Serena lets the alligator out of the bag

9 Jul

Five-times Wimbledon Champion Serena Williams has instilled fear into LOCOG and its sponsors by doing the one thing at Wimbledon that it can’t control at the forthcoming Olympics Games – bringing non sponsored brands into the stadiums.

Serena ignored the All England Lawn Tennis Club rules throughout the two-week tournament – that clearly stated that players are forbidden from showing non-sponsor drink brands within the ground during the competition – by bringing a Gatorade bottle to her post-match press conference on Saturday night. Fortunately, TV producers were able to edit it out of the picture and the pesky drink wasn’t given any airtime. But, is this her problem? Not really. Does she care? Unlikely. If anything, she’s given the brand more attention by breaking the rules.

To you and I this not something to make a fuss about. And frankly, no one would have noticed if the press hadn’t started shouting about it. Yet, event organisers continue to offer sports sponsors exclusive brand presence which cannot be guaranteed.

Some brands that don’t enter into official event sponsorship packages have tried to get their exposure by going through the stadiums’ back doors and taking ownership of the athletes themselves. Sports personalities like Serena Williams (Gatorade), David Beckham (Adidas) and Jessica Ennis (Powerade) all have brands fighting over them, and with so many rules and regulations it’s becoming difficult for their teams to work out what props are suitable and when.

London 2012 organisers will need to do everything they can to keep sponsors happy. Especially after recent research by Marketing magazine shows that re-call rates for companies assoiciated with the Olympic Games are disappointingly low – some consumers even assume that non sponsors Nike, Virgin and energy suppier E.On are all involved. Of the people asked, it was worldwide Olympic partners Coca-Cola and McDonald’s that came out on top, with Lloyds, Visa and EDF completing the top five. However, the top two have been criticised in the press recently, detracting from their association success.

A few weeks ago I blogged that Olympic sponsorship guarantees brands talkability inside and outside the stadium, regardless of exclusivity or not. It shouldn’t matter if some slip through the net. It’s not the branding people will be watching the Games for, it’s the sport (naturally). Even with the organisers playing by the book, the players (like Serena) may disregard the rules because it’s not on their mind or their trainers – and nor should it be.

With 48 medals on team GB’s target list, they’ll need to focus on their performance, not petty branding regulations.

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