Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Petrobras Finds Money for Olympic Sponsorships Amid Cost Cutting

  • Oil producer sponsors Brazilians competing in judo, fencing
  • Company’s overall sponsorship budget fell by 27% in 2016

The highly-indebted oil company at the center of Brazil’s biggest corruption scandal still has cash to support top athletes in the run-up to the Olympic games being held in its home city.

Rio de Janeiro-based Petrobras has expanded its budget for athletes, even as it cut overall sponsorship spending by 27 percent this year to 228 million reais ($70 million). To free up funds for top Brazilian athletes who compete in lesser-watched sports such as judo and weightlifting, Petrobras has cut spending on cultural events such as Carnival parades, as well as oil conferences, said Luis Nery, its executive-manager for communications and branding.

“Management decided to cut the budget to adapt the company to its new reality,” Nery said in an interview at Petrobras’ headquarters in Rio. “We cut on culture and events, but raised sports to focus on the Olympics due to the timing, and on motor sports because of our core business.”

The sports budget, which includes the Olympics and Formula 1, was
raised to 98 million reais in 2016, from 66 million reais in 2015. In mid-2015 the company, formally known as Petroleo Brasileiro SA, sponsored an additional 27 athletes who are competing in the Summer Games.

“We gave additional assistance in the final stretch for the best-performing athletes, so that they can do their best,” Nery said.

The company sponsors boxing, fencing, judo, weight lifting, rowing and taekwondo, avoiding the more popular sports such as swimming, soccer and gymnastics where athletes have an easier time finding corporate backers.

Petrobras has slashed planned investments by half last year to navigate lower oil prices and free up funds for debt payments. The company is also defending itself against a class action lawsuit in the U.S. stemming from a vast pay-to-play scandal where company executives took bribes from a group of contractors.

Adriana Araujo, a female boxer who has been backed by the oil producer since 2012, said she hasn’t felt the financial crisis affecting the company.

“Nothing changed in my case; they’ve been paying me the same,” she said. “Before I would almost never travel, and now I can go to tournaments and competitions, it really makes a difference.”

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