Competing for Attention: Official vs Non-Official Sponsorship for Brands activating around the Olympics

Every year brings a selection of marquee sporting events and 2024 sees one of the biggest; the Paris Summer Olympics. With the Olympics being the most-watched sporting event globally, averaging an audience of 3.3 billion between the 2008 and 2020 Summer Games, brands are faced with the decision to activate through either official or non-official sponsorship [1]. Navigating activation throughout this event demands careful planning and strategic decision-making, so, for brands gearing up to make their mark, there are a few factors to consider.

Brand sponsorship is a huge part of the sports ecosystem and is forecast to increase 8% YoY, every year through to 2030 [2]. Whilst big ticket partnerships undoubtedly drive excitement in the industry and significant band visibility, they also need to deliver genuine engagement and improved brand sentiment to ultimately convert the sports audiences to customers. Can a fan really believe a value or CSR-led message from a brand that has spent US$100m to attach its name to an event? With the sometimes unpopular legal, political and societal positions that governing bodies and rights holders must take, is a band's message undermined by the association? In fact, does an official partner have to work harder to sound authentic?

Being an official partner doesn't just stop at a logo on promotional material, these days a clear strategy is required that aims to attract and engage with audiences. Whilst official sponsorship means many eyeballs on your brand, the tight rules and regulations may mean that your brand loses the creativity and flair that makes it unique and attractive to audiences. However, if you have aligned your brand fully with a sports event like Coca-Cola has with the Olympics since 1928, you can build strong, mutually beneficial campaigns. Despite Covid restrictions at Tokyo 2020, Coca-Cola and the IOC worked together to promote their shared values and introduce Gen Z fans to the Olympics through the 'I Belong Here' digital platform, which delivered 290m media impressions [3]. By championing values in-line with Olympic ideals, like peace, education, and the empowerment of women through sport, official sponsors cultivate brand identities closely aligned with these principles. This fosters greater brand trust, leading to enhanced brand loyalty and, ideally, strong emotional connections with consumers. 

Can a fan really believe a value or CSR-led message from a brand that has spent US$100m to attach its name to an event?

In the days of traditional media, where fans could only watch their favourite sport on TV, a sponsorship deal was immensely valuable, as it granted you the right to communicate with the rights holder's audience. Even today, these deals offer a potentially significant shop window. But with the advent of social media, fans can interact directly with their heroes, often without mention of official partners. With social media widening the reach of sports events organically, fans become content creators in their own right, shaping how brands and events are perceived by other social media users. It's well documented that athlete endorsements drive much higher sentiment and conversion rates for brands, and accessing the lived experiences and emotions of an athlete provides genuine authenticity. There's also the not-insignificant cost saving that can be achieved by partnering with individual stars as opposed to an entire event. 

Collaborating with athletes or respected sports influencers, or even creating more fan-focused cultural content, can significantly enhance a brand's credibility and amplify exposure, all at a fraction of the cost. However, before proceeding, brands should ensure that any athlete or influencer's values, target audience, and marketing goals are in-line with their own and vice-versa, in order to engage effectively with followers and remain authentic. Consumers actively seek authenticity in the brands, sports stars and influencers they follow, gravitating towards those who produce relatable content. 

In 2012, Beats by Dre capitalised on influencer marketing during the London Olympics, giving free headphones to Team GB athletes like Tom Daley. Daley's on-screen presence with the headphones garnered attention from 7 million BBC viewers, resulting in a 116% spike in sales in stores during the Games [4]. Despite the risk of violating IOC rule 40, this campaign aligned with Beats' celebrity endorsement strategy, maintaining authenticity. As this example shows, athlete promotion is nothing new and some event sponsors also run extensive athlete comms programmes, but if fan engagement, quality of messaging and ultimately customer conversion can be delivered via athlete collaborations, has the balance of value now swung away from event sponsorship?

Ultimately, regardless of the path brands choose, whether it's through official or unofficial partnerships, we're set to see some impressive, attention-grabbing campaigns during this year's Summer Olympics. However, brands should be mindful of ensuring they focus on authentic, engaging storytelling, and widen their distribution funnel, looking beyond their own channels when building out their strategies, in order to reach new audiences and drive value for their brands. 

How can Story10 help?

We can help you reach new audiences through our unique global distribution network of earned and paid media channels, including access to 7.5 million influencers. With a proven track record of increasing viewership numbers and improving campaign reach, get in touch with Story10 to find out how we can help with your campaigns. 


[1] Statistica (2023) Olympic Summer Games total global TV audience in 2008 and 2020 (in billions)*. Available at: 

[2] Statistica (2022) Size of sports sponsorship market worldwide in 2022, with a forecast for 2023 and 2030. Available at: Available at:  

[3] International Olympic Committee (2020) IOC Marketing Report. Available at:  

[4] Persona Design (2012) Olympics Ambush Marketing Winner Goes to... Dr Dre. Beats. Available at: