2016 changed U.S. politics and it’s going to change the Olympics too.

Rio 2016 Olympics

I was originally going to title this article, ‘Why this Summer Olympics will be the greatest marketing case study. Ever.”, and try to create a thought piece and discussion about all of the things we’re going to learn from the wins and losses in marketing during the games.

Sports marketing, brand marketing, event marketing, advertising, social media…everything.

But then I started to do my research and the more I did, the more I got upset.

But first let’s set the stage. It’s not over yet, but the data so far shows that 2016 has changed U.S. politics, hopefully forever. Both major parties have become fractured and their weaknesses, manipulations and downright nastiness has risen to the top.

Like cream, one might say (hopefully, if in this case, the cream is trying to invoke change).

We don’t know what the future will entail, maybe a third party or even a fourth or maybe the dissolution of all parties. Regardless, 2016 is the year that the American voter finally woke up and in November, will vote their conscience and not what someone else tells them or paid them to.

Good. Change is good. Change is growth. At least Darwin thought so.

As for the Olympics, the show’s just getting started today and it looks like it’s going to mirror this year’s political season. Good, bad and ugly.

In case you haven’t heard, the Olympics has some major issues coming to the forefront:

1) Zika virus

2) Renowned athletes voluntarily skipping the games

3) Facilities and services woefully unprepared and unacceptable

4) The Russians are mostly out of it (unfortunately, but by their own doing)

5) Athlete/team marketing, financial and overall support is being suppressed

Wait, what? What’s #5?

Athlete/team marketing, financial and overall support is being suppressed?

Why? Well, what happened is that Social Media disrupted marketing for the Olympics and it started in London, 2012.

2012. When Facebook was just becoming a public company and Twitter and Instagram were still babies. Don’t forget about What’s App, Snapchat and every other messaging, social or other platform since then that has exploded simply by disrupting the manner in which we communicate.

What happened in 2012 is that companies, brands and people found that they could use social media to encourage, support and leverage the athletes and their achievements outside of the traditional media/sponsor/partner methods.

Basically, the IOC and USOC were losing control of their brands and intellectual property to the power of social media. Naturally, this angered the corporate sponsors and broadcasters who paid a lot of money for their exclusive partnerships. This in turn, threatened to breach their contractual agreements and thus dilute the effectiveness of the Olympics brands and all of the monies that flowed into it.

Need an example? Look here at what went down with Louis Vuitton and Michael Phelps (during his historic medal run).

Michael Phelps Louis Vuitton ad campaign

What potential public relations nightmare was avoided if the USOC decided to disqualify Phelps during the competition? Decide for yourself.

Another example is here (pre-social media days) where Michael Jordan, basically said to the effect, “thanks but no thanks, my deal with Nike for my Air Jordan brand is more important to me than the Olympics Reebok brand sponsorship”).

Michael Jordan and the Dream Team at the awards ceremony

“Everyone agreed we would not deface the Reebok on the award uniform,” said Jordan, who had been saying for weeks he wouldn’t wear the Reebok uniform. “The American flag cannot deface anything. That’s what we stand for. The American dream is standing up for what you believe in. I believed in it, and I stood up for it. If I offended anyone, that’s too bad.”

Which brings up another important area of contention: Amateurs vs. Pro’s.

In the old days when everyone had to be an amateur, it was really easy and cut and dry. If you were an amateur and didn’t earn money from marketing sponsorships and professional leagues, etc. then you were allowed to compete.

If you were a pro, then you couldn’t.

This is a critical point. The USOC doesn’t receive any federal funding (unlike other nations) so a workaround was created and Congress granted the USOC exclusive rights to control all commercial use of USOC trademarks, imagery and/or terminology in the United States.

Of course that really didn’t reduce the grey area as other countries played by different rules and thus the change to allow professionals. Plus, by allowing professionals, the IOC and USOC were able to create more excitement by adding more popular sports and competitions to showcase the best-in-the world and put an end to the “what-if’s”.

The ruling has its pros and cons for many reasons but it also basically guarantees that we’ll probably never see another “Miracle on Ice” in the future.

