Winners in the sunglasses and T-shirt Olympics

Olympic trials haven't even started, but the great race among corporations to capitalize on the Olympic name has. Ordinary consumer items suddenly become unique as the 1984 Olympics logo gets slapped on everything from T-shirts and key chains to office furniture and motor oil.

The definitive Olympics consumer, for example, would not leave home without his official Olympics charge card (American Express). With that card he could fill his official plastic shopping bag (Gal Company) with such official items as sunglasses (Vuarnet), watches (Longines), snack food (M&M/Mars), or soft drinks (Coca-Cola).

Big-ticket items include the official automobile (Buick) and official 35 mm. camera (Canon). And, tilting toward the exotic, there is an official Olympic rose, bred especially for the '84 games.

Don't look for a hidden connection between athletics and official Olympic products, because it may not exist. Official products may appear to be absurd permutations of the meaning of the ancient games. But because the Los Angeles Olympics have been touted as a private-enterprise venture - financed without tax dollars - official sponsors, licensees, and suppliers can financially make or break the games.

With a less-means-more philosophy designed to maximize the prestige of Olympics sponsorship, and thus maximize funding for the games, the Los Angeles Olympics Organizing Committee (LAOOC) has tried to reduce the commercialism of the games by limiting the number of sponsors to 35, licensees to 50, and suppliers as needed.

The plan seems to have succeeded. Already the LAOOC has raised a third of its original goal of a fourth, says Dan Greenwood, vice-president of finance for the committee. (Television rights and ticket sales account for $225 million and $90 million, respectively.) The 1980 Olympics in Montreal, for example, brought in sponsorships amounting to only 1.4 percent - or about $20 million - of the total

''There has been a history of finding sponsors by canvassing the marketplace to see who would pay, and signing up as many as possible,'' Mr. Greenwood says. ''The classic case was Lake Placid (site of the '80 Winter Olympics) with 381 sponsors. . . . (Yet) the most money ever raised that way (for the Olympics) was

The three-tiered support system allows sponsors, licensees, and suppliers to use the Olympics star-in-motion logo, the interlocking-rings symbol, and the official mascot, Sam the Olympic Eagle, for promoting their products. Sponsorships involve a partnership with the LAOOC in which major corporations support the games with cash (a $4 million average), goods and services necessary for operation of the games, and a contract to organize athletic programs for youth. Official licensees hand over a 10 percent royalty on sales, and official suppliers provide the materials needed to conduct the games.

Businesses have little doubt that the Olympics connection is an important marketing tool. The LAOOC received 3,800 applications for licenses in 400 categories.

The criteria laid down for ''official'' sponsorships appear arbitrary. But, explains LAOOC's Greenwood, official Olympics products ''have nothing to do with use of them in the Olympics,'' nor does such a designation constitute a product endorsement. But products are picked with an eye toward ''things benefiting the community, and companies in tune with us philosophically . . . with the ideals of the importance of sports,'' he adds.

''An Olympic connection is perceived by the public in a very favorable manner - like motherhood and apple pie,'' explains Jeannette Wright, manager of communication services for First Interstate Bank. That conclusion, she says, comes from market research done by the bank, which is an official sponsor.

''This is an excellent chance for product identification,'' agrees Vicki Bliss, marketing director of Poullioux SA/Vuarnet France, which distributes $60 to $100 sunglasses. ''We really plan to put Vuarnet sunglasses on the map . . . anyone who hasn't heard about them will in the next 18 months,'' Ms. Bliss concludes confidently.

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