Taped logo
Luca Bruno  /  AP file
Michaela Dorfmeister of Austria sports a taped-over logo on her  helmet as she celebrates after winning the Women's downhill at the Turin games. Olympic officials enforce arcane rules on advertising to maintain an image that appears less commercialized than other professional sports.
updated 2/17/2006 5:46:16 PM ET 2006-02-17T22:46:16

Samsung can’t put its name on its popular flat-screen televisions, even in its own VIP lounge. Workers at Winter Olympic venues are taping over the Dell logos on laptops in the press boxes. The Austrians had to cover up the spiders on their Spyder jackets.

The advertising police are out in force at the Turin Games, enforcing arcane rules with a vigor unmatched at Olympics past.

Under International Olympic Committee rules:

  • Sponsor logos are allowed, but only in certain places;
  • Non-sponsors are out, no matter where;
  • Venues must be kept free of advertising.

Even bottles of Coca-Cola, one of the Games’ biggest sponsors, have been ordered stashed out of view of the TV cameras.

“We don’t want the Olympic Games becoming, let’s say, a Formula 1 event where sponsors are on cars, on banners, everywhere,” said Cecilia Gandini, the head of brand protection for the Turin organizing committee. Gandini can recite Olympic advertising regulations from memory and spends her days touring venues in search of violations.

“We want to protect the value of the Olympic Games,” she said.

The Turin clampdown underscores a tension inherent in producing the Olympics.

The games couldn’t happen without huge financial commitments by corporate sponsors and broadcast partners. For the four-year Olympiad that includes the Turin Games and the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, the IOC says sponsors and broadcasters have paid more than $4 billion — up from the $3.6 billion in such revenue the IOC collected for the 2002 Salt Lake City and 2004 Athens games.

At the same time, the International Olympic Committee and host cities want to keep the focus on sports and avoid criticisms of overcommercialization.

“The IOC works hard to protect the investment of our partners. Without their contribution the Olympic Games couldn’t happen in the way they do,” said IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies. “The balance is working extremely well.”

The quest to maintain that balance leads to decisions that often seem silly. Bode Miller can’t race in Sestriere with a decal for Italian pasta maker Barilla — one of his chief financial backers — on his helmet because personal sponsors aren’t allowed. Nike Inc. designed patches to cover its trademark swoosh on the neck and back of the shirts for the American curling team while leaving the one on the breast. Rules permit one small trademark per garment.

Team Austria ran afoul of the IOC this week with jackets made by Spyder Active Sports that carry both the Spyder name and the company’s trademark spider logo.

“They thought the spider wasn’t a trademark. They covered it with tape,” team spokesman Raimund Fabi said.

Sometimes the rules seem downright bizarre. At the pavilion of Samsung Electronics Co. of South Korea in a pleasant piazza set aside for exhibitions by official sponsors, flat-panel plasma TVs line the walls but don’t bear the Samsung name. Neither do the laptops on display. The reason: Samsung is the IOC’s official provider for mobile phones and wireless equipment. Panasonic has the TV sponsorship, while Lenovo Group Limited is supplying computers.

“That’s the rules,” said Sonia Kim, a Samsung spokeswoman. “We have to respect Panasonic’s rights — even though we’re the largest producer of plasma panels.”

Part of the appeal of an Olympic sponsorship, according to sponsors and the IOC, is the ban on venue advertising that makes the Olympics appear less commercialized than professional sports.

And Turin officials have been vigilant in their campaign against infringement — perhaps excessively so.

At the Palavela, workers policed the stands of the figure- and short track speed skating venue to ward off “ambush marketing” — attempts by non-sponsor companies to sneak logos and brand names on TV for free advertising. The workers handed reporters swatches of black electrical tape to cover the logos of Dell Inc. laptops and told them to strip the labels off soda bottles or place them out of sight.

Davies, the IOC spokeswoman, said that sort of policing was unusual: “There may be some volunteers who have been overly enthusiastic or misunderstanding the degree to which they need to apply the policy.”

Not so, said an unrepentant Gandini, the brand protection chief. “They may have been in view of the camera,” she said.

One man repeatedly unfurled a banner for an online casino known for outrageous marketing stunts and Palavela workers had to ask him several times to remove it before he relented. The  company declined to comment on the record about the stunt.

Sponsors believe the rules and the policing pay off. Samsung’s Kim said research showed the company’s brand awareness jumped 6 to 7 percent in six major countries because of its sponsorship of the Athens Olympics.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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