Lecture Focuses on Oly Commercialism

Imagine an Olympic games when every athlete and team was announced with the name of a corporate sponsor. The Jaguar British team would race against the Goodyear American team after the National Rifle Association sponsored starting gun began the race. The Ford Motor Company finish line would determine who won that round of the Bud Light Games.

Stephen Wenn used a videotape of this scenario to open his lecture “Television, corporate sponsorship and the winter Olympics.” He discussed the commercialism associated with the Olympics and how this has changed the Games.

The Olympics are televised by 180 nations and viewed by 10.5 billion people. This provides financial security to the Games, but some recent events have caused people to question the commercialism of the Olympics.

“The Salt Lake City scandal prompted questions about the way in which the International Olympic Committee does business,” Wenn said.

This scandal, which led to the resignation of many committee members and the expulsion of 10 others alerted the world to the problems with the bid process of cities seeking to sponsor the Olympic games.

Another recent issue that gained the world’s attention was the contested campaign for the IOC’s presidency.

After reminding listeners of the problems within the IOC, Wenn attempted to address how the Olympics became commercialized.

“The transition was not painless,” Wenn said. “Commercial revenues served as a source of friction.”

The first major source of revenue for the Olympic games was television. This began in 1958 when Avery Brundage decided to sell television rights to the Olympics. Organizers were worried about engaging in business because they knew the distribution of funds would cause contention.

Wenn then told the audience about the problems surrounding each set of Olympic Winter Games.

For the 1988 Olympic Winter Games, ABC signed a contract for $309 million for the television rights in the United States. The European Broadcasting Union paid only $5.7 million for the rights to the same Games. According to Wenn, this had the United States Olympic Committee enraged.

“The United States was effectively funding the Olympic movement,” Wenn said.

In response, the United States passed the Amateur Sports Act in the late 1970s, which gave the U.S. Olympic Committee exclusive ownership of the rings within the United States.

Because of this, the USOC is “without a doubt the richest national Olympic committee in the world,” according to Wenn.

The trend of selling Olympic television rights began when NBC negotiated a contract for rights to multiple Olympic games. According to Wenn.

Wenn ended his lecture by discussing the corporate sponsorships of the Olympic games, as well as the growth of the Olympic events.

The logistical challenge of staging the Games is immense, Wenn said. “A thorough review with a mandate to decrease the size is necessary.”

During his conclusion, Wenn also discussed the things the IOC could do to improve its image. According to Wenn, the IOC should emphasize the good works that are done through the Olympics and help athletes in developing countries.