Rule 40, #NoBlackout, and Why Olympic Sponsorship is Broken

(the major Olympic sponsors, courtesy

If you follow any track and field athletes on social media, you may have noticed them tweeting with hash tags like #noblackout. Or maybe you saw a flurry of activity a few weeks ago where they frantically sent “one last thanks” to various sponsors. The International Olympic Committee has a blackout on athletes promoting sponsors during the Olympics, which isn’t unreasonable. However, if your sponsor is Nike or Adidas, there is no blackout. In other words, athletes not sponsored by one of these two companies cannot thank the businesses that supported them and brought them to the Olympics.

According to apparel company Oiselle:

Big deal, right? Yeah it is a big deal and here’s why. Athletes in this sport aren’t your NBA, NFL players with a house on Cribs (that’s still a thing, right? no?) they are often working a day job, training 5 hours a day and struggling to buy food. They finally land a sponsor and get to train full time (if they are lucky), if it’s a smaller company it can be a big percentage out of marketing dollars to sponsor a talent. Then when this athlete in, say, the 10,000m finally makes it to a world stage with NBC coverage! Sorry, you’re out. Nike is in. And not only is your athlete wearing head to toe Nike, but you are silenced and so is your athlete. Not a word about the sponsors that have helped them reach their goals. Unless, again it’s Nike or another official Olympic sponsor.

Let’s be cynical business people for a moment. Hard, I know. Because we are all guts and heart for the sport. But why, why would you as a company spend money to sponsor an athlete that gets minimal media coverage until the Olympics? AND at said Olympics they can’t wear your gear, talk about your gear and you can’t talk about them?

Remember, pro athletes often don’t make much money. So it has to sting even more that at a point that can define your career and future, you lose access to a sponsor or a bonus if you wear their gear on television. Instead, you promote a company that isn’t paying you anything. This whole system is horribly broken. If sponsorship is allowed in the Olympics, then allow all athletes to promote their sponsors. If you don’t wants the Olympics to be a giant billboard, then don’t just limit it to a few names. I am sure there are plenty of ways to promote Nike at the Olympics without forcing a non-Nike sponsored runner to wear Nike shoes. Track and Field is in focus for a few reasons –it’s track athletes that are fighting this the most, Oiselle makes running gear, and ask yourself, when was the last time you turned on the television and saw a running event not called “New York City Marathon” or “Boston Marathon”?

Oiselle has put together a chart of athletes competing in Track and Field events, their twitter handles and sponsors. Rather than just complain about the blackout, they want to encourage everyone to tweet about the athletes and their sponsors during the events. Yes, it’s free publicity, but it encourages companies to support track and field and shows that there is still a strong business reason to sponsor an athlete, even if the blackout robs them of some exposure.

The chart is way too big to share it all, but hit Oiselle’s blog for the full breakdown. They also have a printable version if that’s easier to read. The twitter hash tags are #noblackout, #wedemandchange, and #rule40.

And for anyone who wants to hear more from the sponsor side, the founder of Oiselle has a video explaining Rule 40 and the #blackout movement:

Via meals and miles



Categories: Outdoors


1 reply

  1. I’m not so sympathetic to this argument. The value of Olympic sponsorship to the IOC would be diluted without exclusivity. Surely there is value to, say, Asics, if Ryan Hall wins an Olympic medal and can then be plastered on ads in running magazines, etc., for the next several years, and the official sponsor can be thanked when the games are over. It seems to me that the track and field athletes arguing loudest are the very ones who have multi-million dollar sponsorship deals already.

    I can understand an athlete who has worked out a sponsorship deal with a non-official company forced to wear the togs of another company, but I do know that they are allowed to wear whichever shoes, use whichever javelin or pole they want, etc. – its just the uniform that cannot be otherwise branded.