VANOC Spends $40 Million to Hold Ad Space for Official Sponsors – But Not Everyone Is Happy

Gail Chiasson, North American Editor

In Canada, the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games has purchased approximately $40 million in ad space from six major suppliers in an effort to assure that ad space in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland is used by the Games’ official sponsors and not grabbed up by ambush marketers,

Ambush marketing, which includes advertising and promotion by advertisers who aren’t officially sponsors of an event but who use creative that makes viewers think they are, has been a scourge of many Olympic Games organizers.

VANOC’s buy for the 10-week period surrounding the Games includes all public media from the traditional all the way to bus passes, baggage carousels and truck sides. It includes all advertising space on public transit vehicles, including vehicle exteriors, transit stations and platforms, as well as various locations at Vancouver International Airport, which is a designated VANOC venue, and which has airport baggage carousels, mall posters and outdoor billboards. Also included is billboard advertising space along specific routes leading to the Olympic and Paralympic venues and along the major highways 1 and 99.

VANOC reportedly paid full price and expects to resell the space at cost to the official sponsors – and to, presumably, break even. If it doesn’t, the BC government has apparently agreed to backstop, in some cases, any loss incurred by VANOC if it can’t resell the space to VANOC-related sponsors.

Space purchased by VANOC includes properties owned or managed by Translink, Pattison Outdoor, CBS Outdoor, Vancouver International Airport, Canada Line and Canada Storyboard. The latter owns the 14′ x 25′, high-definition, LED-video screen mounted on the front of Canada Place, which will be part of the Vancouver media complex.

However, not everybody is happy about it. Peter Morgan, whose Morgan:News reports on any and all things Olympic-related, made us aware that the BC Civil Liberties Association has asked the Canadian government’s Competition Bureau to review the ad space purchase by VANOC as a violation of a Canadian’s constitutional right to free speech.

A letter to the Competition Bureau complains about VANOC seeking to buy up all of the space for any advertising ‘so no one else can be heard’. It says that the courts have recognized the ‘right to be heard’ as a fundamental value and that VANOC’s actions run counter to that. The BCCLA says that the buy eliminating the right of others to put their message out before the public is shocking..

The letter says that VANOC appears to have ignored the Competition’s Act’s ban on anti-competitive activities, including “pre-emption of scarce facilities or resources required by a competitor for the operation of a business.” The BCCLA says that it is apparent that VANOC will not tolerate any competition, and intends to use its financial muscle and privileged position to stifle public speech by others.”

The letter also says, “Our Association is concerned that VANOC’s explicit attempt to monopolize advertising space in order to prohibit non-sponsors from advertising at all during the Games is a practice that effectively denies an advertising forum for others.”

However, VANOC is legally obligated to the International Olympic Committee and to its marketing partners to protect against unauthorized use of the Olympic Brand and ambush marketing in Canada. Similarly, VANOC is obligated to protect the exclusive rights it has granted to its marketing partners related to the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.

Whether the Competition Bureau would make any moves to undo the buy and put a fly in the ointment of VANOC’s – and Canada’s – big Olympic party plans is unknown at this time. Up until now, construction of venues is ahead of schedule, sponsors’ money has come rolling in, and BC is gearing up to welcome the world.

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