The opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games represents one of the most honorable achievements of any athlete’s career. And while Olympians may have always been trailblazers in the world of sports, today’s competitors are more than just athletes – they are brand ambassadors, marketing representatives, and social media influencers. While an athlete’s ability to reach audiences presents a unique opportunity for brand partners, it also presents event integrity concerns for the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”). In prior Olympic Games, athletes have used social media to grant fans glimpses into their daily lives – from training regimens to life in the Olympic Village.

This summer in Paris, fans will once again have unprecedented access to competitors’ lives at the 2024 Olympic Games. With this in mind, the IOC issued new guidance for athletes using social media during the Games, which provides athletes more flexibility online and opportunities to share their stories with fans. Importantly, the new rules distinguish between Olympic and Non-Olympic Partners – highlighting the key restrictions that brands and sponsors will have to consider when planning marketing campaigns involving 2024 Olympians.

The Past: Social Media and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

During the 2020 Games, Olympians were encouraged to share their experiences with fans, but with limitations. For example, social media audio or video content from the areas used for sporting competition and non-public areas, was limited, for the most part, to still photos intended for noncommercial, personal use. Athletes were not allowed to share video content from certain restricted areas because that could potentially violate broadcasters’ rights. Furthermore, the rules maintained that all social media postings had to be in a first-person, diary-type format, as opposed to reporting content made at the request of a media organization.

In contrast to the new rules discussed below, there were no time restrictions placed on video content created in permitted areas. Noncompliance would lead to removal of the content, and depending on the circumstances, further actions by the IOC or another relevant National Olympic Committee.

The Future: Greater Online Flexibility in the Paris 2024 Olympics

The IOC has loosened its regulations, as the committee recently announced new guidance for the 2024 Olympic Games. Athletes in Paris will be permitted to post non-commercial video content up to two minutes in length on their social media accounts, so long as it is not live or AI-generated. Also, unlike previous games, participants’ photos and videos may include the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, celebrations in the Champions Park, life in the Olympic Village, as well as experiences in training and competition venues, in accordance with the rules published by the IOC.

There is additional guidance surrounding the timing of posts and athlete consent. For example, athletes are permitted to post until up to one hour before their competitive events or after they have left the mixed zone and the anti-doping area. They will also be required to obtain permission from all other competitors included in content posted from the Olympic Village.

New Rules for Non-Olympic Partners

The 2024 guidelines distinguish between (1) Olympic Partners – the official 2024 Olympic media rights-holders and brands that have a sponsorship or official merchandise licensing contracts with the IOC, the Paris 2024 Organizing Committee, or National Olympic Committees; and (2) Non-Olympic Partners – all other brands. Unsurprisingly, most brands fall into the second category and are subject to the sponsorship and marketing restrictions set forth in Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter. Despite these limitations, there are certainly ways for Non-Olympic Partners to take advantage of marketing opportunities during the Olympics.

Non-Olympic Partners, including those who sponsor individual athletes, can engage in “Generic Advertising” – during the Games (July 18 – August 30, 2024) if:

  1. They have the permission from the relevant athlete(s);
  2. No Olympic properties are used in the advertising;
  3. Content respects the policies of the IOC relating to activities incompatible with the values of the Olympic Movement, and those of the athlete’s National Olympic Committee; and
  4. The advertising is considered “Generic Advertising.”

What is “Generic Advertising?” The IOC defines it as advertising that meets the following criteria:

  1. The only connection between the advertisements and the Olympics is the use of the Athlete’s/Participant’s image;
  2. The advertising was on the market for at least 90 days prior to the Games; and
  3. The advertising will run consistently and will not be materially escalated during the Games.

The IOC will apply these factors flexibly in allowing the Games “to support athletes competing in other competitions and to enable ‘business-as-usual’ campaigns.” Notably, companies marketing in this space will need submit all proposed Generic Advertising campaigns that are planned for the Games period to the IOC in advance for review. 

Key Takeaways for Brands During the 2024 Olympic Games

Social media is a powerful tool which continues to transform how viewers engage with athletes and the Olympics. The 2020 official Olympic Games’ account (on platforms including TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Weibo) generated 3.7 billion interactions, and 2024 is projected to attract even more impressions. As brands look to capitalize on the world’s attention, they should stay up to date with the latest rules and regulations pertaining to Olympic content. Failing to comply with the IOC guidelines can result in removal of the content and further measures from the IOC as outlined in the Olympic Charter. Proactively engaging outside counsel to audit, review, or develop planned social media campaigns during the Olympics can help companies stay within the IOC parameters.