Sports

Americans Want Olympic Sponsors to Speak Out on China’s Human Rights Record

Nearly 3 in 5 consumers say they’d also support companies if they pulled out of the Beijing Games

Opposition to brands sponsoring this month's Winter Games in Beijing was strongest among older, more conservative consumers, according to new Morning Consult data. (Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Monique Zarbaf)

Ahead of this month’s Winter Games in Beijing, most of the multinational corporations that sponsor the Olympic Games and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee have been unprecedentedly quiet in an effort to steer clear of any association with China and concerns about its human rights record. Those looking to capitalize on their massive marketing investment are walking a messaging tightrope, touting athletes while avoiding any mention of the host country.

New Morning Consult survey research, however, indicates that the American public would admire any company willing to use the Olympics as a platform to take a stand against the Chinese government.

Americans Strongly Support Companies Using Olympics to Take Stand on China

U.S. adults were asked whether they would support or oppose brands and companies taking each of the following actions:

Poll conducted Jan. 29-31, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,211 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

What the numbers say

  • In a Jan. 29-31 survey, 58 percent of U.S. adults said they would support companies that pull out of the Games given the country’s human rights record, which includes imprisoning ethnic minorities such as the Uyghurs. Such action, however, would infuriate the Chinese government and consumers in the country, harming the companies’ business prospects in one of the world’s most lucrative markets, and tarnishing the companies’ partnerships with the International Olympic Committee for future Games.
  • Even without formally pulling their support of the Games, corporate sponsors would win over 55 percent of respondents by simply releasing a public statement recognizing China’s human rights violations. Brands are unlikely to do so, however, for those same reasons.
  • Thirty-four percent of adults said they would support companies that sponsor the Beijing Winter Games, compared with 29 percent who said they would oppose such companies. U.S.-based Olympic TOP sponsors, who reportedly pay the IOC at least $200 million every four years for its top designation, include Airbnb Inc., Coca-Cola Co., Intel Corp., Procter & Gamble Co. and Visa Inc. Team USA sponsors include Nike Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., Salesforce.com Inc. and Comcast Corp., whose subsidiary NBCUniversal broadcasts the Games.
  • Opposition to brands sponsoring the Beijing Games is strongest among older, more conservative consumers. Thirty-eight percent of baby boomers said they oppose companies backing these Olympics, compared to around 25 percent among younger generations. More than 1 in 3 Republicans (36 percent) said they oppose brands sponsoring the Winter Games, compared to 28 percent of Democrats and 27 percent of independents.
  • In a separate poll also conducted late last month, 45 percent of U.S. adults said they oppose American companies doing business in China. The United States in 2020 imported $434.7 billion worth of goods from China, according to the office of the United States Trade Representative, making it the country’s largest supplier of imported goods.

The impact

Once the Games begin on Friday, expect companies with ties to the Olympics and Team USA to focus their messaging on their support for American athletes rather than the event as a whole. In a Jan. 20 video presentation, for example, Dan Lovinger, NBC’s president of advertising sales and partnerships for the Olympics, stressed the importance of sponsorship and advertising revenue to American Olympians. 

“They rely on the generosity of corporate America and some individuals to help them realize these dreams,” Lovinger said. “So, when our advertisers decide to sit these Games out, it really hurts the athletes, because now they have to go compete with the Chinese and the Russians and athletes from other countries that already receive massive state funding.”

He also cited survey data stating that 80 percent of Americans “associate the advertisers with the athlete’s success.”

While the cost of speaking out on China’s human rights record is likely too high for the multinational corporations involved with the Olympics, the Beijing Games could present an opportunity for companies that can claim to offer products “Made in the U.S.A.” to make an appeal to U.S. consumers who may be distressed by the situation in China. 

WeatherTech, a Colorado-based company that manufacturers floor mats and other automotive accessories, has taken this approach with its Super Bowl ads in past years.

Polls were conducted Jan. 25-27, 2022, and Jan. 29-31, 2022, among a representative sample of roughly 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Morning Consult