The 2012 Summer Olympics are set to open in London on Friday, July 27th, and the athletes aren’t the only ones gearing up! Corporate sponsors are preparing for worldwide, primetime recognition. The Olympics provide a rare exposure opportunity that brands are willing to pay out big for: corporate sponsorship generated a reported $866 million for the 2008 Beijing Games. Many choose to partner in the Games not only for the prospect of promotion on a global scale, but also for the chance to align one’s brand with the excellence that is inherent to the Olympics.

Over the years, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has received criticism for permitting certain corporate sponsorships. Coca-Cola and McDonald’s are well-known Olympic sponsors that have been called into question for contradicting the essence of the games themselves: while the Olympics showcase the ultimate physical potential of humankind, some believe that these companies arguably contribute to the obesity epidemic. This year, both Dow Chemical and BP are Olympic partners which incited further criticism from many who feel their involvement in environmental disasters goes against the “green-friendly” message the Olympics should strive to uphold.

The IOC must also answer to its sponsors, however. Corporations are not just paying to simply advertise; they are also buying the right to promote their brand exclusively. Ambush marketing, by which a competitor uses guerilla tactics to promote itself without permission, is a concern for sponsors and the IOC alike. This issue came to a head at the 1996 Atlanta Games when a member of the British sprinting team wore contact lenses at a press conference bearing the Puma logo, despite Reebok’s $40 million sponsorship deal!

As a result of this incident and several others, the IOC has enacted measures to protect the campaigns of corporate sponsors. Athletes cannot appear in any form of advertising that is not for an official sponsor during a “blackout” period that started July 18th, a week prior to Opening Ceremonies! Additionally, local British businesses have been warned not to reference the Olympics in any manner and should not include a list of banned terms including: “gold”, “silver”, “bronze” and “London” during the duration of the Games. Consequences for violating these terms include fines up to $31,000 U.S. dollars.

McDonald’s specifically has built into its sponsorship package further restrictions, which have many people talking: no other vendor is allowed to sell French-fries at the Olympics!

The London 2012 Summer Olympics stand to be record breaking, as four million people are expected to be in attendance over several major venues. Hopefully, corporate sponsorships will only contribute to the atmosphere as we watch the world’s best push toward Olympic Gold!