Sponsors Win Big With Coveted Olympic Partnerships

When millions of people around the world tune in to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games starting tomorrow, they will be watching more than just basketball, swimming and gymnastics.

Thanks to millions of dollars in sponsorships and aggressive marketing campaigns, Coca-Cola, Visa, McDonald's and a slew of other global and Chinese sponsors will also be the face of the Olympics and are expected to win big when it comes to attracting viewers' attention.

On the other hand, those who don't hold the coveted sponsorships -- such as Pepsi, MasterCard and American Express -- to name a few -- will be on the back burner, at least for the next two weeks.

"Essentially they are sitting on the sidelines while their competitors are getting all the glory," said Jed Pearsall, president of Performance Research, which conducts sponsorship marketing research.

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Sponsorships for the summer Games are highly prized. And it's not just because of the worldwide audience. China has one of the largest and fastest-growing economies in the world, and the Olympics provide a unique opportunity for brands to tap into that lucrative market. Consider this: Beijing has more than 17.4 million residents -- that's more than the populations of New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Boston combined.

That type of exposure doesn't come cheap.

The top 12 Olympic partners paid a total of $866 million to the International Olympic Committee for global sponsorship rights at the 2006 winter Games in Turin, Italy, and for the Beijing Games, according to Chicago-based IEG, a sponsorship tracking firm.

Those millions are paid by companies just to have their names at the Games and to be able to use the Olympic name and logo on their advertising.

The Beijing organizing committee collected another $740 million for local sponsorship deals, estimated IEG. The International Olympic Committee sells international sponsorships while the host country arranges national deals.

Snatching Olympic sponsorships is not an easy task, especially for those who have not been previously involved. Under the contract terms, existing sponsors get the first shot at having their name associated with the next Olympic cycle.

For example, Coca-Cola has been associated with the Olympics since 1928 and has a long-term commitment through 2020. Since it gets the first shot at buying future sponsorships, the soda giant can essentially shut out rival Pepsi altogether.

Similarly, McDonald's has been the official restaurant of the Olympic Games since 1976 and is likely to keep its spot in the future.

"As long as those incumbent sponsors continue to put up the dollars, they can lock these other competitors out," said Jim Andrews, senior vice president at IEG.

Pepsi refused to comment about the Olympics. American Express and Burger King did not return calls from ABC News. A MasterCard spokesman would not say if the company had pursued the sponsorship but said it routinely reviews sponsorship opportunities.

But every once in a while, there is room for a change in the sponsorship lineup. Kodak has been a partner in the Games since 1986, with the exception of one game, according to a spokesman. But last year, Kodak announced that it was not longer feasible to continue its sponsorship. That means that some other film or camera company will have a shot at Kodak's sponsorship slot.

Overall though, these opportunities are rare.

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