When Lord Killanin took over as IOC President in 1972 he noted immediately that the IOC financial situation was less than optimal. The IOC had no significant income and had been run for years based on the largesse of the IOC Presidents, who to date had always been wealthy men. Killanin was not wealthy and succeeded to the position only on the demand that his expenses be paid and he would work out of his Dublin home.
Although television networks were paying increasingly favorable rights fees to televise the Olympics, those contracts through the 1970s were negotiated by the Organizing Committees and they retained most of the money. In the 1970s Killanin managed to negotiate some turnover of the money to the IOC.
When Juan Antonio Samaranch became IOC President in 1980, he realized the IOC had to improve its financial posture. In the early 1980s Peter Ueberroth was serving as chairman of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and Ueberroth did something quite unlike previous chairmen. Instead of selling multiple sponsorships for the upcoming 1984 Olympics, he made sponsorship a precious item, limiting the amount that could be sold, but demanding extremely high fees for those rights. The Los Angeles Olympics were a financial success, and the surplus funded amateur sports in Los Angeles, California, and the United States for decades, as well as supporting the US Olympic Committee.
Samaranch noticed this, as did his trusted lieutenant, Dick Pound, and they realized that the IOC had a precious commodity – the Olympic Symbol, and the rights to that symbol. Together, they set out to correct the IOC finances in two ways. One was to bring the television negotiations under the aegis of the IOC, with the IOC then doling out a major portion of the rights fees to the Organizing Committees, and the rest to the other aspects of the Olympic Movement – the National Olympic Committees and the International Federations. Pound led those television negotiations for years.
Samaranch and Pound then embarked on a separate, even more ambitious program to bring money into the IOC, which would become known as The Olympic Programme (TOP), although the name later changed to The Olympic Partners, still TOP. In doing so, they used the principles that had made the Los Angeles Olympics so financially successful under Ueberroth.
TOP was designed to have a limited number of partners, usually consisting of only one corporate sponsor for any type of category – such as cars, computers, food, beverages – and giving them exclusive rights to the Olympic Symbol and use it in advertising for the period of sponsorship. TOP I started with the 1985-88 quadrennium and generated $96 million (US) for the IOC with only 8 corporate sponsors, now always called TOP sponsors. For the previously cash-strapped IOC, this enabled them to begin running the IOC in a manner similar to a large corporation.
Over the coming years that $96 million would seem a pittance. From TOP II (1989-92) to TOP IX (2017-20), there have always been only 10-14 TOP sponsors in any Olympiad, but they would soon pay as much in sponsorship dollars, or a combination of money and in-kind support, as the entire TOP program originally generated.
The numbers are now less open than they once were, but TOP IX generated over $2 billion (US), and several companies have now signed up through TOP XII (2029-32), with several of them paying over $300 million (US) each for the period. The TOP program has been financially successful beyond any expectations back in the early 1980s, and has virtually eliminated any fiscal worries for the IOC.
The IOC does not keep most of this money. Rather it distributes most of it to the various arms of the Olympic Movement. The bulk of it goes to the Organizing Committees, both Winter and Summer, so that they have the finances to be able to successfully manage the operating expenses of the Olympics. Most of the rest of it is distributed to the National Olympic Committees and International Federations. In general, the IOC has never retained more than 10% of TOP dollars for its own functions.
The 12 current TOP partners (2017-20) are: Alibaba, Atos Origin, Bridgestone, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, General Electric, Intel, Matushita (Panasonic), McDonald’s, Omega, Proctor & Gamble, Samsung, Toyota, and VISA. Nine sponsors have already signed up for TOP X (2021-24) – Alibaba, Allianz, Bridgestone, Intel Matushita (Panasonic), Omega, Samsung, Toyota, and VISA. Five sponsors are now on board for TOP XI (2025-28) and two have signed up through TOP XII (2029-32). Through 2019, Coca-Cola, Matushita (Panasonic), and VISA have been TOP sponsors since the start of the program.