Why Rule 40 Is Hurting the Olympics — And What the IOC Can Do About It

Photo by Marcus Ng on Unsplash

Photo by Marcus Ng on Unsplash

Rule 40 is a bylaw in the Olympic Charter that makes public references to Olympic competition exclusive to sponsors that have paid for it.

While this bylaw might appear fine and fair, it restricts Olympians (the "product" that is the Olympics) from posting or otherwise talking about their personal brand sponsors, which is a shame because, the two-week span of the Olympics is the optimal time for most of these competitors to take advantage of their relatively small window of fame.

After all, each seasonal Olympics happens just once every four years, and this window of branding and marketing revenue for most Olympians becomes significantly narrower after the closing ceremonies.

As a result, Rule 40 is producing more and more friction between the International Olympic Committee and Olympians, because Olympians dedicate their lives to competing for their countries at the highest level — which increases the value of the Olympics to sponsors and advertisers — but don't get to share in the billions of dollars driven from advertising and marketing related to the Olympics.

The good news for Olympians is that, athletes are becoming an exponentially bigger window through which fans watch and support teams, leagues and competitions, which produces this conclusion: The International Olympic Committee must reform Rule 40 if it wants to increase fan attention and engagement (otherwise known as ratings) and continue growing the value of its product.

At The Institute for Athlete Branding and Marketing, we propose the following reforms to Rule 40 for the equal benefit of the International Olympic Committee, the Olympics as an institution, and the Olympians who sacrifice so much for their sport, country and this institution.

Create the equivalent of "Basketball Related Income."

As part of their collective bargaining agreement, the NBA and NBA Players Association have a clause in which the league and players split "Basketball Related Income." This includes everything from ticket purchases, concessions and TV deals, to merchandising rights from jersey and apparel sales.

With this in mind, we propose a similar model between the International Olympic Committee and participating Olympians, including but not limited to income generated from broadcast rights; tickets sold for all Olympic competitive events, both during and leading up to the games; and novelty, program and concession sales.

However, Olympians must also pull their weight by working with the International Olympic Committee to strategically promote the games and its sponsors via social media and other online channels (personal websites, blogs, email marketing, et cetera). This program should be co-developed by the International Olympic Committee, its local federations, and a designated group of Olympians.

Allow athletes to post content of the actual competition.

Currently, Rule 40 prohibits Olympians from sharing content of the actual competition, which is a major missed opportunity for the International Olympic Committee, because fans are becoming more loyal to athletes than to institutions like the Olympics.

That is, fans are more willing to follow and engage with content posted by athletes, so long as it's interesting, relevant and authentic.

By equipping Olympians with the rights (and tools) to share photos and videos of their competitions — both in real-time and after-the-fact — fans will get a "360-degree" experience of the Olympics through the lens of their favorite athletes. This only benefits the International Olympic Committee, since more fans will be plugged into the Olympics, therefore increasing the advertising and marketing value of the product.

Indirect Monetization

If Olympians aren't allowed to post or talk about their personal brand sponsors or mention any branded products during the games, at least give them the opportunity to monetize their Facebook and YouTube accounts via the YouTube Partner Program and Facebook Instant Articles.

Through these programs, the athletes would retain a percentage of the revenue that YouTube and Facebook generate by running (random) ads against the athletes' content on these channels.

Athlete Branding and Marketing Support

Lastly, since Rule 40 doesn't allow Olympians to post or talk about their personal brand sponsors or mention any branded products, the International Olympic Committee should provide athlete branding and marketing guides, resources and even training that will enable Olympians to build an ever-growing fan base, increase fan engagement, and monetize their athlete brands.

By investing in the Olympians, the Olympics will stay relevant (via the athletes) even during its hiatus — when the games and International Olympic Committee are mostly in the periphery.

Since fans will remain engaged with their favorite Olympians day in and day out, the next Olympic Games will enjoy even greater ratings, which benefits all parties involved.

About the Author:

Josh Hoffman is the Chief Strategy Officer at The Institute for Athlete Branding and Marketing. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.