A shot for Olympic gold can be an opportunity of a lifetime for athletes. But for companies that spent heavily on advertising and marketing...

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A shot for Olympic gold can be an opportunity of a lifetime for athletes. But for companies that spent heavily on advertising and marketing at the Olympics, the Beijing Games offered a different kind of golden opportunity: the chance to advertise their goods to a worldwide audience and for more exposure to consumer-rich China.

“Until China, never before has the market potential of the host country on its own been viewed as possibly worth the significant investment,” says Julius Roberge of branding company Siegel + Gale.

Twelve companies from a variety of industries acted as worldwide Olympic sponsors for the 2008 Games, while others sponsored individual teams or athletes.

Of the represented industries, three stood out as successes — sportswear, media and food and beverage — in their bids to seize worldwide recognition for their brands to boost sales and profit potential.

Every men’s swimming event was won by an athlete donning the Speedo LZR Racer suit, with 94 percent of all gold medals going to swimmers who wore one.

Speedo International is a unit of privately held Pentland Group, based in London.

Chinese sportswear brand Li Ning also got a boost after its founder lit the flame in the opening ceremony. Shares jumped as much as 13 percent during the Olympic Games.

“Li Ning might well have been the official sponsor for the games, in our opinion,” says Stifel Nicolaus analyst Thomas Shaw.

Audiences returned to watching broadcast TV to view their favorite events, even as Internet downloads of the competition surged.

General Electric (GE), the parent company of NBC, had the exclusive broadcast rights for the 17-day games. The network averaged 27.7 million viewers a night for its prime-time coverage, which was higher than the averages for both the 2004 and 2000 Olympics.

Food and beverage companies, meanwhile, were awarded with strong advertising and marketing relationships, including a Kellogg (K) deal with gold-medalist swimmer Michael Phelps and Coca-Cola’s (KO) unity-themed marketing campaign featuring Chinese basketball star Yao Ming.