The Rings and the National Olympic Committees: Working hand-in-hand

As guardians of the Olympic Rings within their own countries and territories, National Olympic Committees use the Olympic Rings to promote Olympism on a local level and build their own brands.

4 min read|
© IOC / Christian Klaue President Bach at the Super Sprint World Championship Women’s finals in Hamburg.

While the Olympic symbol is seen by billions of people every two years during the Summer and Winter Games, each of the 204 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) also ensures that Olympism and the Olympic brand are represented each and every day all over the world.

The NOCs are the representatives of the Olympic brand within their own countries and territories, promoting Olympism on a local level, with each NOC adding its own unique flavour. While the work of NOCs helps promote the Olympic Movement all over the world, being able to use such a widely recognised symbol as the Olympic rings also provides many benefits.

“It’s a massive asset for a National Olympic Committee,” explains Derek Kent, Chief Marketing Officer at the Canadian Olympic Committee. “If you look at our mark, we have the Canadian maple leaf, which is iconic to Canadians, but we also have the Olympic rings, which are iconic to the entire world. When we’re able to merge those two together in one mark, it’s a very powerful thing for us.”

Indeed, creating a strong local brand that is linked with the globally recognised Olympic rings can present NOCs with commercial opportunities that may have been harder to achieve without such a widely known symbol. “Marketing wise, when you add the Olympic rings to our Team Korea brand or our NOC emblem, it makes it more recognisable to both the public and sponsors,” says Dooil Kim from the Korean Olympic Committee. “Without the Olympic rings, our sponsorship programme would not be as strong as it is now.”

Leah Davis, Head of Marketing at the British Olympic Association, agrees. “In order to be truly successful as a commercial brand in our territory, we need to create our own identity,” she says. “I think [the Olympic rings and the NOC’s own identity] go hand-in-hand and complement each other.”

For both the Canadian Olympic Committee and the British Olympic Association, the recent staging of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games played key roles in shaping their identities. “After the success of Vancouver, we set up a strategy to really grow our brand,”  explains Kent. “Our mantra was that we had to invest in the brand to grow the brand. The first step was that we redesigned our mark by updating it and modernising it. The second step was creating campaigns around the Games themselves.

“We started with our ‘Give Your Everything’ campaign for London 2012, which had television commercials, print adverts, radio, digital and social media elements all featuring athletes’ stories. It was really successful but, much like our athletes, we wanted to challenge ourselves to be better next time, which led to the ‘We Are Winter’ campaign for Sochi. That really brought Canada and Canadian fans together under one rallying cry.”

“With the 2018 Olympic Winter Games getting closer, more people are going to get excited about Team Korea and show their support,” he says. “People want to be a part of it and support the Games and Team Korea at the same time.”

One of the main ways for fans to show their support is through the purchase of official merchandise – often featuring NOC emblems alongside the Olympic rings – which can provide a valuable income stream for NOCs. One of the most successful in recent years has been the Canadian red mittens, which became a ubiquitous sight during Vancouver 2010.

“The red mitten has become iconic here in Canada,” says Kent. “It’s also a wonderful fundraising tool for the Canadian Olympic Foundation. In Vancouver, with the spotlight of the Games, the launch of the red mittens was wildly successful and they became the must-have item for those who were attending the Games, as well as those who wanted to feel a part of something bigger while watching at home. We’ve since launched five other styles and designs, which have also been successful, not only as a fundraising tool but also as a way of allowing Canadian fans to feel like they’re part of the Canadian Olympic team

"With NOCs investing the income they generate from sponsorship and merchandising back into Olympic sport, the success of these programmes – which are built on the strength of the brand – goes on to provide long-term benefits for athletes. “As a starting point, we have a great brand that we can combine with the Olympic brand, which is an advantage right away,” explains Kent. “It’s then up to us to activate that brand, market it and connect it to the right partners so that we can get the investment and funding that we can give back to the athletes so they can perform at their best on the world sporting stage.”