2008 Olympic gold medalist Dwayne Wade has been adamant regarding his take on the ongoing debate of whether Olympic athletes, especially NBA players, should be compensated or not to participate during the summer games. His stance is simple– pay up!
Two-time Olympian Kobe Bryant sided with his ’08 gold medal teammate in Beijing, stating he thinks it would make sense for Olympians to receive payment for playing for Team USA. “There’s some truth to that,” Bryant told the Los Angeles Times. “But we’re all here because we enjoy playing. Even though a lot of us probably share the same opinion, it’s not like we’re saying, ‘Well, we’re not going to play if you don’t pay us.’ We play. We do it because we want to.”
Although, members of the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team are sponsored by global companies, like Nike, the players do not get a share of the profits generated during the two weeks of international action. According to a report by ESPN’s Kristi Dosh, dollars invested into the 2012 Olympics games in London are estimated at over $7.38 billion. How much of that will the Olympians get to take home?
While athletes continue to give it their all for their respective countries to bring back shining medals, their one major source of income –endorsements– are limited throughout the games from July 18 to August 15. During this time, athletes cannot use social media to mention companies that are not Olympic sponsors. In addition, Olympians are not allowed to appear in commercials for non-sponsors while the games are in progress.
Olympic coverage features advertising from The Olympic Program (TOP) sponsors such as McDonald’s, VISA and Coca-Cola, which reach an estimated 4.5 billion people worldwide. According to the report, each of those companies paid an estimated $240 million for one quadrennial cycle of the summer and Winter Games between sponsorships fees and activation expenses. And the London Olympics is protecting its investment like no Olympiad ever before. NBC paid $1.18 billion for U.S. media rights and sold close to $1 billion in advertising, another billion in rights fees worldwide.
For the Olympics to command top dollar, the International Olympic Committer requires host countries to pass laws that protect Olympic trademarks and offer protection from sponsors. England’s law, passed in 2006, prevents non-sponsors from “ambush marketing,” which prohibits the use of words and images that suggest an association with the Olympics when they have none. The endorsement rules for participating athletes aim to have the same effect, to protect Olympic sponsors by not allowing non-sponsors, even if they are sponsors of individual athletes –Kobe and LeBron with NIKE– to associate directly with the Games. The London Organizing Committee of the Olympics and Paralympics told British newspaper The Guardian, simply without investments of their partners, they simply could not have staged the summer games this year, and so they have to protect the brand from unauthorized use.
For athletes who aren’t household names, these restrictions have a negative impact. The cost to train for the Olympics alone can balloon up to six figures, including travel, use of facilities and coaching, and most newcomers who are just getting started in building their brand, the cost are exceedingly too high. Without any type of supplemental income these athletes are merely workhorses for their respective nations. According to a recent study by the Track and Field Athletes Association, 50% of the top 10 competitors in each event make less than $15,000 a year in sponsorships, grants and prize money. That leaves a lot of uncovered costs, which is why many athletes keep full-time jobs or work multiple part-time gigs as they train.
So the debate on whether Olympians should be paid rages on. Now that you have the facts, what do you think? Should athletes willingly compete for their respective countries without being compensated? Or is the Olympic committee’s using these world-class athletes to line their pockets?