On March 13, guffaws echoed throughout newsrooms in B.C. A press release from VANOC had announced that the Vancouver Airport Authority had been named an official supplier of the 2010 Winter Games.

“Well, duh,” reporters chimed. In the BCBusiness office, the question was posed, “What’s next? BC Hydro being named the official supplier of electricity?” Wouldn’t you know it? Six days later, our electricity utility was announced as an official supporter of the Games. And a day later, Millennium Development Corp., the developer of what will be the Olympic Village, was also welcomed as an official supporter. So what’s going on? In a nutshell, money.

VANOC is forming three types of partnerships with Canadian companies, explains VANOC spokesperson Chris Brumwell: “An official supplier is a sponsorship arranged between $3 million and $15 million, official supporter is between $15 million and $50 million, and national partner is $50-million-plus. . . . In return, they get all of the rights and benefits associated with the Olympic brand.”

Although athletes have no choice but to land at YVR, the airport couldn’t splash the Olympic logo in its arrivals lounge until it coughed up a minimum of $15 million to VANOC. BC Hydro’s spokesperson Susan Danard may be proud that the utility will supply energy to the Games (noting that “There was nothing stopping them hiring from a private company or using diesel generators”), but now she can say so out loud.

Bob Rennie, whose Rennie Marketing Systems is marketing the Millennium Water project, says developers had to spend $3 million in order to call it the Olympics athletes’ village – even though that’s precisely what it is. “Developers across the street were saying, ‘Across the street from the Olympic village,’ but we weren’t allowed to call ourselves the Olympic village,” he explains.

By paying up, businesses can be loud and proud about their Olympic association and join in what Rennie calls a “$5-billion branding campaign” – a campaign otherwise known as the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games.