Patriotism? Or strictly business?
I understand the recent uproar over the U.S. Olympic team uniforms being made in China as seen as unpatriotic, and political leaders blasting the USOC for “outsourcing” during a time of domestic turmoil in the employment rates. But people need to let go of their naive “it’s all about the purity of sport” & “Go USA! at all costs” beliefs and refocus their energy as it applies to this issue.
At the end of the day, similar to that of the NFL or NHL or Phila Ballet Co for that matter, the USOC is running a business first and foremost – and they are not in the direct business of producing patriotism. It’s a byproduct.
The USOC’s primary function is ensure American athletes win medals. To win medals it takes layers of development: from identifying and nurturing world-class athletes and coaches to providing them tools and opportunity to advance their skills. That means extensive training facilities, equipment, travel, and the collective time of thousands of people. All of which means a lot of money needs to be spent, and generated.
Like most non-profits, the USOC receives funding through grants and donations, but most of it raised through corporate partnerships and sponsorships. Sponsorship in sports alone is a multi-billion dollar industry. Brands are finding value in aligning with these “passion-point” based properties, and teams, venues, and athletes are cashing in. And what a better way to tug at consumers’ loyalty than to align your company with Olympians?
Like most businesses though, the USOC has a bottom line, and it needs to do what it needs to do to generate the capital to stay above it. If BMW (a German company with some, but comparatively very little domestic presence) is ready to ink a $24M sponsorship deal, with no other U.S. car manufacturer stepping up, and Ralph Lauren (an American company that outsources manufacturing to China) is ponying up likewise, the USOC is making those deals ten out of ten times.
The alternative is a lack of funding to keep the various sports’ governing bodies and many training centers and developmental competitions afloat. The trickle down effect is mediocrity at the international level for U.S. athletes.
Can you imagine a world without U.S. dominance at the international stage? Talk about a lack of patriotism. Americans would turn off their TV faster than a soccer match.
If companies were lining up to support the U.S. team, that’s a different story. There should always be a preference to keep things home grown whenever possible. But that’s not proving to be the case. So I say refocus of all the collective negative energy aimed at the USOC towards drumming up more domestic support. Leaders can use their influences & connections to help the USOC forge new relationships with domestic companies; perhaps create incentives to garner that support. Whatever it is, do something productive.
As it stands, grandstanding and verbally attacking the OC for doing what it’s gotta do to run its business – and thus creating a buzz of bad PR around it – is only going to scare companies and their money further away. So in the words of Michael Corleone: “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.”