Olympics crackdown on sponsorship parasites

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THE ORGANISERS of next year's summer Olympics in Atlanta are threatening unprecedented measures against companies that profit from the games' five- ringed image without paying sponsorship fees.

The plans include hitting back at corporations that attempt "parasite marketing" campaigns giving the impression they are officially connected with the games when they are not.

Even small entrepreneurs, from T-shirt vendors to Greek restaurants, need to beware. Under a 1978 US law - the Amateur Sports Act - the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has a "supertrademark" over any Olympic symbols or words.

Organisers cite an advertising campaign by Wendy's International, a hamburger chain, during the Lillehammer winter games in Norway as the most egregious of many recent cases of parasite marketing.

US viewers of the games saw Wendy's founder, David Thomas, promoting his burgers in a winter sports setting with a former US champion alongside him, tending to give the impression the company was an Olympic sponsor. McDonald's, a genuine sponsor, was enraged.

The Atlanta organisers are setting aside $10m (£6.25m) to try to ensure that similar stunts are not tried next year. Within 48 hours of offending advertisements surfacing, follow-up adverts will expose them.

The promise of strict action has been critical to attempts by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) to attract official sponsors, some of which must pay up to $40m for the privilege. Those already signed up include Coca-Cola, which is based in Atlanta, IBM, Kodak, Xerox and the car makers General Motors and BMW.

"It is a survival issue for us," said Derby Coker, an ACOG spokesman. Around 80 per cent of the games' revenue is expected from commercial contracts.

Eyebrows have been raised, however, at steps taken to protect the Olympic trade mark. An Atlanta artist wanted the trade mark "USAtlanta" to market her works. ACOG objected, saying that it evoked the 1996 games.

"I think that's stepping over the line a little bit. I find it hard to believe that anyone is going to misconstrue her logo as being designed to profit from the games," said John Bevilaqua, a sports sponsorship consultant in Atlanta, who none the less sympathises with the organisers.

Perhaps the oddest case is that of Theodorus Vatzakas, who opened a Greek restaurant in Atlanta in 1983 - long before the city won the right to stage the 1996 games - and called it the "Olympic". In 1991, he was advised by ACOG that he was infringing the 1978 Act and would have to change the name. Eventually he did, at a cost to himself of $1,000, calling it "Olympia Restaurant and Pizza".

"I am very upset about this," he complained, "but I changed the name because I don't have any money to fight these kind of people. Really, I think it's crazy."