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  • Op Ed: Kodak Ends Olympics Era, Sign of Change


    The latest sign of the technology changes sweeping the business of the Olympic Movement comes with word that Kodak will no longer sponsor the Games after the Beijing Olympics, ending a 100-year association.

    Once a key technological partner which brought the Olympics to the world, Kodak's role has changed. The spread of digital photography has made Kodak film and processing as useless at the Games as wind-up analog stop watches.

    Kodak may be one of the world's most famous brands, but with photography no longer depending on the films linked to the brand, the company is seeking to re-invent itself. No more is Kodak fit for the lofty tier of worldwide Olympics sponsors who will spend upwards of $200 million or more to activate their programs.

    And neither is Fuji, the Japanese firm that may be Kodak's only rival for film. The downturn in film affects Fuji, too. Its 1984 sponsorship of the Los Angeles Olympics may be have been Fuji's first and only. After the Fuji coup in Los Angeles Kodak took steps never to let that happen again, becoming a charter worldwide Olympic sponsor in 1986. Now, leaving the category behind, Kodak doesn't care anymore.

    Technology changes have swept aside other worldwide sponsors. Xerox, like Kodak, located in Rochester, New York, bowed out after 2004, the business changing with competition from other companies and the spread of computer printers. Brother, the Japanese typewriter maker, dropped off after Barcelona, when laptop computers made their entrance to the Olympic press center in great numbers. Yes, there once was a TOP category that included typewriters.

    IBM, which once was the only company in the world with the software and hardware to calculate the results of the Olympics, moved on from its Games sponsorship in 2000. Its business had changed. But Lenovo, IBM's successor in the computer hardware category, has yet to place the Lenovo brand on the lips of the world's consumers as a result of its Olympic sponsorship.

    There simply may be too much competition for a Lenovo product that's not really much different from what its rivals produce. The company, based in the U.S. but with a Chinese parent, has yet to strike a deal past the Beijing Olympics and could be the next technology defector from the Olympic rings. Will laptop sponsors of the Olympics go the way of typewriter makers?

    That might be an ominous development for Vancouver, which hobbles toward 2010 with only eight TOP sponsors, just over two years to the Games. Besides the income from a full roster of TOP sponsors, Vancouver needs to come up with thousands of laptops, PCs, servers and peripherals to run the Games. While it's interesting to watch technology change the sponsorship landscape of the Olympics, the biggest impact may be yet to come as internet and digital media platforms mature.

    The dodo bird of the media world may well be free-to-air TV. Olympics broadcast rights packages still accrue most of their income from free-to-air, but the audiences are changing. New generations are using other ways to tune-in that does not include sitting in front of a TV set, destroying the advertising base that has supported billion-dollar deals for the IOC from major broadcasters.

    It's NBC today, pre-emptive bidder for the U.S. TV rights through the 2012 Olympics. But could the battle for the rights to air the 2020 Summer Games be waged among cable channels, mobile phone companies and internet portals unheard of today, the scraps going to a once proud peacock?

    Op Ed is a weekly column of opinion and ideas from Around the Rings founder and editor-in-chief Ed Hula. Comments, as well as guest columns are welcomed: