Most who have been following the buildup to this summer's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil are aware of the growing number of issues facing this year's Games. By various reports, the housing is sub-standard, the water polluted, and the venues possibly not finished being built. Add to that the number of athletes pulling out over concerns about the Zika virus, and one would suspect organizers are struggling to put a positive spin on this year's proceedings, and would welcome as much positive attention as they can get. However, the U.S. Olympic Committee would not share that sort of generosity.
The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) has sent out a letter to a number of companies warning them against tweeting about the Olympics or using any of the USOC's trademarks in any social media posts during the Games. The USOC holds trademarks on "Olympic," "Olympian" as well as on the hashtags "#Rio2016" and "TeamUSA", among other phrases. The letter further states that non-media companies can't share results form Olympic events, share any social media posts from official Olympic accounts, or use pictures from the event.
The letter was aimed at companies sponsoring athletes at the Olympics but who themselves are not official sponsors of the Olympics themselves. At the heart of the issue is the money related to those sponsorships. The USOC relies on exclusivity when commanding considerable sponsorship deals for each Olympic Games, which requires attempts to shut down any "unauthorized" promotion and posting.
However, many athletes have their own sponsorship deals that help many of them pay their way to the Olympics. Those sponsors are relying on the publicity that comes during the Olympics, with the hundreds of millions of viewers from around the world that watch to varying degrees, to recoup those costs. For those companies, being able to tweet about their medal-winning athletes during the admittedly-brief period in which Americans are focused on Olympic sports is vital. While the International Olympic Committee has relaxed its rules related to no-sponsors advertising the games, the stipulations favors bigger companies: any non-official-sponsor advertising must start in March and run through the Olympics, a five-month advertising outlay.
While it is prudent on the part of the IOC and USOC to protect its lucrative sponsorships, the actual practice of restricting what companies might be posting about raises concerns about the future of social media. Part of what makes social media the dominant force in our collective narrative is the ability to share in big moments with people from all over the world. Forbidding certain companies from taking part in the conversation if they aren't willing or able to pay to be official sponsors would seem to be a step down a road that might hold unfortunate results.