Where did all the brand names go? 
08.14.2012
Mike Wekesser in 2012 Olympics: Sports, Beyond the Games, Los Angeles, Sports

This Olympics toned down the presence of sponsor companies in favor of pageantry and spectacle. Photo by Clive Mason - Getty Images 

Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps have collected their gold medals. The 2012 Olympic games in London are now relegated to history. What does this all mean? It's time for me to get back to my normal life of NFL football and MLB baseball and all the familiar elements inherent to those leagues.

Like most of us, I have watched these games on television, but this year I noticed something for the first time: the Olympic venues were remarkably free of corporate sponsorship, with only the Olympic rings and the London logo on display in the arenas.

The absence of garish ads helps to preserve the pageantry and romance of the games. Cheering fans, wrapped in ribbons of color, can focus all their attention on the athletes who are striving to go "faster, higher, stronger."

As designers for major sports projects, we typically find ourselves designing with corporate sponsorship and naming rights in mind. We try to integrate a series of large signs into the design of the building, signs that glow, sparkle, and catch fans' attention and persuade them to spend their money. Signs also serve as the name tag of the building: "Hello, my name is Staples Center," or "My name is O2 Arena—give me your money!"

Sponsors pay huge fees to get their brand in front of you. Fields and courts boast huge logos. Gigantic scoreboards broadcast brand names, and continuous video ribbon boards wrap seating bowls and constantly bombard you with their messages.

There is a good reason for all this. As Mary Poppins told us "a spoon full sugar makes the medicine go down," and when it comes to sports, a lot of sponsorship money allow the events to take place. You may like it, you may find that it is not your cup tea, but corporate sponsorships are a reality, and some say a necessity, of the modern sporting event.

The Olympics, of course, has its sponsors. It is estimated that $6 billion have exchanged hands in the London games. Of course, many sponsors gave themselves a black eye when they purchased blocks of tickets to Olympic events and then didn’t bother to show up. Others lost out by NOT sponsoring: the O2 Arena, which hosted gymnastics and basketball during the London games, had to change its name because the telecom company failed to sponsor the games.

Even the athletes have tried to get in on the sponsorship game, often in creative ways: The American 800-meter runner Nick Symmonds auctioned off his left shoulder as a billboard. He got $11,000, but the IAAF and the IOC shot him down because they wanted to protect the Olympic sponsors and the integrity of the games.

Where have all the signs for sponsor companies gone? Photo by Mark Ralston - IOPP Pool/Getty Images

With the close of these games, it’s now time for us all to get back to the sponsorship side of life. I just watched the Minnesota Twins play the Detroit Tigers at Target Field. It’s funny, but after the game I felt the need to go to my local Target store and buy some Bud Light beer and Gillette razor blades. Do they sell Bud Light at Target? I also need to explain to my wife that I changed our phone service to AT&T and am booking flights with Delta Airlines to finally see the Minnesota Vikings win the XLVII Super Bowl in New Orleans. I can’t wait for the Pepsi Halftime show. I guess I have to wait two years for the next Winter Olympics before I get a break from sports sponsorships. See you in Sochi, Russia in 2014!

Mike Wekesser is a lead designer in Gensler's Los Angeles office with more than 26 years of experience in architecture and more than 17 years in sports facility design. Michael is known for taking on complex design challenges and developing creative, unique and innovation solutions. Involved in every aspect of the design process, Michael has designed, planned, and overseen the construction of numerous major league ballparks and NBA/NHL arenas. He's a lifelong Minnesota Vikings football fan and dreams of the day when the Vikings finally get back to the Super Bowl. Perhaps this is his year. Contact him at michael_wekesser@gensler.com.
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