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Ambush Attack

Spotting ambush marketers at the Olympics

By Scott Becher

September 25, 2000

It's getting tougher to tell the sponsors from the ambush marketers.

Take the Summer Olympic Games, for example. Companies like General Motors, Visa and AT&T spent upwards of $50 million for their official sponsorship. But it's only the beginning of their Olympic investment. For instance, paying for the NBC broadcast time to tell viewers that they are Olympic sponsors requires an incremental sponsor cost of about $600,000 per 30-second spot.

The problem comes when NBC is also selling its advertising inventory to non-Olympic sponsor companies.

Of course, they do this in order to recoup their Olympic-sized rights fee investment of $705 million to cover the Games. That's only fair. But there must be some way to make it clear who the sponsors are, and who the "advertisers" are. It seems NBC is not overly interested in making this distinction.

Often times, NBC leads into its commercial break with a voice-over that says, "The Games of the 27th Olympiad are sponsored by..." This is nice added-value exposure. But some of the companies it mentions are not, in fact, Olympic Games sponsors. They are NBC Olympic Games advertisers.

So these companies are perceived as Olympic sponsors without paying the mega-sponsorship fee.

Many in the marketing community consider this breaking the rules. Being dishonest. Yet as long as NBC is allowed to deliver these sponsor declarations, advertisers will gladly reap the benefits.

Consider the ambush marketing that went down Down Under.

Ansett Airlines is the official airline of Sydney 2000. It's a category-exclusive designation in Australia. So rival Qantas proceeded to run ads every day of the Games on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald. Qantas also made a $7.78-million media buy with local Olympics broadcaster Seven. Then Qantas put together an emotional ad campaign complete with Australian athletes who are participating in the Games.

Presto -- Qantas now appears every bit as official as Ansett, while saving millions in sponsorship fees.

So how do you tell the sponsors from the ambush marketers?

All too often, the sponsors are the ones who spend too much on their sponsorship fee, and not enough on media to let people know about their sponsorship.

Buying a sponsorship doesn't guarantee your company a spot on the medal platform. It's just an invitation to compete.

More FoxSportsBiz columns by Scott Becher