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Resorts & Rule 40: Don’t Let the Smooth Taste Fool You

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With debate about Rule 40 a common topic among marketers this week, Jon Slaughter and Andy Miller of Park City Mountain Resort weighed in.

You’ve got a relative in Sochi competing for Team USA. You’re proud, but you can’t tell anyone. No bragging in the bar. No sign to hang on the porch. No ‘good luck’ on Facebook. Because it’s against the rules.

Welcome to the dilemma athlete-sponsoring resorts have been mired in the last several weeks, thanks to a draconian Olympic Charter by-law called Rule 40:

…no competitor, coach, trainer or official who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games.

The rule – likely being cursed in a resort’s marketing team meeting somewhere as you read this – ostensibly prohibits an Olympic athlete from exploiting their likeness for financial gain during the Games. By extension, however, it mandates a silence from athletes’ sponsors that would raise a Buddhist monk’s eyebrow. Here’s the kicker: the punishment comes down on the athlete, not the sponsor who broke the rule.

It’s not unreasonable that the International Olympic Committee looks out for its sponsors. An estimated $100 million buy-in earns that consideration. But Rule 40 does not grant IOC partners any exclusivity. It simply keeps sponsors of Winter Games athletes from having a voice, while anything goes for brands with no financial ties – or responsibility – to the athletes. And if you think we’re interpreting it too strictly, tell that to Mount Hotham in Australia.

So while Resort A is barred from offering a simple congratulations to its gold medal athlete, across the street a ski shop hangs a poster in the window. Or Resort B, which hosted an Olympic qualification event, jumps on the athlete’s coattails. But there’s no better example of Rule 40’s hypocrisy complexity than a private club, located on a property where snowboarding is prohibited, naming a cocktail on its drink menu after the first ever Snowboarding Slopestyle gold medalist – who’s a minor. This isn’t a hypothetical, by the way.

Rules, however, were made to be broken bent. As the blackout period approached, we released this video to capitalize on enthusiasm for the Games’ slopestyle competitions – that both athletes won gold was a nice break.

We also toed the line across our social media platforms: celebrating our athletes’ success and making an implicit connection to our resort without saying it directly. On the mountain, we’re reinforcing that connection through signage encouraging guests to cheer on our local athletes. But we aren’t above giving the rule a blatant poke in the eye, either.

Who else has come up with clever workarounds? Let us know in the comments below.

Come Thursday, Rule 40 will retreat into the shadows, returning in 2018 in who-knows-what incarnation. The IOC is at least giving lip service to adjusting the regulation – whose wording would make Vladimir Putin proud. But until then, we’ll just have to say congratulations to Bill Ligety’s gold medal winning son.

Whether you’re the official debit card of the Olympic Games, or just the mountain where Olympic men’s Giant Slalom gold medalist calls home – 40’s are for drinking, not awkward rules.

About Gregg & SlopeFillers
I've had more first-time visitors lately, so adding a quick "about" section. I started SlopeFillers in 2010 with the simple goal of sharing great resort marketing strategies. Today I run marketing for resort ecommerce and CRM provider Inntopia, my home mountain is the lovely Nordic Valley, and my favorite marketing campaign remains the Ski Utah TV show that sold me on skiing as a kid in the 90s.

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