August 29, 2000


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Logocops to police merchandising mania

Sophia Hares in Sydney

There's no risk that visitors to Sydney during next month's Olympic Games will go home without the chance of snapping up a souvenir to remind them of their stay.

Amanda Connor models Olympic lensesBut they could end up with a cheap counterfeit or a kitsch trinket that some people say doesn't represent the stylish sporting image Australia wants to project to the rest of the world.

Standing between the bootleggers and customers are the "logocops", a team of inspectors using even DNA to sort out the official from the fake.

Organisers have flooded the market with more than 3,500 official souvenirs, from figurines playing "Waltzing Matilda" to swimming Barbie and Paralympic Becky dolls, equipped with high performance wheelchairs.

Shoppers at the giant Olympic Superstore can deck themselves from head to toe in official gear, with everything from socks and boxer shorts, to T-shirts, coats, caps and gold logo medallions.

Games mascots Syd the platypus, Ollie the kookaburra and Millie the echidna -- their images emblazoned on toys and ties, beach towels and bedding -- are also proving popular.

Then there is pin mania. At the Atlanta Games in 1996, 63 million pins were sold, prompting the joke that pin collection had become the 29th Olympic sport. In Australia, over 5.5 million pins have been sold from a range of 3,000 designs even before the Games begin.

Sydney Games organisers SOCOG are raking in the royalties, but some say they may have passed up a prime opportunity to showcase contemporary Australian style which is making a splash on Europe's catwalks.

"I've seen T-shirts with those awful creatures on them, it's just too repulsive to even consider," said Maggie Alderson, the Sydney Morning Herald's fashion writer, referring to the cartoon-style animal mascots.

"Unfortunately, what they've chosen to do totally supports every bad stereotype that Europeans have about Australian style, that it's vulgar and unrefined, which is so completely not the case," she said.

Official Australian Olympic uniforms designed by Mambo which is famed for its loud and irreverent surfwear, could help salvage the reputation of Aussie fashion, even if it's on the track and not in the shops, she said.

But fervent fans are undeterred, and cash registers at the 2,000 official outlets continue to ring hard and fast.

SOCOG expects to reap around A$69 million ($39.6 million) in royalties from the merchandising push and estimates customers will spend A$400 million on Olympic gear by the end of the year, on top of the A$340 million worth sold since 1997.

Lessons have been learnt from the heavy merchandising programme at Atlanta where products ranging from Olympic hot-dogs to insurance policies were on sale. SOCOG has limited the number of firms licensed to produce official gear to around 100.

"This year to date has been absolutely huge," says Madeline Cohen, consultant marketing for consumer products at SOCOG.

"Sales for some licensees have doubled or tripled as the months progress, and we've seen massive growth year on year," she said.

But the merchandising madness has also proved a boon for bootleggers who have rushed to cash in on the Olympic dollar, a business some say could reap up to A$30 million for unscrupulous entrepreneurs.

T-shirts covered in "Sidney" Olympic logos may be easily singled out as fakes, but Australian customs officials say counterfeiters are stepping up business just ahead of the Games.

Over 120,000 forgeries worth several million dollars have been seized at Australia's ports and airports, with Asian-made fridge magnets, caps, T-shirts and key rings, beer mugs and soccer balls among the most commonly confiscated items.

"It's just generally ordinary merchandise that you'd probably find more in the souvenir line, with the Olympic logo added to provide that extra bit of marketability at the time of the Games," Australian Customs spokesman Chris Ryan said.

In a bid to beat the bootleggers, holograms and DNA from an unnamed athlete have been embedded in the labels of official merchandise.

Teams of "logocops" have been scanning shops and market stalls with special wands in a bid to detect fakes and investigators now estimate up to 70 percent have been swept off shelves.

"If you see fakes and you see the real products, you certainly know the difference," Catherine McGill, SOCOG's legal counsel and brand protection manager, said.

"The quality is inferior, the designs are not very sophisticated, and then there's the security devices on the products themselves," she said.

Souvenir hunters are not just snapping up the plethora of products promoting the main Sydney Olympics. The Paralympic Games which run from October 18 to 29 has its own range of clothes and merchandise.

Sales of the Parallel calendar which features naked paralympians decorated in elaborate body paint bikinis or cheetah skins have soared since it was added to the range.

The latest Olympiad has also spawned a fresh interest in memorabilia, with one Internet site offering an official torch from the 1972 Munich Olympics for US$2,750 and an Amik the beaver plush toy from the 1976 Montreal Olympics for US$900.

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