How tainted is the Olympic brand for sponsors?

Jamie Mackin of Livewire outlines how companies will be handling the bad publicity from Rio...

How tainted is the Olympic brand for sponsors?

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Even before Rio 2016 kicked off two weeks ago, there had been months, if not years, of coverage on how ill-prepared Brazilian officials were to hold the Olympic Games and since the torch has been lit, there have only been further, more diverse, problems for the brand to deal with.

Ireland has unfortunately been at the centre of many of them and with allegations of corruption flying around, it would be understandable if sponsors were less than keen to build major campaigns around the Games.

Jamie Mackin of sports and entertainment marketing firm Livewire joined Business Breakfast to assess how the controversy will affect the companies throwing their name in the ring with the Olympic brand. 

Of course, there are obvious benefits when you consider 3.6 billion people in total will have tuned in to watch the events, with 95% of people internationally recognising the Olympic brand and identifying with its ideals and values.

"That's an immensely powerful platform for brands to engage, at a level that you can't really replicate," siad Mackin.

But have those values become tainted?

"I think so. I think that's unquestionable. I'm sitting here trying to talk about the reputation of the Olympic Games – that's not a good place to be for any sponsor.

"However," Mackin continued, "there is a unique spirit about Olympic Games. Not many competitions do you really cherish second and third. There is a heritage there, and it's full of amazing stories; compelling stories.

"Yes, this has been a terrible Olympic Games from an Irish perspective. From a brand point of view, in terms of some of the negative commentary.

"But there've also been wonderful stories. Just look at [Thomas] Barr yesterday, the O'Donovan Brothers, Annalise Murphy. These guys provide the really positive narrative that sponsors really want to attach to."

Mackin believes there are ways that businesses can safeguard themselves if certain aspects of a sport are brought into disrepute.

"We will encourage sponsors at Livewire to be smart, to have strategies that protect themselves from potential crisis.

"[By] having very clear decision-making at the beginning, knowing what you're going to do, having a communications campaign that doesn't necessarily pin all your hopes on one person or one particular outcome but engages a wider community.

"Electric Ireland's campaign is a good example of that. Their campaign is 'The Power Within' – that taps into all of us. There's a common truth in that. That's a smart strategy.

"P&G, on a global level, have for a number of years had a very successful campaign where they speak to moms.

"So you can use the asset very wisely and be careful not to be embroiled in the controversy that might arise."

Getting specific, Mackin thinks amateur boxing has suffered a particularly bad commercial blow.

"Boxing has had a tough few weeks... This will hurt.

"Traditionally sports like boxing, smaller sports... their sponsorship and their commercial relationships tend to sit within the fraternity of the boxing community. But what the Olympics does is it gives it a platform to speak to all of us.

"It's going to be a challenge, certainly, in the short term."

Inevitably, the likes of Katie Taylor and Michael Conlan will pull the sport through in Ireland

"When you have champions and really strong, compelling stories like that, brands listen."

Looking ahead, despite all that has gone on, Mackin believes the big, global sponsors will see Tokyo 2020 as a different event entirely, based in a different country with a different culture.

"Absolutely, that's the only way they'll look at it. For them, it's a fresh start."