LONDON - Dr. Dre and his Beats headphones are at the center of a marketing controversy here at the Summer Olympics.
London Olympics organizers and the International Olympic Committee have strict rules to protect official sponsors who have struck multi-million dollar deals for the exclusive right to exploit their association with the event.
The headphone brand is not an official sponsor of the International Olympic Committee or the London 2012 Olympic Games. Under Olympics sponsorship and marketing rules, it should therefore not get promoted by athletes at the Summer Games.
The IOC issued guidance against so-called "ambush marketing" by non-Olympics marketers ahead of the Games. It stated that athletes were not permitted to promote any brand, product or service within a blog or tweet or otherwise on any social media platforms or on any web sites.
But Dr. Dre's company sent some high-profile members of the British team special versions of the headphones decorated with the union flag. Among others, British tennis player Laura Robson and diver Tom Daley have been seen sporting them. Soccer player Jack Butland has even been tweeting about them.
Daley was seen on screen-wearing his Beats headphones ahead of the synchronized platform diving competition on Monday, an event watched by seven million at its peak on the BBC.
A rep for Beats told Billboard.biz that the company develops relationships with athletes year-round and noted that no action has been taken by the IOC.
According to a report in The Guardian, Robson tweeted about receiving her headphones, although the post now appears to have been removed from her Twitter account as did a Twitter post from Butland, which had said: "Love my GB Beats by Dre."
Among U.S. stars, Michael Phelps has been seen using the headphones in the Aquatics Center to help block background noise before races and help his concentration.
The Guardian said the IOC and London organizing committee did not respond to a request for comment on the situation.
The ambush marketing initiative comes on the heels of a protest - initiated by U.S. athletes, including 400 meter sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross - criticizing one rule of the IOC code of conduct. That rule forbids athletes from mentioning their personal sponsors on social media during the Games.
Dawn Harper, the Olympic 100 meter hurdles champion, posted a picture on Twitter of her track and field teammates and the statement: "I am honored to be an Olympian, but #wedemandchange #rule40." She also posted a picture of herself with her tape over her mouth emblazoned with the words "rule 40."
Billboard.biz will have more about Beats' marketing efforts around the Olympics soon.