By Simon Ward
Bridgestone, the Japanese tyre maker, has today officially joined the top-tier ‘TOP’ sponsors of the International Olympic Committee, with the signing of a 10-year deal.
The agreement runs through to 2024 so includes sponsorship of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the 2018 winter Olympics in PyeongChang, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and the 2022 winter Olympics and 2024 Olympics, both of which have yet to be allocated.
The deal, which was announced at a press conference in Tokyo, where Bridgestone’s global headquarters is based, had been expected after Japan's Asahi Shimbum newspaper reported last month that the company would be paying Y35 billion ($344 million) over a decade for an association with the Olympics.
Bridgestone, the world’s largest tyre and rubber company, becomes the IOC’s 11th TOP sponsor and will have rights across the product categories of seismic isolation bearings, non-motorised bicycles and the full range of tyres it manufactures.
The partnership with the IOC extends to all 204 national Olympic committees and their Olympic teams and at games time Bridgestone will supply tyres and related services to support transport operations, including the vehicles for athletes, media and officials.
Bridgestone will only have sponsorship activation rights in Brazil, Korea, Japan and USA until 2016, but can leverage the partnership globally from 2017.
IOC president Thomas Bach, who travelled to Tokyo for the announcement, said: "The TOP programme is a truly global sponsorship programme, as it benefits all future Games organisers and all the National Olympic Committees and their athletes, ensuring that athletes from all over the world, and not just the largest countries, are able to compete at the Games.
"Indeed, the IOC redistributes over 90 per cent of its revenues to the wider sporting movement. Bridgestone is a global leader in its field, and we are delighted to welcome the company to the TOP programme and are excited about the long-term commitment they have shown to the Olympic Movement."
Bridgestone chief executive and chairman Masaaki Tsuya said: "As a global corporation, Bridgestone is excited to partner with the entire Olympic Movement, a group of organisations that not only brings together the world’s athletes at the greatest athletic festival, but also blends this celebration of sport with a spirit of service to community, social responsibility, a respect for diversity and a commitment to the fundamental principles of Olympism."
He added: "We look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship where, through this partnership, we will communicate on a global basis our commitment to society as well as our brand message."
The deal is the first to be sealed by the IOC’s marketing commission under its new chair, Japan’s Tsunekazu Takeda, who replaced Norway’s long-serving Gerhard Heiberg last month. It will be regarded as something of a coup for Takeda, the reserved and formal president of the Japanese Olympic Committee and a member of the Japanese royal family, who was not seen by some as an obvious candidate to lead the marketing commission.
Michael Payne, the IOC’s former marketing director, told Sportcal recently that the reports linking Bridgestone to the Olympic Movement showed "the growing interest within the Japanese business community to use sport as a marketing platform" as the country prepares to host the 2020 Olympics.
Of the other 10 TOP sponsors, eight are now signed up until 2020 – Atos, Coca-Cola, Dow, General Electric, McDonald’s, Omega, Procter & Gamble and Visa – with Panasonic’s contract running until 2024 and only Samsung’s set to expire in 2016.
Samsung said in February that it was awaiting further information from the IOC about the product categories on offer. It said that it wanted to ensure no overlap with those of Panasonic, the rival Japanese electronics company, in a world of rapidly converging technologies.
The IOC has previously had a limit of 12 TOP partners, but Timo Lumme, the television and marketing services director, said yesterday that the organisation will be flexible in its approach to sponsorship to suit the appetite in the market, which he claimed is at an all-time high.
Lumme told Sportcal: "The Olympic Movement is in transition. It is an exciting time, and a real effect of that is that the corporate sector has shown an unprecedented interest in us. There are a lot of conversations happening. We continue to speak to a lot of interested companies.
"The limit has always been 12, although there is no written rule. We have previously agreed we would not go over that in the TOP category to ensure there was still a local sponsorship market. But we could have less, more or similar. It is [down to] conditions of the market."