The governance of the Paralympic brand

As any other brand, the Paralympic brand evolves in a complex and fast-changing institutional environment that can impact on its equity and consistency. Based on a review of the literature pertaining to disability sports, Figure 8.1 highlights key dimensions that impact the governance of the Paralympic brand. First, the impact of the Paralympic Games and more precisely of the

The institutional environment of the Paralympic brand

Figure 8.1 The institutional environment of the Paralympic brand

Paralympic Games sports programme on the Paralympic brand is examined. Closely linked to the previous point, the role of the IOC in the shaping of the Paralympic brand is then highlighted. Third, key debates in terms of Paralympic sponsorship are investigated and the role of the media in the building of the Paralympic brand is then described. Finally, the attention is turned to how the Paralympic brand resonates among the disability community and disability advocates, as well as into the larger society.

The Paralympic Games sport programmes and the Paralympic brand

The Paralympic Games are actively promoted by the IPC as an elite sport competition (Cottingham and Petersen-Wagner, 2018; Purdue and Howe, 2012). Nevertheless, a question that is still being discussed within the Paralympic community is whether the Paralympic Games should focus solely on elite athletes or should adopt a more participatory approach, remaining open to a larger range of impairments and athletes, including athletes with more severe impairments (Howe, 2008). This key concern is also reflected in the building process of the Winter and Summer Paralympic Games Sport programme. In a strategic review led by the IPC in 2014, concerns arose about how “strategic objectives such as universality, gender, impairment representation and the combination of different types of sport (individual, teams, endurance, power, combat etc.) with the requirements of professional sport, professional governance, broadcasters, sponsors and spectators”4 can be reconciled during the construction of the PG sports programme. At the time of writing, the IPC strives to find a balance between the two, a model that is referred as the “best of both worlds”. Nevertheless, some IPC members consider that this “in-between” model prevents the IPC from fulfilling its strategic objectives.

The shaping of the Paralympic Games sports programme is therefore a key strategic consideration in terms of brand governance, as it would deeply impact the Paralympic brands meaning and its perception by the athletes, fans and society at large. An emphasis of elite and spectacular sports is likely to be suitable for sponsors, broadcasters and certain audience streams but could undermine the IPC’s capacity to address disability community in all its diversity. On the contrary, a focus on participation is likely to blur the image of the Paralympic Games as a high-performance competition gathering the best athletes in the world.

The role of the IOC in relation to the Paralympic brand governance

As described in the historical overview of the Paralympic movement, a great deal of energy has been spent to develop relationships and partnerships with the IOC, that is, since the advent of the Paralympic movement. As a consequence, the marketing of the Paralympic movement and the governance of its brand cannot be discussed without acknowledging the role of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) (Legg and Dottori, 2017).

The IPC currently explores ways to improve its relationships with the IOC, notably on determining what value the Paralympic movement can contribute to the Olympic movement.5 At the same time, the IPC questions how to protect the Paralympic movement from the IOC and other stakeholders when necessary. A recent example of this can be identified during the negotiation process of the “Partnership Agreement” signed in 2012. The aim of the agreement was to “extend relationships between the Paralympic and Olympic Movement on the long term and particularly outside the Games context”.6 The negotiation revealed to be complicated, in part because the IOC claimed “ownership rights over the term ‘Paralympic’and the IPC’s refusal to accept that the IOC was correct on this point '.' At the end, the IPC protected its rights regarding the Paralympic symbolism and terminology and the agreement ultimately recognized “the mutual benefits of a close cooperation between both organizations to support their vision, mission and strategic objectives”.1' In terms of brand governance, it can be seen as a positive outcome as the IPC safeguards the control of its brand in relation to the word ‘Paralympic’.

However, as part of the new IOC’s host city contract for 2026, it has been decided that the IOC will jointly negotiate and manage international sponsorship for both the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games from 2021 (Holmes, 2018). It means that the top-tier Olympic Games partners will automatically become sponsors and hold global rights for the Paralympic Games. In addition, the IPC keeps the opportunity to negotiate Paralympic-specific partners in noncompetitive categories. This agreement was presented by the IPC President Andrew Parsons as “a healthy boost of revenue” and an increase in stability for the IPC (Holmes, 2018).

Even if it can certainly boost the Paralympic brand in terms of visibility and commercial value, one can argue that this agreement can undermine the IPC’s ability to effectively control its brand. As the “exact terms of the agreement are still negotiated” (Morgan, 2018), it remains unclear what exactly will be the role and power of the IPC during the negotiation, implementation and activation of the sponsorship deals. A second potential issue related to this agreement can be explored in terms of congruence between the IPC’s objectives and the ones of the top-tier Olympic Games Partners. As reported by Macdougall, Nguyen and Karg (2014), congruence in terms of value and vision between a sponsor and a sponsee is a key feature in disability sports sponsorship. A crucial aspect of the agreement is whether the IPC will have the ability to develop mutually beneficial relationships with all the Olympic sponsors that support the Paralympic Games, in order to fulfill its commercial and social objectives in the long term.

Another aspect of the relationships between the IOC and IPC is related to the One City Games model. The Strategic Review (2014) identified an ‘overwhelming’ support for the One City Games model within IPC membership which, at the same time, recognized that the dependence to this model is a “major risk "and therefore supported the continued strengthening of the Paralympic Games for the long term.

Such concerns are related to broader discussions in order to avoid the ‘Olympification’ of the Paralympic movement and its brand, as well as the need for the IPC to take “a more confident approach to development of the Games and being in control of its own destiny, influencing the current IOC relationships where appropriate and shaping the Games to reflect its own vision, purpose, membership, personality and culture”.9 The relationship with the IOC deeply affects the governance of the Paralympic brand, which can be seen at the heart of a contested mechanism of influence between the IOC and the IPC.

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