The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has released an updated Rule 40, allowing athletes and their personal sponsors more freedom to market during the Olympic Games.
Rule 40 is an Olympic charter bylaw that has become increasingly controversial. The rule exists to protect the International Olympic Committee and its official sponsors from ‘ambush marketing’, or unofficial sponsors profiting off of the Olympic brand. The rule mandates a blackout period from 9 days before the Olympics to 3 days after the closing ceremonies, preventing athletes from promoting their sponsors and preventing sponsors from using any sort of Olympic imagery in their advertisements. Per a BBC report, even the words “2016” and “Olympian” were off-limits, along with pictures of medals.
The new Rule 40 loosens those restrictions a bit, though much of the Olympic imagery still continues to be prohibited. Among the key changes, per the USOPC press release:
- Athletes can now thank personal sponsors during the Olympics.
- Athletes can receive ‘congratulatory messages’ from personal sponsors during the Olympics.
- Personal sponsors of athletes can now “engage in generic advertising” during the Olympics.
- However, Olympic and Team USA imagery are still off-limits for companies that aren’t official Olympic sponsors.
Rule 40 will officially apply to the period from July 14 through August 11, 2020. Those are the dates on either end of the 2020 Olympics. Paralympic blackout dates will be announced later.
The full text of Rule 40 is here. Athlete sponsors can now apply for Rule 40 permissions, and this document lays out the application process.
The full text has a number of image examples of permitted and non-permitted advertisements, many of them based on social media. A few key examples we’ve gleaned from the document:
- The Olympic rings, the Team USA logo and other official Olympic logos can’t be used in advertisements or social media posts advertising an unofficial sponsor. For companies, that means they can post pictures of a sponsored athlete competing, but have to find photos that don’t include Team USA or Olympic logos. It’s unclear if that will include the American flag swim caps Team USA usually wears, but it would probably rule out photos where a Team USA suit or warmup is visible. Photos taken within an Olympic venue are also not allowed.
- If a company posts a photo of an athlete, they can identify them as an Olympian – but only if they “balance” that with a non-Olympic accomplishment. For example: Katie Ledecky, Olympian & World Champion.
- If athletes want to thank their sponsors on social media, they can only use photos of themselves that don’t include Olympic or Team USA logos. In addition, the athlete can only mention the sponsor once, either in the photo or the copy (i.e. the caption on social media). A generic photo with the caption “thank you [sponsor]” is permitted, but a photo with the sponsor logo could only have a generic caption that doesn’t mention the company.