Leading Chinese computer company Lenovo completes the TOP table of sponsors The Olympics are already the world's biggest marketing event but the lure of China's massive, untapped market has added a new dimension to the Games and some of the world's top companies are keen to get on board. Many of the world's biggest brands have already signed up for a presence at the competition, which is even more of a draw than Athens was this year, as firms seek to gain a foothold in China. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) keeps a tight rein on how many companies can use the famous five rings symbol globally and sponsorship works on various levels, from national to global. Top of the heap are the elite group of sponsors known as The Olympic Partners, or TOP, which sign up for a four-year deal to include one summer and one winter Games - TOP sponsorship for the 2005 to 2008 period will include both the 2006 Turin Winter Games and the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. There are only 11 global players each paying around HK$470 million for exclusive global rights to sponsor the Games. They are Lenovo, Coca-Cola, Kodak, McDonald's, General Electric, John Hancock, Panasonic, Samsung, Swatch, Visa and Schlumberger. Lenovo, China's top computer company, was the last of the 11 sponsors to sign up. When it joined the elite club in March, it was a landmark in China's opening up to the world, becoming the country's first truly global sponsor. 'This is the first time for a Chinese company to become a major partner and we are excited to see this milestone in the history of the Olympic movement,' said Gerhard Heiberg, chairman of the IOC marketing commission, at the deal's unveiling. 'We're very happy that Lenovo is the 11th in the TOP programme. The door now is closed. We don't want more than 11. That's enough,' he said, underlining the exclusive nature of the global sponsorship deal. Massive sponsorship for the Olympics comes despite the fact it lasts just 17 days and only takes place once every four years, but the exclusive nature of the package is what makes it so attractive to the big brands. The TOP programme rose out of the financial woes, which nearly bankrupted the IOC in the 1980s. It was created before the Seoul Summer Games in 1988, when nine partners including Coca-Cola, paid around HK$750 million and revenues from these elite partners has sky-rocketed since then, although the actual number of worldwide sponsors has remained more or less the same. While the Sydney Games had more than 100 sponsors, the Athens Olympics only had 32 because the Greeks wanted a less corporate Olympics, focusing on quality rather than quantity of advertiser. The big names like McDonald's, Coke and Kodak were obviously all there. Despite the fewer number of sponsors, the revenues generated by the Athens Olympics are projected to exceed HK$26 billion, which is more than any previous games. Not everyone is bullish on China. Xerox has decided not to become a TOP sponsor as it figures the Chinese market to be less relevant. But others are avowedly bullish, including US conglomerate General Electric (GE). 'The sponsorship demonstrates our long-term commitment to China,' General Electric chief executive Jeff Immelt said after the company signed up, adding that GE's position as a TOP sponsor will help it build up its brand and sell more products in China. GE would provide a host of products and services including the power generation, medical equipment, plastics, rail systems and water treatment for the Games. The world's biggest brand, Coca-Cola, has been involved in the Olympics for the longest period of all, starting back in 1928 when the firm supplied crates of soft drinks for the athletes, and it has been associated with the Olympics ever since. Coca-Cola spends around HK$1.1 billion on the various costs that go with each four-year Olympic cycle, including sponsorship rights and television advertising but even this big spend does not allow it to post signs inside the Olympic venues themselves. China is Olympics-mad and Coke has been using the competition as its main marketing tool since March. The company reckons China has enormous potential for Coke. The IOC's income comes from two major sources - broadcast rights fees and sponsorship, while it also makes money through ticketing and licensing agreements. Broadcasting rights fees are the largest single source of income for the IOC. The broadcasting rights revenues for Athens will top nearly HK$12 billion, just over half of which comes from America. The Games had a global audience of over four billion. Nearly a third of its marketing revenue comes from deals with sponsors, even though the Olympic Games are still technically an amateur event. The committee controls the commercial aspect tightly to try to maintain this amateur status but also reaps the benefits of the huge sponsorship dollars. One headache for organisers is the ongoing problem of illegal doping, which could damage the Games' reputation and sour the competition for sponsors who need a wholesome image to go with their product placements. The Beijing Organising Committee for the 2008 Olympic Games (Bocog) has also signed a number of partnership deals with companies like Bank of China and Volkswagen. The committee is also looking for sponsors to help cover the estimated HK$12.5 billion operational costs for running the Greatest Show on Earth.