down the PR image pushed forward by sponsors and see the untold story.

In our interview we bought you the exclusive story of our anonymous source whose athletic career and personal life was destroyed by their sponsor. 

Our contact describes their tragic ordeal with their sponsor Adidas. 

When Adidas took this athletes accommodation, training equipment and money they were left bankrupt and desperate and haven't been able to return to athletics since.

We have repeatedly attempted to contact Adidas regarding our investigation but we have yet to receive a response.

Are they avoiding our questions or just avoiding the issue completely? Their delay on responding to our questioning is definitely something to be noted. In our previous investigation Adidas responded to another exclusive interview stating:

 “...our company and how we respect our clients. Our sponsorship deals are freely available if the public request, like most companies we have an exclusivity term within our contract. However we do not feel this deters clients from their role within the sporting field they represent, we are merely assisting and aiding their profile.”

Our investigation has not only highlighted this exclusive case but several other cases such as James Ellington and Warington who although successful Olympians have struggled to get sponsored and be able to compete in the games.

In the run up to the 2012 games approximately 1,800 athletes were dropped by the WCPP according to Brian Brady of the Independent. Statistically funding is going up but so is the amount of athletes being neglected.

Is this neglect down to just sponsors or the entire Olympic sponsorship system?

Breaking down official documentation provided by LOCOG and the IOC it has become increasingly clear that the systems provides limited restrictions to athletes with high gain rewards to the companies behind the scenes. 

Any rise in popularity, athletic achievement or notoriety ultimately benefits the system foremost. Our recent post exploring the legal side of sponsorship discusses the advertising compliance law and its effect on athletes. 

The cases we have investigated experience problems from a variety of different areas of sponsorships and sponsors which highlights the developing flaws in the system.

Athletes are starting to slip through the cracks of Olympic sponsorship leaving them vulnerable and neglected. Unfortunately these athletes are becoming another set of statistics and more and more cases continue to grow.

History of Adidas

What's the history behind Adidas? A global brand name, which has gone on to employ over 42,540 people worldwide. This organisation began in Germany in 1924 and was founded by Adolf Dassler, which is where the company got its name Adidas.
Since those early humble years, the company has gone on to become the largest sportswear manufacturer in Europe and the second largest in the world. With last years profits of £567million and the companies total assets rising to £10,638 billion.
But it Adidas still that pure and humble company, just wanting to produce the best. Or has it gone on to be a force within the market, stopping at nothing to become such a worldwide name?
In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Adidas spent over £70 million in sponsorship. This figure caused outrage in the sporting industry that this one company should be allowed to input such a high level of investment. There sales increased significantly like they do in most worldwide events they sponsor.
There sponsorship within the 1996 Olympics has still proved to see one of their best returns to date. With 6,000 athletes seen with that famous 'three stripes' logo over the duration of the games. 220 medals with Adidas kit being worn, as well as 70 of those medals taking centre stage display on he podium by placing gold in that competition. This incredible victory saw sales for the company increase by an astonishing 50%.
Just like most Olympic years, the friction between Adidas and its main rival Nike is heating up for the start of London 2012. Tensions are high as Adidas are an 'Official Olympic sponsor' for the games on behalf of the British Olympic Association. Therefore they have negotiated on their contract that all winners on the podium will wear the official London 2012 kit, which is emblazoned with the Adidas name and logo.
This is despite individual’s athlete’s sponsorship deals from companies such as Puma and more vocally Nike. Who should the athlete represent, their sponsor or the team’s sponsor? This question is causing a lot of debate between athletes, their sponsors and the British Olympic Association. What is being questioned is the fairness that athletes have to make the choice to either break their contracts and wear the Team GB kit, or stand by their morals and support their individual private sponsor. Nike is now arguing that competitors should wear their private sponsors shoes on the podium and the rest of the Team GB kit to go with it, therefore striking an agreement. However Adidas has put millions into securing this deal from the BOA and so feels they should get monopoly on what the athletes should wear.
With only a few weeks left before the games, does London really want this added controversy?
On top of this, new reports have also emerged on the conditions of employees by Adidas in third world countries such as India. Although they claim that these factories do not produce the official London 2012 kit, it has not been confirmed whether they produce other Adidas clothing endorsed by their sponsored athletes. It was reported that staff got paid as little as 74 pence a day, which when you compare to million pound profits seems extremely tightfisted for the company wanting to be the best in the world.
Former cabinet minister, Tessa Jowell, is backing an investigation named the “War on Want”. It was unveiled that some staff in Bangledesh got paid as small a wage as 9 pence an hour and underwent abuse, both physical and mental during working hours. They also had to work compulsory overtime and many staff were beaten if they refused. These actions strongly contradict Bangladeshi labor laws and investigations are now taking place in some factories.

