Lars Becker

Sponsors at the Olympics: The Multi-Billion Dollar Business of the IOC

The sponsors of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio fetched an estimated two billion euros into the pockets of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). As a result, they are the biggest sources of income for the Summer Games, next to TV rights holders. But the companies are also profiting alongside the organizers. From 2017, Intel joins the group of top-partners next to Alibaba and Toyota. McDonald's ends its partnership after 41years.

Always largely represented, already at the qualifiers for synchronized swimming before the Olympics: Visa is a “Worldwide Olympic Partner.”
Always largely represented, already at the qualifiers for synchronized swimming before the Olympics: Visa is a “Worldwide Olympic Partner.”

The brands aren’t just vying for sponsorship deals with the IOC, but also for the athletes. Participating in the Olympics, and all the more a medal, increase athletes’ market value immensely. reveals who the backers are, what they’re paying, and how the ad campaigns are catching on. 

Who are Olympic sponsors, anyway?

There were different groups of sponsors at the Olympic Games 2016 in Rio. Eleven giants may called themselves “Worldwide Olympic Partners,” who conclude longer-term contracts over at least one Olympic cycle of four years.

Those were: Coca Cola, McDonald's, Visa, Bridgestone, Samsung, Panasonic, Omega, Procter & Gamble (P&G), General Electric (GE), Dow, and Atos. Each of these companies pay an estimated 100 million euros to the IOC for the four-year period from 2013 to 2016, and in return can advertise directly with the mega event.

Starting in 2017, Intel, Toyota and Alibaba are on board. “Alibaba’s partnership with the IOC is built on a foundation of shared values and a common vision for connecting the world and enriching people’s lives,” Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, said in a statement.

Long time partner McDonald's ended its cooperation with the IOC after 41 years.

The second group was the “Official Sponsors of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games,” who paid their money directly to Rio’s Olympic Organizing Committee. Aside from the automotive partner Nissan, these were mostly Brazilian companies like Embratel, Bradesco, Claro, Net, and Correios.

In the category of “Official Supporters of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games” were ten companies which include Cisco, Globo, or Latam Airlines. Another 30 companies were “Official Suppliers of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games”: Among them were famous firms like Nike, Microsoft, Airbnb, Eventim, and C&A.

The Organizing Committee for the Rio Olympic Games was hoping for total sponsorship revenues of about one billion euros.

Read more here: How the Sponsors of the Euro 2016 are Making a Profit

Who are the most famous Olympic sponsors?

  • 1. Coca Cola: The beginning of support at the Olympic Games dates back to the Summer Games of 1928, when the drink was first offered to athletes and spectators. For this reason, the beverage giant has been connected with the Olympics the longest. In social media, Coca Cola uses the hashtag #THATSGOLD. The stars at the 2016 Olympics: decathlon star Ashton Eaton and soccer player Alex Morgan, among others.

  • 2. Swatch/Omega: The Swatch Group – currently represented with one of its master brands Omega – had been responsible for timekeeping at the Olympic Games, with a few exceptions, since 1932 in Los Angeles. Each time a world record, or just a time, is displayed, the logo goes around the world. As a sponsor, the company has also been a “Worldwide Olympic Partner” of the IOC since 2004. Hashtag: #OmegaVivaRio. The stars at the 2016 Olympics: Michael Phelps, among others.

  • 3. Visa: In the Olympic sports facilities, you can only pay with cash or a Visa credit card. The company has been involved as a top sponsor since 1986, and is especially famous for its spots with significant Olympic moments. Hashtag: #TeamVisa. Stars at the 2016 Olympics: the refugee team at the Rio Olympic Games, a total of over 350 athletes worldwide.

What does sponsorship bring to the Olympics?

That’s controversial. With Olympic sponsors like Coca Cola, McDonald’s, or Visa, money flights directly into the bank through sales at the sports facilities. Sportswear manufacturers, on the other hand, participate indirectly at most. “Millions of jersey are sold in the surroundings of major soccer events like the World Cup or the European Championship, but that’s not the case at the Olympics. For that reason, worldwide awareness of the brand is valuable,” says an Adidas spokesperson.

In addition to numerous international stars, in track for example, Adidas also outfits the German Olympic team with clothing (read more here: Adidas, not Bogner, as Outfitter) – this time, for the Opening Ceremony, as well.

In an international survey on the topic of awareness of Olympic sponsors, Coca Cola was in first place. Curious: Among the 15 most named companies, half of them weren’t Olympic sponsors at all. 

Definitely curious were the IOC’s order which described exactly what all non-Olympic sponsors were not allowed to do during the Games in Rio. Author and blogger Malte Spitz drew attention to a presentation by the German Olympic Sports Confederation: So “expressions that are connected with the Olympic Games (Olympic Games, German Olympic team, Rio 2016 etc. – see overview on the next page)” are not released for use “in advertising material or social media content.” Even “social media content with an Olympic reference to the IOC/OCOG/RIO 2016/DOSB/German Olympic team” may not be “retweeted” or “shared.” Also, everyday terms like “summer” or “games” may not be used in social media communication.

How do the Olympic sponsors energize the public?

P&G told the emotional stories of Olympic athletes and their mothers (“Thank you, Mom”), Panasonic was advertising with Brazilian soccer star Neymar, Visa was supporting the refugee team in Rio, which started under the Olympic flag. Coca Cola was focusing increasing on the social media factor for the first time. “It’s now a completely different game; the phenomenon of social media first began in London 2012,” said Kate Hartmann, brand PR chief of the company “PRWeek.”

On top of Facebook and Twitter, many other important tools like Snapchat or Instagram have come on the scene. That’s why Coca Cola, in addition to a campaign “Taste the golden feeling” for traditional media like TV or newspapers, also brought so-called “social media influencers” into the mix. That’s how, for example, British YouTuber Jake Boys, Canadian fashion blogger Allie Evans, and Australian siblings Cody and Alli Simpsons were advertising in Rio 2016. It was their job to bring the message of #THATSGOLD to the (young) people.

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Lars Becker

Lars Becker