NBC Says Brands Are Still OK With the Sochi Games, Prays They Stay That Way

No one is pulling out of the Winter Games in Russia now, but that could change in the coming months.

Russia’s new anti-gay propaganda law has prompted global backlash for the awful bias and homophobia it demonstrates, and the harassment and unfair treatment of the LGBT community it will cause. The law bans “discussion” of “non-traditional sexual relationships” with minors. Those found to have broken the law will be subject to fines and even prison.

With the world descending on Sochi in about six months for the Winter Olympic Games, calls for a boycott are getting louder. Just today, an American runner Nick Symmonds, who won a silver medal at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow criticized the law, saying that he would like to wear a rainbow pin, but it’s “very clear that will land you in jail.” The International Olympic Committee has asked how this will be enforced. Rep. Nancy Pelosi was far stronger in her condemnation of the law, calling it “outrageous” that Russia would “criminalize equality.” President Obama said he was “offended” by the law.

Also today, FIFA asked for “clarification” ahead of the 2018 World Cup, which will take place in Russia. And Andy Cohen says he won’t be going to Moscow to co-host the Miss Universe pageant because it’s “unsafe” for gays and he “doesn’t feel right as a gay man stepping foot in Russia.” Because of your horrible law, you miss out on the awesomeness of Andy Cohen. Sucks for you.

All of this controversy is surely causing some sleepless nights for the folks at NBC, which will be broadcasting the Games. The network is expecting to pull in $800 million in advertising, which Buzzfeed says would be the most ever for a Winter Olympic Games.

“So far, brands that have bought advertising time on NBC remain committed, but with six months left to go before the opening ceremonies and the potential for a boycott rising, a lot can happen that could change their minds,” the site says.

An NBC sports rep spoke with Buzzfeed on the issue and said, “We’ve talked with all of our advertisers, and of course they find the situation unfortunate and concerning. However, they are unwavering in their commitment to the Games and U.S. athletes. There has also been no loss in momentum regarding conversations with prospective advertisers.”

Peter Lauria highlights the comment about the network not losing any of its “momentum” as an indication that this controversy could have a minimal affect on the Games, much the same way that human rights criticism of China did in 2008.

Or at least that’s what NBC is banking on (literally). One by one, countries around the world are passing laws that allow for same-sex marriage and, overall, are becoming more fair and just in their treatment of the LGBT community. This law runs squarely against the strong tide going in the opposite direction.

As the Games near, we’ll see if the same level of backlash continues and whether brands will move forward in spite of it. Lauria says that NBC’s plan is to sell 75 percent of the advertising before the Games and then sell the remaining advertising for the Games themselves. This doesn’t include the PR that will be done in the lead up and on the ground.

For the next six months, brands are surely going to be keeping an eye on this issue and how it’s being discussed among governments, the athletes, and the fans and consumers. If this isn’t like China and brands decide that their businesses and reputations are better served by them staying out of the Games, it would be a much different Olympic event for everyone.