When it comes to protecting intellectual property and sponsors of the Olympic Games, not even the hashtags on tweets will be beyond the scrutiny of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee.
The USOC specifically reminded the sponsors of athletes who have no sponsorship designation with it or the IOC about using trademarks like “Olympic,” “Olympian,” and “Go for the Gold” in a letter that was obtained by ESPN.
“Commercial entities may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts,” Lisa Baird, the USOC’s chief marketing officer, wrote. “This restriction includes the use of USOC’s trademarks in hashtags such as #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA.”
And, if a company is not media-related, it cannot share or re-post anything from the official Olympics account or use any photos taken at the Games. According to Baird, athletes can support a non-official sponsor during the Games and a non-sponsor can support an athlete but cannot mention the Olympics specifically.
“We need to give sponsors exclusivity to our intellectual property that is protected by U.S. law,” Baird said.
Earlier this month, the U.S. men’s basketball team posed for its official portrait and, as it always does, the logos of players who endorse companies other than Nike, an official Olympic sponsor, were covered.
— Nike Basketball (@nikebasketball) July 18, 2016
A USA tradition since 2008, when players lined up in reverse order so Coach K himself could block Dwight's adidas: pic.twitter.com/VKIHe1yH12
— Nick DePaula (@NickDePaula) July 18, 2016
“Athletes can certainly generically say, ‘Thank you for your support’ during the Games,” Baird said. “But a company that sells a sports drink certainly can’t post something from the Games on their social media page or website. They’re doing nothing but using the Olympics to sell their drink.”
For athletes who may not secure a berth in the Games until the trials and may have deals with small companies, the restrictions are unfortunate. The Oiselle company was contacted by the USOC, ESPN says, when it published art of Kate Grace winning the 800 meters in the Trials. It decided to blur images of Olympic property.
These Games will be conducted for the first time under a relaxed Rule 40, the one that has long been in place and says that non-sponsors and athletes can’t mention their relationship for a monthlong period in and around the Games. The USOC and IOC modified that to allow ads — as long as they began running in March and ran throughout the Games.
As part of a new compromise, the IOC, in concert with the USOC, allowed companies that did not have an official relationship to run ads during the Games so long as those ads started running in March and appear continuously through the Games. New Balance, which has 70 competitors in the Games, is not an IOC or USOC sponsor.
“A company like Under Armour can do that because they know that Michael Phelps is going to be in the Games,” Oiselle CEO Sally Bergesen told ESPN. “We don’t know in January which one of our athletes is going to make the Games.”