Olympic brand - assets and liabilities

Por: Benoit Seguin e Holger Preuss.

Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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The foundation of the Olympic system has been established on a set of Olympic ideals that have been promoted as its core values. Over the years, these ideals have been “packaged” and “communicated” to a mass audience via extensive worldwide television coverage. In a 1999 brand study conducted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), it was found that the strongest brand attributes transcended “sports” and featured the Olympic values [1]. This has made the Olympic brand an attractive proposition for a multitude of corporations (broadcasters, firms from various industries) who have invested more than US $10 billion since 1984 [2].While few would argue that the power of Olympic brand has contributed in making the “marriage” with TOP sponsors a success, recent events such as doping and corruptions from within the system has raised serious concerns from partners and other stakeholders.


This analysis was conducted following international quantitative and qualitative research. First, a 45 item questionnaire was administered in four countries (Canada, USA, France and Germany) to a total of 3435 respondents. Second, a total of 25 interviews were conducted with executives representing TOP partners and Olympic executives (IOC, OCOGs). The analysis of both studies was done using Aaker’s model [3] of brand equity as a model.  


The analysis of the two studies led to the identification of a number of assets and liabilities associated with the Olympic brand.

Study One (four-country): From a consumer standpoint, interest in the Olympic Games remains strong. Consumers seem to be aware of the importance of sponsorship for the Games and the value it brings to the Olympic Games. However, clutter, ambush marketing and high level of consumer confusions were identified as major problems to the Olympic property.

Study Two (Interviews): TOP partners and industry experts overwhelmingly suggested that Olympic ideals were the “core” or the “essence” of Olympic brand. It was believed that the ideals provided partners with a unique marketing platform, not available in other properties, which defined meanings and context of values toward consumers.  Consequently, the offering of brand associations that other properties can’t offer or imitate provided the partners with a “point of differentiation” or “competitive advantage”. These were strong assets to Olympic brand. The key liabilities associated with the brand were identified as: i) failure to live up to brand promise (doping, scandals, cheating);  ii) lack of brand control (cluttered environment, ambush marketing, lack of brand consistency); iii) not investing in the brand (lack of integrated marketing communications strategy, lack of PR programs); iv) organizational structure (multinational business run like a family business, lack of marketing structure) and; v) lack of a true understanding and commitment to brand by NOCs (lack of marketing expertise in NOCs) and sponsors/suppliers/licensees (too many ends touching brand with different level of expertise and objectives). 

Discussion / Conclusions

While our two studies indicated that Olympic brand enjoyed tremendous assets, a number of important liabilities such as clutter, doping and scandals were also identified.  According to David Aaker, a leading academic in brand research, the increased emphasis upon “price” and profit maximization have resulted into the deterioration of industries into commodity-like business areas [3]. As suggested by the TOP partners, it is believed that the increased in resources towards brand-building activities will develop points of differentiation. The problem of brand building, identified by both Aaker and TOP partners, were in the long-term nature of the process in a world of extreme pressures for delivering short term performances. Thus, a true understanding and commitment from all levels of the Olympic system will be needed if long-term brand equity is to be achieved.  The outcome will help managers fully exploit the brand assets in order to maximize the performance of the Olympic business.


  1. IOC (2001).  Marketing Matters, 18, 1-12Aaker, D.A. (1991). 
  2. Managing Brand Equity: Capitalizing on the Value of a Brand Name.  New York:  The Free Press. International Olympic Committee (June, 2001).  
  3. IOC (June, 2001). Working with Olympic Brand. Sponsor workshop, Athens.




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