Olympic diver facing end of his career

One Olympic diver is facing potentially dropping out of full time training this year due to a lack of funding and budget reforms within his discipline.
Olympic diving medalist Waterfield has been faced with an ultimatum, to place in this years London 2012 or get a full time job and train in his own spare time.
He recently got dropped from his role as an athlete monitor for youth teams, as well as having his lottery funding reduced since undergoing shoulder surgery after the Beijing Olympics in 2008. With London 2012 just a matter of weeks away he could not risk failure by getting a job now and miss out on vital training.
So to see him through, his wife has taken up a second job as a carer in the evenings, as well as working in the NHS during the day. All this is so they can keep up with mortgage costs as well as providing for their two children, both under ten.
This poses the question then, why do some athletes in this years Olympics have overwhelming funding and support, whilst others are seemingly struggling to survive?
At the moment many channels are cashing in on the London 2012 games, they are using the faces of well known British athletes to help endorse their products with a return of publicity and money for those athletes. Some adverts on screens at the moment include the likes of Jessica Ennis, Usain Bolt and Waterfield's diving team mate, Tom Daley. They are all barely out of the papers and social media sites. So how come they are securing such lucrative investments and not mature professionals such as Waterfield....
Well the one thing that clearly stands out is age, Daley and Ennis are both young, fresh faced, attractive athletes. Whereas Waterfield is 30 and in the sporting world, basically set for retirement.
In a world where every year counts, it appears to be that companies lose interest in older sportsmen after a certain time. Unless you cashed in on your youth and talent and made a household name for yourself, once you get too old you will sadly go on the pile of other forgotten athletes....
Although, it is rather sad that we live in a world where no one can support our British Olympic hopefuls unless 'Olay' or 'Coca-cola' tell us to. It would be nice for someone in the media to give this guy a chance to show us he is still the amazing athlete who has won so many medals for this country.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Birchfield Harriers ask for help to sponsor athletes

Birchfield Harriers in Birmingham have made athlete sponsorship costs known to the public on their site, asking for help to ensure a handful of athletes receive some form of sponsorship.

The club don’t receive funding from UK Athletics or the National Lottery, but instead rely on membership fees and sponsors to run the club.

They have detailed the different ways in which you can sponsor the athletes in a shopping list format.

Costs have been made public on the site: Copyright Birchfield Harriers

“The cost of being a full time athlete does not come cheap”.

The club is currently sponsored by major company Nike amongst others, however with the lack of financial funding for its athletes the club have turned to the Internet in hope that others are willing to help their talent athletes.

Many of the athletes featured on the site receive no funding and are forced to finance their career through part-time jobs.

Those interested in sponsoring an athlete will be able to meet the athlete and watch them train at a sponsors event.

Not as expensive as majors, sponsorship costs are still steep ranging from the cost of kits to massages. 

Olympic athletes face social media restrictions

Social Media Overlap, a photo by Intersection Consulting on Flickr.
Olympics athletes are being restricted from social media during the Olympics but is this just another demand as a sponsored athlete?

Olympic giants LOCOG have teamed up with social media site Twitter to implement social media restrictions in attempt to combat ambush marketing.

LOCOG stated that it is:

"Keen to prevent non-sponsors from using the event as a marketing opportunity at the expense of official Olympic brands." (Econsultancy)

These preventative methods appeared in light of sports brand Nike utilising hash tag campaigns and Olympic stars in a new promotional campaign.

Screen capture from Official IOC documentation (screen captured by Editor)

Digesting official IOC documentation it is clear to see that the guidelines laid out are highly regimented and aren't in place to protect the athlete but the official Olympic sponsors and the Olympic image.

In the history of Twitter and Athletes cases the monitoring implemented by the IOC has been used forcefully. In the case of Australian swimmer Stephanie Rice her postings on Twitter had detrimental consequences on her career.

As reported in Australian news website in 2010:

"Stephanie Rice has been dumped by sponsor Jaguar Australia for blurting the "other" f-bomb - the incendiary gay slur - on Twitter" (featured news story)

This resulted in this athlete losing her sponsors and has not competed on an Olympic level since.

These restrictions have been debated furiously online on, in this specific discussion members discuss Olympians being banned from blogging and this information is received negatively with members quoting

"So how does this affect an athlete who may have a personal contract to report or write about what they personally see and do at the Olympics?"

What it comes down to is the power of major Olympic companies, sponsors and social media. Olympic athletes have to conform to strict guidelines just to be able to compete, even though these guidelines are completely beneficial to the individuals behind the games. 

As restrictions get tighter and more and more online communities such as StarDestroyer are engaging with these rules the Olympic image is being tainted.

Athletes who underperform lose sponsorship

What happens if athletes under perform? Well according to Brian Brady of the Independent 1,800 Olympic hopefuls were kicked off a funding program after falling below personal standards.

The World Class Performance Programme (WCPP) guarantees athletes up to £55,000 to cover training costs in the run-up to the London 2012 Games.

However the WCPP withdrew 1,800 athletes after they fell below their set personal performance standards.

Athletes pulled from the program have to now either gain private sponsorship or work part time to keep their Olympic dreams alive.

After having his annual £20,000 funding removed 4x400m runner Richard Buck said: "It's a huge disappointment. I had improved and won international medals". The athlete is now stacking shelves in Tesco to fund his training.

While some athletes lost funding through retirement, many have lost their funding because of injury or because they have been judged as underachieving.


Between 2009-2013 the funding given to help athlete training has sky rocketed to £264 million, however the increased budget has meant instead of being able to help more athletes fund their training, the demand for better training performances out ruled this.

Chart created with Chart go

The chart looks at the changes made to athlete training funds between the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and the London 2012 Olympic Games. 

However the budget given to fun 34 Olympic and Paralympic sports in the 2012 games is £50 million short of the amount originally considered. This means that 12 sports have been considered as medal "no hopers" and have received virtually no funding.
The Pros and Cons of sponsorship in local level Boxing