Storm brews over Olympic Web ads

A storm may be brewing because US companies have won special rights to pursue advertising space on the official Sydney 2000 Olympics Web site.

Alone among corporate sponsors of national Olympic committees, US companies have been given the opportunity to advertise on the site along with sponsors from the host country, Australia.

That excludes sponsors of about 198 other national committees from displaying their wares on what is expected to become the world's most visited sports site.

Some have protested the decision however the man in charge of the Sydney 2000 Website is unapologetic.

"This is the first time for ads on an Olympics Web site and we are running into a whole bunch of new issues that haven't been tackled before," said Mark Jackson, program manager for SOCOG's internet business group.

The decision to limit the pool of potential advertisers was made in consultation with the International Olympics Committee.

Given the vast number of national committees, plus 28 Olympics sports each with their own coterie of sponsors, it was felt that opening the door to all comers was unworkable.

"The US is the biggest commercial market in the world so it seemed a sensible place to draw the line," Jackson said. Also included were corporate sponsors of the next Olympics Games slated for Salt Lake City.

"That gives a total of about 100 companies to approach for advertising which is manageable for us."

The decision to exclude the rest of the world has triggered "a few questions," Jackson said. "But people appreciate that trying to make the internet work in an Olympics context is a brave new world, an experiment."

The Olympics bans in-stadium advertising and although the web site follows a more flexible policy, over-kill won't be permitted, Jackson said.

"There will be only one ad per page and it will be framed at the bottom of the page. We are taking great care to separate ads from content."

Officials expect the site to generate 1.4 billion page impressions during the Games and generate about $10 million in ad revenues.

Meanwhile, BMC Media, the Australian company handling marketing rights for the Web site along with US firm Phase 2 Media, will issue a call for tenders this week from companies interested in advertising music, greeting cards, travel, books and flowers. One winner will be selected globally in each category.

In addition, a section of the site will turned into an auction house to sell off games memorabilia, including sports items donated by winning athletes with proceeds destined for charity.

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