In Greece, an Inside Track for Some
By Kate Carlisle
Costas' nerves are on edge. It's 10:45 a.m., and he can't get his usual frappe, a coffee-and-milk concoction that's one of Greece's most popular picker-uppers. Twenty-five-year-old Costas is working at the cafe in the Olympic Village international zone for the duration of the Athens 2004 Games. And until he sets foot out of the Olympic area each day, he can't have his fix. The snack bar where he serves Coke and unwraps sandwiches eight hours per day "isn't allowed to serve frappes since that could mean fewer sales for Coke (KO ), one of the Olympic sponsors," he explains.
Coca-Cola isn't the only sponsor shooting for a clear playing field at the Olympics. For the 32 companies that poured $701 million into Athens 2004, exclusivity is a must. "We obviously want to get the most for our sponsor spending," says Scott McCune, vice-president of Coca-Cola World Wide Sports Entertainment, which paid $60 million to be one of the main sponsors. To prevent anyone from violating a sponsor's exclusivity, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has drawn up rules known as the Clean Venue Policy.
So, 70,000 guards and 45,000 Olympic volunteers are monitoring not only security threats, but possible breaches of the Clean Venue Policy. Even mouses and computer screens in the athlete training centers are being eyeballed for stray logos. "Our role is to protect all of our sponsor categories and actively monitor ambush activity," says the IOC's Karen Webb. "That's what our Brand Protection Team was set up for." Even the government got involved: Prior to the Games, Greece's Parliament passed legislation allowing only paying sponsors to advertise directly outside the Olympic venues.
Everyone from athletes to journalists is being asked to toss away their Pepsis and finish off Pizza Hut (PEP ) delicacies before entering Olympic venues. "I was asked to turn my shirt inside out at the entrance to a match, because the logo was too large and I was sitting in front-row seats, where the TV cameras would have caught sight of me for sure," says one exasperated spectator. In fact, the guidelines published by Athens 2004 say spectators may be refused admission if they're carrying food or drinks made by nonsponsor companies.
NOT TOO "COMMERCIAL"?
Sponsors themselves are feeling the eagle eye of the Brand Protection Team. "There is often a fine line between infringements and misuse of logos and banners," says Webb, who adds that the number of advertisers was restricted to avoid having the Games seem "too commercial."
Despite random attempts at guerrilla advertising, such as the tutu-clad crasher who made waves at the Aug. 17 diving competition, IOC organizers say there has been "almost complete compliance" with the Clean Venue Policy. And the offender at the diving event, who had the name of a Canadian Internet betting site painted across his torso, was merely "trying to get his wife's attention on TV," local papers reported.
Given the vigilance of the Brand Protection Team, such incidents will likely remain few and far between. And Costas will have to wait until after Aug. 30, when the Games end, to enjoy frappes when and where he wants.
Carlisle is a freelancer for BusinessWeek in Athens
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