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Logorama by Nicolas Schmerkin
Logorama by Nicolas Schmerkin

Ambush marketers threaten Olympic sponsors

February 25, 2010

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A new SFU Business study shows that aggressive ambush marketers could cost official sponsors of the Olympics and other events not only lost revenue but also their customers.

Professors Leyland Pitt and Michael Parent and two colleagues from the U.S. and Scandinavia examined data from the "Li Ning affair" in which Chinese sportswear upstart Li Ning ambushed official sponsor Adidas at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Company namesake Li Ning, China’s most decorated Olympian, lit the Olympic flame at the Beijing opening ceremony.

Data collected after the closing of the Beijing Games revealed what the researchers call the "Li Ning effect"—being incorrectly identified as an official sponsor—and the resulting benefits to the company’s brand.

Li Ning was the clear footwear winner at the 2008 Olympics despite the millions spent by Adidas to secure a sponsorship.

"When they were asked to recall who the official sponsor of athletic footwear was for the Beijing Games, more of our respondents thought it was Li Ning than Adidas," say the researchers.

They offer cautionary advice to sponsors of the Vancouver Olympics and events such as next summer’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa:
  • Large global events provide superlative marketing opportunities, but ignoring lessons from the Li Ning affair is like asking for trouble.
  • If you do decide to sponsor a major event, anticipate and behave as though an ambush will happen.
Their study, Event sponsorship and ambush marketing: Lessons from the Beijing Olympics, will be published in the March issue of Business Horizons.

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