Tire maker Bridgestone Corp. appears poised to spend several hundred million dollars on five round items — the Olympic rings.

The Japanese manufacturer, which has a major technical center in Akron and its North American headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., will sign a $344 million deal to become a worldwide sponsor of the International Olympic Committee for 10 years, a Japanese newspaper reported Wednesday.

That would make Bridgestone, owner of the Firestone brand, a “top tier” sponsor of the Olympics over a period that includes the 2020 games scheduled for Tokyo.

Neither the International Olympic Committee nor Bridgestone would confirm the story by Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

But an Olympics deal would not be surprising considering that Bridgestone’s strong global sports marketing efforts have previously included the Super Bowl and National Football League, the Professional Golf Association, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball, tire industry experts said.

Bridgestone aggressively promotes itself through sports marketing, said Bob Ulrich, editor of trade publication Modern Tire Dealer.

“The Olympics would be a first for them but it fits their profile,” he said. “They want to get the word out and have chosen sports marketing.”

Jim Smith, editor at Tire Review, another trade magazine, also noted that Bridgestone likes to use major sporting events in its marketing.

“Obviously, with the Olympics returning to Tokyo, it’s a golden opportunity for them to showcase their brand and their products,” he said.

Lengthy partnership

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper said Bridgestone’s deal will run from the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and cover the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the 2020 Tokyo Games and the 2022 Winter Games and 2024 Summer Games.

The paper said Bridgestone is expected to sign the formal contract next month during a visit by IOC President Thomas Bach to Japan.

The IOC said “we are in discussions with a number of companies about joining the TOP (The Olympic Partner) program but will only comment if and when an agreement is finalized and announced.”

Another Japanese company, Panasonic, extended its Olympic sponsorship in February through 2024.

Other TOP sponsors have included Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, General Electric, McDonald’s, Samsung and Visa. The commercial sponsorships generate more than 40 percent of Olympic revenues, according to the organization.

Becoming a TOP sponsor would let Bridgestone market itself before billions of viewers around the world.

“At Bridgestone, we believe it is critical that we reinforce and grow our brand on a global level,” said Jeremy Smith, spokesman at Bridgestone Americas Inc. “To support that goal, we have held discussions with a number of potential partners, including the IOC. However, we are not in a position to make any announcements at this time.”

In 2014, Bridgestone pulled out of sponsoring the NFL’s Super Bowl halftime show.

That decision apparently gives the tire company money to spend on the Olympics, Ulrich noted. The $344 million Olympic amount, if accurate, may be less per year, over 10 years, than what Bridgestone was spending on its Super Bowl halftime sponsorship, he said.

While it dropped the Super Bowl halftime — Pepsi was the successor — Bridgestone remains an NFL sponsor through 2016 and is the “Official Tire of the National Football League.”

The company also is a major sponsor of the racing circuit IndyCar, which it supplies with its made-in-Akron Firestone Firehawk tires. Bridgestone has about 1,000 employees in Akron, with the majority at its technical and research center campus off South Main Street.

The tire company also sponsors the prestigious World Golf Championships’ Bridgestone Invitational tournament at Firestone Country Club; its current sponsorship contract runs through 2018. The annual event attracts the top pro golfers in the world. Bridgestone will be a PGA Tour partner through 2018 and is the “Official Tire of the PGA Tour and Champions Tour.”

At least one other Northeast Ohio company also is using the Olympics to market its products.

The J.M. Smucker Co. in Orrville, which makes Folgers coffee, Jif peanut butter, Smucker’s jellies and other well-known food items, became a sponsor of the U.S. Olympic team starting with the Winter Games held in Sochi, Russia, earlier this year.

Smucker also will sponsor the U.S. team for the Summer Olympics in Brazil in August 2016. The company has not disclosed how much it paid for the sponsorship.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or jmackinnon@thebeaconjournal.com.