I hope you cashed in on your “JEAH” glasses and got your fill of Debbie Phelps pushing her son Michael into a pool.
That’s because beginning today, the USOC’s “rule 40” goes into effect. This is a rule that bans any advertising between July 18th and three days after the end of the Olympics that includes the images, likenesses, or other endorsements of Olympic athletes.
The rule is commonly associated with “ambush marketing,” or the USOC’s aversion to companies’ efforts to become associated with the Olympics without paying the toll by becoming an official USOC partner.
This means companies like Subway (who have been hit by the USOC in the past) won’t be able to play Michael Phelps on their commercials, at least in the United States, through the Olympics – at least not without Phelps risking Olympic disqualification.
The rule seems to date to the days when most Olympians were true “amateurs”. At that point, the rule could be justified as an athlete protection as it helped protect athletes from unknowingly become professionals. In the modern era, though, the rule is used largely to protect the interests of the USOC’s partners and the value of their Olympic Team sponsorships:
However, to protect against ambush marketing; prevent unauthorized commercialization of the Games; and to protect the integrity of athletes’ performance at the Games, the IOC places certain limits on how a Participant’s image can be exploited during the Rule 40 Period.
Waivers can be granted, but they’re usually not to anyone who is a competitor of a USOC partner – which is to say, not very often. It’s more likely that a swimmer could be granted a waiver to wear an alternatively-branded suit to the medal ceremony as they take place shortly after races, but those decisions are handled on a case-by-case basis.
Your favorite Olympians won’t completely disappear from the airwaves, however. For example, Lochte’s latest inspirational AT&T commercial, will still be allowed as an official sponsor. Natalie Coughlin and her P&G commercials should still be running as well.
To read more about the USOC’s Rule 40, check out this pamphlet that they put out in 2011.