The Beijing Olympic Games So what will it mean for China?

Fortune is pleased to announce the start of a new monthly feature column focused on the final count down to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The column will be presented by Michael Payne – one of the world’s foremost authorities on  the Olympics and Global marketing.

For more than two decades, Michael Payne as the IOC first ever Global Marketing & Broadcast Director, first under IOC President Samaranch, and then President Rogge oversaw a transformation of the Olympic Games from bankruptcy into a multi billion $ franchise. He was intimately involved in the overall strategy to bring the Olympic Games to China, and thereafter helped devise the marketing plan for the Games with BOCOG, and negotiate the key broadcast contracts.

Michael Payne’s book – ‘Olympic Turnaround’ – has been published around the world in more than 10 languages – and has been described by President Samaranch as the most important book ever written on the business of the Olympics.

Michael Payne’s Olympic column will examine the potential impact of the Olympic Games to China – for the Nation, for the Sponsors and for Chinese industry as a whole. Based on his experience directing the Olympic marketing effort for more than 14 Olympic Winter and Summer Games, he will provide the key insights as to how China and Chinese industry can best benefit from the Games, and avoid some of the pitfalls and mistakes of the past.


When President Hu Jintao steps up to a podium in the spectacular new Birds Nest Olympic Stadium at (time) on the 8th August, to declare open the Games of the 29th Olympiad, the eyes of the world will be watching. To be precise – some 4 billion people from will tune in over the next 17 days, to watch China present the largest and perhaps most significant Olympic Games the world has ever seen.

Over 20,000 journalists and broadcasters  will have come to Beijing to document the China’s spectacular party, as the country emerges from isolation to take its rightful place the world stage. More journalists will visit China during the 17 days of the Olympic Games than visited the country in the previous 100 years.

While history has been written with each edition of the  Olympic Games over the past Century, nothing will compare to the impact that these Games will have on China and the world.

 Seven years ago, at the IOC Session in Moscow, where the IOC members were meeting to select the host city for the 2008 Olympic Games, the senior and highly respected IOC Member from China, He Zhenliang, rose to address his colleagues in a final plea to bring the Games to China. He quietly, yet passionately addressed the 120 members – saying ‘today which ever city you choose, you will make history, but with one city you will change history.’

Two hours later,  IOC President Samaranch would announce that China’s dream, first launched nearly a Century earlier in 1908 when the Tiajin Youth news magazine asked the question: ‘When will it be possible for China to host the Olympic Games on its own territory?

Whilst many international media commentators will rush to judgement at the Closing Ceremony as to the impact of the Games on China’s social, political and business system – the true impact will not be felt perhaps for a further decade or more.

Hosting the Olympic Games can provide one of the most platforms for any nation. Governments spend billions of dollars every year managing their national image around the world. They seek to influence how they are perceived by other nations. National images,  they know affect political and economic relationships. Whether it is to increase tourism, change foreign and domestic policy, attract investment or aid, or boost international trade, the goal of national image management is to cast the nation in a more favourable light.

Tokyo in 1964, for example signalled a change in both the world’s and Japan’s view of itself, and it’s place in the world. Seoul was a monumental step forward in modern Korean history – showcasing the fact the country was no longer a poverty-ridden nation but ready to evolve from years of military rule into a true democracy. In Barcelona in 1992, the City succeeded in catapulting itself into the top tier of Europe’s tourist and business destinations.

The Olympic Games are unique in their ability to present a host nation and a city to the world. No other sports event, or any other type of event for that matter, offers such a global stage.

Hosting the Olympic Games can be an expensive path to self esteem – but one that correctly managed, is one the most cost effective, powerful and rewarding undertakings that a government and a nation can embark on.

First and foremost the Beijing Games will give China a unique opportunity to present itself to the world. To be honest – little is known about China’s history, China’s culture around the world –and the world’s broadcasters will spend as much time presenting China from outside of the sports venues, as detailing the sporting action from the track side.

Outside a few historians few people realise that organised sport was being played in China  whilst most of Europe was still living in caves; and two millennia before Greece would first launch the ancient Olympic Games, and four millennia before America was even discovered. The world is going to be shocked and deeply impressed with what it will see and find.

The Beijing Olympic Torch relay will provide for a video news postcard to present the whole of China, as the sacred Olympic flame tours around the nation. Most people outside of China would struggle to name more than two Chinese Cities – the fact that there are --- Cities with a population of over (4 million)  million, and an architectural skyline that could put most European capital’s to shame is going to be a surprise to say the least.

Never before will the world have seen such icon architectural sports facilities – from the -----(swimming pool) through to the Birds Nest Stadium. For a nation not internationally renown for its design and innovation, the Games will present a very different China to the international community,  transforming prejudices about China only being a low cost manufacturing nation.

 All Chinese industry will benefit from this ‘rebranding’ of the Chinese image. The Olympic Games will help a broad range of Chinese companies to launch their international marketing efforts, providing them with instant brand equity and image of leadership, quality and innovaton.

 In 1988, Korea successfully used their staging of the Games to change the ‘Made in Korea’ label from that of a cheap copycat manufacturer, to one of modern design and innovation.

In 1988, the leading Korean manufacturers of Samsung and Hyundai could not even afford to be sponsors of the Games. Samsung would have to wait another decade before it would become a TOP Partner, and then  with the power of the Olympic Symbol underpinning its marketing strategy, the company would jump in a  few short years from number 100 on the global Interbrand survey to one of the World’s true superbrands, now ranked in the top 20 most valuable brands in the world.

In 2008, there are few if any Chinese companies with a recognised global brand identity. Lenovo, after its recent acquisition of IBM’s portable computer division is perhaps the first international brand to move onto the world stage. However what is certain, is that with a decade of China staging the Olympic Games, there will likely be more than a dozen Chinese brands, all of whom will have become household names around the world.

When Tokyo staged the Olympic Games in 1964 – no one outside of Japan had ever heard of Toyota, Sony, Panasonic or Seiko to name just a few of the Japanese brands that now dominate the international market place.

Long after the sporting memories of next summer begin to fade, China and Chinese industry will be reaping the benefits from a 17 day sports event, that just so happens to capture the world’s imagination every four years.

Over the next few months, I will endeavour in subsequent articles to share my experience from working over the past 30 years with the world’s leading companies, with start up manufacturers and with Governments as to how they fully exploited the benefits of their nation hosting the Games – the key lessons for success, and how to ensure that you fully realise the opportunity  and benefit offered by the Games. Whether you are an Olympic Partner or an Olympic licensee – ultimately all Chinese industry should benefit from events of next summer.

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