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Riding the coattails of the Olympics

Every two years, official sponsors of the Olympics feature the famous five rings in their television commercials and newspaper ads. Huge corporations like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Visa use the Olympics in their promotions, while companies not affiliated with the games have to get more creative.

Bartender Alexis Tantau poses with an ‘Olympic Cup,’ the Fells Point bar’s version of the British drink called the Pimm’s Cup.

The Olympic logo, as well as certain phrases that involve the word “Olympics,” are protected and can’t be used without specific permission from the International Olympic Committee.

“The conditions that are placed on the use of the Olympic marks for sponsors are very specific in the ways and means that they can be used,” said E. Scott Johnson, chairman of the Intellectual Property group at Baltimore law firm Ober|Kaler.

According to Johnson, smaller businesses and restaurants may be in the wrong for their use of the Olympic marks, but they may still be safe.

“You’re going to have situations that are on the margins,” he said. “Depending on how aggressive the Olympics organization wants to be, there may be smaller uses that they could theoretically challenge. But, they also may not want to.

“It’s all in good fun and support of the athletes.”

Small businesses across Baltimore are taking advantage of what Johnson calls “gray areas” by using these protected marks. The strategy seems to be paying off.

The Greene Turtle in Fells Point, for example, is putting on the “Beers Around the World Olympic Challenge.”

“We’re offering 22 different beers from 22 different countries,” said Jeff Guidera, the restaurant’s manager.

“We’re just trying to get people to come back and watch the Olympics here,” said Guidera.

Bob Simko, manager at Max’s Taphouse in Fells Point, said he has seen a 20 to 25 percent increase in sales by simply offering discounts on all British bottled beers.

In the spirit of the games, which started in London July 27 and run through Aug. 12, Kooper’s Tavern, also in Fells Point, is offering a new take on a British drink called the Pimm’s Cup. Their version, the “Olympic Cup,” has been the most popular drink, according to bartender Alexis Tantau.

Restaurants and bars aren’t the only businesses that are looking to generate more revenue from the Olympics. For larger businesses, however, it becomes increasingly difficult to advertise their Olympic promotions without violating trademark law.

Under Armour found a way to incorporate the games into its business plan, despite not being an official sponsor.

The Baltimore-based company’s new “Country Pride” shirts feature the familiar Under Armour logo filled in by flags from various countries. The description on the athletic apparel company’s site says “Support your country as they take the world stage.”

“We are aware of the guidelines for the use of the Olympic trademarks and were mindful of the guidelines when creating the products,” said an Under Armour spokesperson.

The Maryland Lottery is also taking advantage of the Olympic Games.

“Medal Madness” is what the Maryland Lottery calls a “second-chance” promotion. Players who find a gold, silver or bronze medal on Pick 3, Pick 4 or Keno tickets can mail in for a chance to win up to $250,000.

“We avoided using the term Olympics,” said Carole Everett, director of communications at the Maryland State Lottery Agency. “We can’t use the rings either, or else you’re endorsing the product.”

The promotion has already received approximately 12,000 entries, according to the lottery agency. The competition began July 9, and the deadline for entries is Sept. 4.

According to Everett, the agency wanted to find a way to connect to the excitement of the Olympics without actually saying the word “Olympics.”

“We use the medals as well,” Everett said. “I think there’s an obvious connection.”

So far, officials from the lottery agency said, the game has been positive. An increase of between 3 and 7 percent in games with a deadline, called terminal games, is expected.

On a national scale, Caribou Coffee Co. is running the “’Bou Games,” a scratch-off card that offer specials. Customers can also order in a British accent to receive additional benefits.

For some businesses, becoming an official sponsor of the Olympics isn’t necessary. Sometimes, being imaginative with advertising and special promotions can be just as effective.

“Without trying to capitalize on the trademark name, you can still capitalize on the emotion and excitement of the games,” the lottery’s Everett said.