HBO Sports recently created a detailed report on the IOC. The RIO Olympics do not come off well. Pollution, doping, corruption and athlete exploitation are at the top of the list. It is a fascinating story that seems to play out with each Olympic Games.
This issue of fair compensation for the athletes is high on the list. The number discussed in the report was $4 billion. The question is whether and how this money from rights fees and sponsors should be allocated to the athletes. Is (and should) there be an Olympic Ed O’Bannon?
In many respects this starts to sound like the debates about college sports in the US. These debates are usually cast in terms of fairness. to the athletes versus arguments about the purity of the sport or appropriateness of academic institutions running pro teams.
These debates are at best incomplete without considering the role of marketing and brands. While college football players supply the product, the brands owned by the colleges or the Olympics is what drives fan interest. Leonard Fournette is a Heisman favorite and a huge star. But does he draw fans to LSU. the truth is he probably doesn’t (in the short-term). In the long-term its stars like Fournette that create the brand equity.
Likewise, in the case of the Olympics – we could ask how much interest in driven by the current athletes? and how much is driven by the attachment people have to the Olympics (the brand).
I think (in the US) the Olympic brand is about Carl Lewis, Bruce Jenner, Mary Lou Retton, Jesse Owens, Cassius Clay or many others. It remains to be seen who from the current crop breaks out.
The real problem, I believe is one of equity. This is true in both college sports and the Olympics. The fundamental issue is who gets to harvest the value of the brands. The problem – to many folks – is that this seems to just end up being the people that control the institutions at any one moment. The athletes that have built the brands (the stars of the past) and the athletes that create the product (this years athletes) tend to get left out in the cold.