Stacey Vanek Smith: The London Olympics begin today, and the eleven big corporate sponsors of the event will begin to bask in the global limelight. All that basking doesn't come cheap: All together, the sponsors have shelled out more than a billion dollars. In return they expect their association with the Games to be exclusive.
From London, Marketplace's Stephen Beard reports.
Stephen Beard: Perhaps it was inevitable that the London Olympics would attract the attention of the American anti-consumerist preacher/comedian, the Reverend Billy Talen.
Billy Talen: Get the corporations out of the Olympics please! The Olympics are corrupt!
Here he was in a London street last week, railing against the commercial sponsorship of the Games. But his comic ravings resonate with some Brits. Julian Cheyne has campaigned against the London Olympics.
Julian Cheyne: This is large corporations who profit. Large corporations are the sponsors. Small people are left aside.
And he says small businesses who've tried to tap into the Olympic spirit have been hammered.
A butcher who made a display of sausages in the shape of the five Olympic rings was threatened with a $30,000 fine by the brand police. The same for Helen Day of the small O2OH entertainment agency. She tried to promote a trapeze act with five acrobats curled up inside their aerial hoops.
Helen Day: It's laughable that we as a small entertainment agency would in any way be encroaching on the rights of the Olympic sponsors, or that we're in any way a threat to McDonald's or Coca-Cola. I'd love it if we were, but quite frankly, we're not.
But Ian Twinn, who speaks for advertisers, says the Olympic authorities are right to deploy the brand police. After all, the sponsors are paying a billion dollars for the Olympic name and logo. They should expect exclusive use.
Ian Twinn: I think it's a fair return on the investment for the big firms. The Olympics wouldn't be running the way it does now if the big companies didn't put their money up front.
But the critics don't like the way the Olympics are running now. This week at another protest rally, they played the theme tune from the movie "Chariots of Fire," invoking a more innocent age of uncommercial, unsponsored Olympics.
In London, I'm Stephen Beard for Marketplace.