The Miracle on Ice — USA upsets Russia in Men’s Olympic Hockey

The stuff that makes legends. Legends.

So back to social media and marketing and what’s happened since 2012. Well, the USOC went back to the drawing board and revamped the marketing and advertising rules to make sure that only those that paid could play, (hmmm, kind of similar to the U.S. political arena, right)?

You can look at all of the details at the USOC website and make your own judgement but don’t be surprised if you see words like “blackout period”, “pre-approved 6 months in advance” “apply for a waiver”, etc.

This is pure draconian legal stuff that in the end, social media and the internet for that matter, really doesn’t take to kindly to.

Here’s a real-life example of everything that’s wrong with it.

Need a hypothetical? Okay, here’s one:

Jimmy’s Pizza Palace spends $150,000 over the course of four years in support of training Susie Q to make the U.S. Olympics Track & Field team. Through hard work, dedication and skill, little Susie makes the team and travels to the games to compete. Hurray!!!

Is Jimmy’s allowed to say, “Good Luck, Susie, we hope you win a gold medal at the Olympics” in its social media, advertising or even its paper placemats next to the ad from the local dry-cleaner and insurance agency? Nope.

Can Susie wear her lucky rubber bracelet that says “Jimmy’s Pizza Palace” in interviews or when she competes? Nope.

Can Susie at least just thank publicly, Jimmy’s Pizza Palace, for all of the help over the years, because she wouldn’t be there without them? Nope.

But even if the majority of all of the financial support comes from Jimmy’s and not the USOC? Nope.

How about Johnny’s Pizza Emporium (Jimmy’s longtime local pizza business competitor)? Can they say, “Even though we’re not Jimmy’s, we support you Susie and all of the USA Olympic Track & Field Team! Go for the Gold”. Nope.

Why? Because World Pizza Delivery paid a lot of money to be the official sponsor of the Olympics and Jimmy’s and everyone else didn’t.

Okay, but will little Susie Q then get enough money from the collective group of corporate sponsorships to help her train for the four years to make the team? Mostly likely not, as there’s just not enough money to go around.

What if, Apple were to sponsor Lebron James and pay him $1 Billion to market their products and Samsung were to become an official sponsor of the 2020 games? If Apple chooses not to abide by the USOC’s ridiculous rules, is the USOC going to try to go after the giant with its seemingly endless amount of cash? Yea, good luck with that.

Okay, but what about copyright laws, enforcement, etc.? Lol, on a global scale? Just ask Facebook and YouTube how easy it is to police DMCA takedown or copyright/trademark infringement requests.

You can’t sue everyone and be careful about those that you think you can.

Finally, since there are professionals involved (and the IOC has just decided to reintroduce baseball in 2020 — during the heart of the MLB season), where is their desire and allegiance going to be? Country or wallet?

Plus, even if the athletes are okay with it, do you think that the other major sports leagues such as the MLB, NBA, FIFA, etc. are going to just sit back and risk their brands from being diminished in the case of the Olympics jeopardizing their schedules and/or star athletes health? Yea, right.

Thus the problem — on all sides.

The solution? I don’t know.

Maybe the USOC becomes subsidized by the government (us).

Maybe the marketing and sponsorship rules get revamped to open up competition and incentivize more corporations both big and small to participate.

Maybe the Olympics goes back to being a true amateur status classification so at least the pro’s don’t complicate things.

Regardless, it’s going to take a collective effort by a lot of smart people across all disciplines to figure this one out.

As for social media and the internet, well the IOC and USOC are going to learn that the power of it is in the hands of the people. Not some committee or rule of law that may or may not be easily changed.

It doesn’t matter how many rules and restrictions there are, people (and brands) are going to find a way around them.

This is going to be a very interesting Olympics, for so many reasons. We’re going to learn a lot and change will occur because of it. Darwin was right.

In the end. let’s just hope that the games are safe, exciting and we all get to participate with them in one form or another.

#GoTeamUSA (I hope I’m allowed to say that).