— Published 21 April 2023

LVMH, a long-awaited Olympic sponsor

A sea serpent. Announced by rumour for months, but still invisible, the arrival of the French luxury group LVMH as a premium partner of the Paris 2024 OCOG resurfaced briefly on Thursday 20 April. The time for a few fine words. Before diving back in and disappearing.

Surprise: Bernard Arnault himself has taken up the subject. The CEO of the group, now installed in the first rank of the world’s largest fortunes, confirmed the existence of “discussions” with the organizing committee to join the Olympic and Paralympic adventure, less than 500 days before the deadline. He did so almost in spite of himself, in response to a question from a shareholder at the LVMH annual general meeting.

The contract you are talking about is not signed,” he explained. It is under discussion and like any discussion, it may or may not end with a signature.” It is difficult to be more enigmatic.

When asked by the media to clarify his father’s comments, Antoine Arnault, the eldest son of the family, who is also image director of the LVMH group and managing director of the Christian Dior SE holding company, confirmed the existence of negotiations. But he also refused to mention the signing of a partnership contract with the OCOG as a certainty.

We will continue to negotiate, it can take 15 days or six months,” he cautiously explained. “A negotiation is always complex, especially with foreign organisations or companies, there are a lot of legalities, discussions in all directions.”

There is nothing new under the sun. According to several corroborating sources, LVMH has been in discussions with the OCOG for months, but not only with it. The discussions have been extended to a much wider sphere: the entire planet. In other words, the IOC. The French group is tempted by the Olympic adventure, but it is considering it on a larger scale than just national marketing.

Problem: the partnership contracts signed by the OCOG only concern national rights. For the rest of the world, the ball is in the IOC’s court. The IOC reserves the exclusivity of its international rights to partners who are members of the TOP programme and who are often committed for a period much longer than a single Olympiad. LVMH is not one of them.

The game is not simple. Its complexity explains the length of the three-way negotiations between the OCOG, the IOC and Bernard Arnault’s group. LVMH would like to be a little more than a single national partner, but without joining the narrow circle of the IOC’s TOP programme. The diversity of its brands does not help, as the watch sector in particular is already contractually reserved for the Swatch group worldwide, via its Omega brand.

In any case, the possible partnership between the OCOG and LVMH would concern only some of the group’s many brands. Louis Vuitton, for example. Dior, too.

Antoine Arnault confided it on Thursday 20 April: the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, on Friday 26 July 2024 on the Seine, constitutes “one of the elements of the negotiation.” “Doing an event like that in the open air, which is not in a stadium, which is in the heart of a city, it will probably be the most watched show in the history of television, in the history of the Games,” he suggested. “It’s obviously something we’re very interested in.”

In the meantime, time is running out and the arrival of a sixth premium partner – BPCE, Orange, EDF, Sanofi and Carrefour are already in the mix – is still pending. In its report submitted last July, the Paris 2024 OCOG’s audit committee emphasised this without qualification: “The signing of an additional Tier 1 contract (Premium Partner), for an amount at least equal to the average of the contracts already signed, is an imperative necessity. Without this signature, the objective seems unattainable.”

At the end of last year, the OCOG proudly announced that it had achieved almost 80% of its marketing objectives. In response to a question from FrancsJeux, Tony Estanguet acknowledged that a first-rate partner was among the most advanced negotiations, and therefore the closest to success.

Since then, radio silence. The words of the Arnault family on Thursday 20 April suggest that all options are open. The best and the worst.