LONDON — Not just a sporting event, the Olympics present a fashion dilemma. That Pepsi T-shirt and Nike sneakers may seem perfect for a trip to Olympic Park – but will they fall foul of the brand police?
Olympic organizers scrambled Friday to clarify their restrictions on branding, after the head of the London games suggested a shirt bearing the logo of Pepsi – rival to Olympic sponsor Coca-Cola – would probably be banned from Olympic venues.
“No, you probably wouldn’t be walking in with a Pepsi T-shirt because Coca-Cola are our sponsors and they have put millions of pounds into this project but also millions of pounds into grass-roots sport,” games chief Sebastian Coe told BBC radio. “It is important to protect those sponsors.”
Rubbish, says the London organizing committee – the very body that Coe heads.
“Any individual coming into our venues can wear any item of clothing, branded or otherwise,” the committee said in a “mythbuster” fact sheet.
But, it added, there could be a problem “if large groups come in together wearing clearly visible branding/marketing.” That could be classed as “ambush marketing” by nonsponsors.
Organizers want to head off stunts like the one at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when the Bavaria brewing company outfitted some 30 Dutch women in mini-dresses in its trademark orange for the Netherlands’ opening game against Denmark.
Adidas is another big sponsor, but Coe told the BBC that visitors wearing Nike sneakers would “probably” be allowed in.
The organizing committee insists Nike shoes are definitely OK for spectators – but not necessarily for games staff or participants. Guidelines sent to children who will be forming a guard of honor for the athletes’ parade next Friday have been advised to wear “unbranded or Adidas shoes.”
The confusion follows a swirl of rumors about the event’s complex commercial rules, including reports of visitors to Olympic Park being forced to carry their potato chips in a clear plastic bag because the brand was not an Olympic sponsor.
The committee insists that’s another Olympic myth.
Games organizers are vigilant about protecting the rights of sponsors such as McDonald’s, Adidas and Cadbury, which pay as much as $100 million each to be official sponsors during each Olympic cycle.
The logos of competitors are banned from games venues, and under a special Olympic law passed by the British Parliament, businesses can be barred from using words and phrases – including “London 2012” or even gold, silver and bronze – that suggest an Olympic association.