Why Riding the #Rio2016 Wave Could Land Your Business in Legal Trouble

Why Riding the #Rio2016 Wave Could Land Your Business in Legal Trouble
Image credit: YASUYOSHI CHIBA / Staff | Getty Images
3 min read

You may have enough corporate savvy to know that slapping the Olympic rings on an image of your company’s product is a huge no-no. But with the Rio Games just over a week away, be aware: You can’t use the words “Olympic,” “Olympian” or “Go for the Gold,” either. And if you can believe it, even the hashtags #Rio2016 and #TeamUSA are off limits to any entity that isn’t an official sponsor.

This year, the International Olympic Committee has loosened its advertising rules, allowing companies that sponsor individual athletes, rather than the Rio Olympic Games overall, to run ads leading up to and during the Games. But there’s a catch: They can’t use any intellectual property that is trademarked by the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Related: 5 Things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Rio's Preparation for the Olympics

“Commercial entities may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts," USOC chief marketing officer Lisa Baird wrote in a letter obtained by ESPN.

From there, it should go without saying that only official sponsors and the media are allowed to post photos from the Games and Trials. Companies can’t re-post content shared by via the official Olympics social accounts.

So far, at least one company has gotten called out for failing to adhere to these strict guidelines. Oiselle, which sponsors runner Kate Grace, posted an image of Grace winning an 800-meter race during the Trials. The USOC contacted Oiselle, which then blurred all instances of Olympic property in the art.

Related: What Are They? Domain Names, Business Entity Names, Trademarks.

Non-official sponsors that are running ads during the Olympics had to begin running them in March and must run them continuously throughout the duration of the Games. Many brands were reluctant to participate under such an agreement, given that they did not know which of their sponsored athletes would qualify for the Games and therefore could not prepare ads featuring those who would be competing, according to ESPN.

This is a public service announcement to any and all companies: Do not mention the Olympics in any way, shape or form when promoting your products. Even the simplest nod to the games on your company’s Twitter account with #Rio2016 could trigger a phone call from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

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