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Should Olympic Athletes be paid or show sponsor tattoos?

Nick Symmonds sporting temporary tattoo for Hanson Dodge

Marketplace Morning Report ran a story on

Nick Symmonds must cover sponsor’s tattoo during competition

runner Nick Symmonds, an American athlete’s use of sponsorships–related to a temporary tattoo on the shoulder of the athlete from a sponsor that will need to be covered during the games.

The athlete argues that given all the money the Olympics generate, (American) athletes should be paid.

The Olympics were originally about amateur athletes-but recently that has been breached as we now see NBA and NHL players participating in the Olympics, for instance.

This raises an issue of fairness on two levels.  What’s fair to American athletes, who need to devote their lives to preparing and qualifying for the games when the event itself is a major money generator?  How should resources related to the Olympics be distributed?

Teachers can extend this issue by bringing up athletes from less developed countries who don’t have access to the kind of facilities and sponsors that American athletes have.

This can be combined with the Olympic biography lesson plan to help compare the situation of American athletes with the situation of athletes from less developed countries.

Runner Nick Symmonds has incorporated himself

Alternatively, Nick Symmonds has incorporated himself, so broader business planning principles could also be used.


Hanson ran an auction and with a winning bid of $11,100, Hansen Dodge got the temporary tattoo-read NY Times story: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/05/business/media/with-a-tattoo-hanson-dodge-bets-on-nick-symmonds.html?_r=2

“Hanson Dodge, which works for clients like Trek bikes and Wilson sporting goods, submitted the winning bid in an auction on eBay in January that was conducted by the runner Nick Symmonds. He was selling the right to affix a Twitter handle to his left shoulder, in the form of a temporary tattoo, that he would wear during the 2012 track and field season, including — if he qualified — the Summer Games in London. …

“I’ve never had a problem speaking out about something that bothers me,” Mr. Symmonds said. “The biggest thing that rubs me the wrong way is that governing bodies want to control the space I feel I should control.”

The $1.7 billion in TV rights, Symmonds argues should be split among the athletes.

The International Olympic Committee says its marketing plan is to support the following, including limiting the commercialization of the games.

Student can discuss how they would allocate the revenues of the IOC.  If you’re not combining with the biography lesson plan here are a couple athletes on the opposite end of the privilege spectrum:

One, a runner  from Gaza:  http://english.pnn.ps/index.php/national/1002-palestinian-runner-uses-gaza-marathon-to-prepare-for-london-2012-olympics

Another a runner from Iraq: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=124543&page=1#.UBDNMmGe6kg

The 2012 Marketing Fact file for the Olympics can be found here: http://www.olympic.org/Documents/IOC_MARKETING/OLYMPIC-MARKETING-FACT-FILE-2012.pdf



The IOC coordinates Olympic marketing programmes with the following objectives:

  • To ensure the independent financial stability of the Olympic Movement, and thereby to assist in the worldwide promotion of Olympism.
  •  To create and maintain long-term marketing programmes, and thereby to ensure the financial security of the Olympic  Movement and the Olympic Games.
  •  To build on the successful activities developed by each Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (OCOGs) and thereby to eliminate the need to recreate the marketing structure with each Olympic Games.
  • To generate revenue to be distributed throughout the entire Olympic Movement – including the OCOGs, the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and their continental associations, the International Federations (IFs) and other recognised international sports organisations – and to provide financial support for sport in emerging nations.
  •  To ensure that the Olympic Games can be experienced by the maximum number of people throughout the world principally via broadcast coverage.
  •  To protect and promote the equity that is inherent in the Olympic image and ideals.
  •  To control and limit the commercialisation of the Olympic Games.
  •  To enlist the support of Olympic marketing partners in the promotion of the Olympic ideals

Link to Marketplace Morning Report story: http://www.marketplace.org/topics/life/london-2012/runner-nick-symmonds-business-being-olympian

If you’d like to see a video or use a video in class there are two video links at this site,  a Flotrack video and a CNBC videohttp://www.flotrack.org/coverage/248216-London-2012-Summer-Olympics-Games-XXX/video/649139-Nick-Symmonds-talks-waging-war-and-meaning-of-Olympics

Key part of the Marketplace Transcript


Symmonds: Well really I think that the athletes are only able to attend these meetings with a lot of help from their partners and their sponsors throughout the years. I’ve had so many teammates that have been forced into early retirement simply because they couldn’t make ends meet, and I also know of thousands of companies — especially back in the States — that would love to invest in these athletes, but say to the athletes: “Gosh, I’d love to invest but I’d have to be able to get a return on my investment somehow. Is there any way you could display our corporate logo anywhere at any time?” And according to the IAAF, no there’s not.

I specifically like to view this sport as trying to run a business. I’ve incorporated — Nick Symmonds, LLC. You know, to run a business, I have to be able to give my partners a return on their investment.

Horwich: Since ancient Greece, the Olympics have been an “amateur sporting competition.” Is there nothing to be said for trying to hang on — and that’s seems like what the IOC’s trying to do here — trying to hang on to some pure vestige of that?

Symmonds: I don’t know if I’d necessarily say that’s what the IOC’s trying to do. If you have $6 billion exchanging hands, it just kind of blows my mind that you’ve got 10,000 athletes who have devoted at least four years of their life to becoming part of the show, and everybody is making money, but then they look at the athletes and say: “Oh, you guys should do your job for free.” I kind of don’t understand that.

Horwich: Financially, how different are the worlds that await you if you win, or at least place — and if you don’t?

Symmonds: Well, that’s really where the financial return comes for the athletes. And that’s kind of what we all are in it for– is that if you do manage to win an Olympic gold or even in some cases just medal, the income that will come following that is substantial.

But it should be more than that, I feel like. I would like to see a guaranteed salary for everyone who makes the Olympic team. If you were to take some of the TV rights — I think it was $1.7 billion in TV rights — and divide that up amongst the athletes, you know what I’m saying? I mean, we’ve got Olympians, Olympic medalists even, that live below the poverty line, and that’s not right.


Contributed by Dave Wells, Ph.D.

Arizona State University

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One thought on “Should Olympic Athletes be paid or show sponsor tattoos?

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