Kodak to cut ties with Olympics after over 100 year relationship

Updated: October 12, 2007, 1:52 PM ET
Associated Press

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Photography icon Eastman Kodak Co. said Friday it is ending its role as the official imaging sponsor of the Olympics after next summer's games in Beijing.

The company, which is undergoing an arduous digital overhaul, cited a shift in marketing tactics for halting a relationship that dates back to the first modern games in Athens in 1896 when it ran advertisements in the program.

"As we complete the transformation of Kodak, it makes sense for us to take a new direction," said Elizabeth Noonan, Kodak's director of brand management.

"Digital technology changes everything, including the way we market our products and services. Our new business strategy requires us to reassess our marketing tactics as well, and adapt them to changing market conditions and evolving customer behavior."

Kodak is one of 12 sponsors in "The Olympic Program," the top tier of business corporations that each spend tens of millions of dollars for rights to market the Olympic logo. Kodak has served as the official photography sponsor for the games over the years. Other global Olympic sponsors include Coca-Cola, McDonald's, General Electric and Visa.

In Beijing, Kodak will provide an imaging center for photojournalists, a diagnostic center to treat athlete injuries and Olympic identification badges for thousands of athletes, officials, journalists and volunteers.

Kodak signed an eight-year agreement valued at more than $100 million to continue as a global sponsor for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, the 2006 Winter Games in Turin and the 2008 Summer Games.

While the Olympics are "a great way to build a global brand," Kodak spokesman David Lanzillo said, "they also lock us into promotional activities within a finite time period. We fully plan to reinvest those marketing dollars into other activities that more directly connect us with our customers over a much broader time period."

For example, a Kodak van equipped with photo scanners has been traveling to U.S. cities since last April to encourage people to digitize film prints currently stored in drawers or shoeboxes.

"I've actually seen consumers bring suitcases full of pictures," Lanzillo said. "They have those digitized and uploaded" to Kodak's online business.

The picture-taking pioneer, which remains the world's top maker of photographic film, is applying the finishing touches to a drastic, four-year digital makeover.

Kodak has piled up nearly $3.2 billion in restructuring charges and accumulated $2.1 billion in net losses over the last 11 quarters. Its work force will slip to around 34,000 at year-end, half what it was five years ago.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press