The Rio Olympics have decided that the best way to fight counterfeiters is to beat them at their own game; counterfeit themself. That’s not entirely true. Of course, you can’t really counterfeit what you own the rights to, for one. They are still aggressively going after counterfeit products. And despite the Olympic Rings, TM symbol, and helpful warning to use away from children, they have not yet gotten into the cocaine trade.  They also seem to be testing the limits of the concept of frivolity in their battle against hashtags. So the normal playbook still applies; they’ve just added a new strategy.

Rio 2016 T Shirt

Rio 2016 will feature something unique. Rather than offering official products only at official stores with a high price tag, you will now be able to find official merchandise at some local shops for much less. The official megastores will have higher quality products at the normal inflated price. But if you venture a little further afield, you can find the same t-shirt, made with a cheaper fabric but still official, for quite a bit less. The strategy makes sense, and is probably a bit overdue. Keep the higher priced stuff closer to the hotels and venues. Put the cheaper stuff a little further afield to let locals and those attending on a shoestring get in on the official action. After all, the Olympics only occur every two years. The Summer Olympics, every four years, is the blockbuster one as well. The world watches for free on broadcast television (though the networks pay an awful lot to carry it and advertisers pay even more for air time). It’s not quite the same as a high end fashion brand that makes it on exclusivity, though the licensing is high value.

By splitting merchandising into two groups, Rio 2016 is reaching out to consumers that would otherwise be unable to afford official gear and likely purchase, if at all, from counterfeiters. This seems like an effective pincer attack: take down the counterfeiters that you can and compete with those that are inevitably left.

Of course, the Rio Olympics portrayed this as a way to fight counterfeits and open things up to locals who probably couldn’t afford the official gear even before the Brazilian economy started tanking. I’m curious to see whether this strategy survives. Will the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics and Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics offer something similar? I’m on the fence.

Rio seems uniquely positioned to take advantage of the strategy. Brazil is a notoriously violent country and Rio a notoriously violent city. Olympic team members have had run ins before the games even began. Infrastructure projects have fallen behind and ticket sales have lagged.

I would hazard a guess that those in charge don’t expect the foreign spectators to venture too far afield in Rio. Whether because of an inability to do so due to unfinished infrastructure projects, or due to legitimate fear of bodily harm, I think it’s safe to say that most foreigners will stay within a well traveled corridor. It would seem that Rio 2016 really isn’t competing against themself, but only against the counterfeiters.

South Korea and Japan are both much more developed countries. Both have modern transportation and largely lack the violence of Rio. Setting up a two tiered system in either of the next two Olympics may result in  more siphoning from the higher cost stores. So will the strategy survive Rio?