The Race for 2016 How Rio Won
Published Sports Pro, November 2009

In the end, it was not even close. For weeks, even the most informed Olympic observers had talked about the race for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, being the closest in living memory – with the IOC President Dr Rogge, stating that he doubted whether there would be more than a couple of votes in it, between the final two cities.

Rio de Janeiro would win the right to host the Olympic Games, by one of the largest margins ever – a massive 34 votes over second place Madrid. No city in recent times has ever won the right so convincingly. And yet some 16 months earlier, Rio was struggling to make the IOC’s cut from applicant to candidate city. Four years earlier, in the race for 2012 Games, Rio would not even make the shortlist.

I have known Carlos Nuzman President Brazilian Olympic Committee for more than 15 years, and the NOC Marketing Director Leonardo Gryner for even longer. Leo was one of the founding NOC marketing executives back in the early 1980’s who lead the charge to develop the IOC’s international sponsorship programme TOP. In the summer of 2006, Carlos and Leo approached me and asked whether I would be willing to help them develop a strategy to win the 2016 bid.

After a visit to Rio, to view their technical plans, it became clear to me that Brazil was now finally ready to host the Olympic Games, and could make a major contribution to the Olympic Movement, by bringing their Latin style of celebration to the staging of the event.

I believed that the Olympics could be good for Rio, and that Rio could be good for the Olympics, and so I agreed to help Carlos and Leo as a friend, and as their senior strategic advisor. I would be joined by a small group of international experts, who over the ensuing three years would work closely with Nuzman and his team and the Brazilian Government to design the winning strategy.

Rio 2016 International Advisors.

  1. Craig McLatchey, CEO EKS, former CEO OGKS (IOC Knowledge Management Company) and Sec Gen Australian Olympic Committee / Director Sydney 2000. Responsible for Technical Bid Development.
  2. Mike Lee, CEO Vero Communications, former Director Communications London 2012 Bid, and UEFA. Responsible for Communications.
  3. Scott Givens, CEO Five Currents, former Head of Ceremonies, Design Salt Lake 2002. Responsible for Presentations. 
  4. Francoise Zweifel, former General Secretary IOC. International Relations.
  5. Michael Payne, former IOC Marketing – Broadcast Director.  

Over the course of the three year campaign, there were more than a few moments where a possible victory looked a very long way off, if not totally impossible. Nuzman nevertheless persevered and in due course was able to turn his bid team into a highly disciplined organisation – something perhaps totally unexpected of the Brazilian culture. By the time the Rio team arrived in Copenhagen, their own secret analysis of how the voting might flow, had Rio winning against Madrid in the final by a margin of 67 votes to Madrid’s 33. (Rio would eventually get 66 votes)

All bid cities try to forecast votes, and they nearly always get it very wrong. The Rio analysis actually foresaw Madrid beating Chicago in the second round by two votes. To be fair, I am not sure anyone had ever strategized at the idea of Chicago going out first, albeit everyone was nervous about the very unique dynamics of IOC first round voting.

Should Chicago have actually gone through to the final, it was forecast that Rio’s margin of victory would have been even greater. On the morning after Rio’s victory, Carlos Osorio, the General Secretary of the Rio Bid, pulled me aside, and took me up to his room and opened the safe, pulling out a battered piece of A4 paper, he had placed there 3 days before the vote.  Detailed on the paper, was Rio’s final secret analysis of how they thought the voting might play out. With remarkable accuracy and foresight, Carlos was forecasting Rio’s victory to within a single vote.

Carlos had not dared show me his final analysis before the vote, for fear that I would have dismissed the forecast as being far too optimistic. As Chicago, and many bidders before them have learnt to their great cost, counting IOC member votes is close to impossible, with nearly every City forecasting far greater support than will eventually materialise.

Each Olympic Bid campaign is unique. Too many cities make the mistake of just trying to copy the strategy of the successful previous bid. Each race though is very different, with different political and sporting dynamics in play, that can change the fundamental nature of any campaign. However, some basic rules of bidding are nevertheless constant.

Three years ago, at the start of the Rio campaign we got together and drew up a master plan for winning the 2016 Race, with a very critical analysis of Rio’s strengths and weaknesses. At the outset, I identified 10 key factors fundamental to success – based not only on  learning’s from an in depth analysis of previous Olympic bids, but also a fundamental look at some very basic marketing lessons – all too easily forgotten in the supposed heat of international campaigning with the IOC.

The 10 points that guided the Rio strategy were identified as follows:

  1. Sound Technical Bid

    Everything must start with having a sound product. No amount of emotion or political sympathy was going to carry the day, if the fundamental proposition was not sound. Rio had learnt this to their cost, when the IOC had rejected the bid for the 2012 Games.

    Rio probably had more to prove here than any of the other bidding cities. The 2007 Pan American Games although a useful initial foundation, was just the beginning and far more work was needed, if a solid and viable technical plan was to be presented to the IOC.

    Rio hired one of the most experienced technical experts in the business, Craig McLatchey and his company Event Knowledge Services to help the Committee and the Government develop the master technical plan and bid books.  A team of architects, transport planners, environmental experts – all with multiple Olympic Games experience moved to Rio, some staying for months at a time, to develop a credible plan that would respond to IOC and Olympic needs but also critically work for the long term needs of the City.

  2. Clear Vision for the Olympic Movement

    All too often bids make the mistake of thinking that the bidding process is a technical beauty contest. It is not! Once the IOC Evaluation Commission has reviewed all the bids, there is often little fundamental technical difference between the different propositions – and the IOC will report that any one of the finalists is capable of organising  great Olympic Games.

    It is at this stage that the real ‘game’ changes – and a successful bid has to answer the key question ‘Why?’.

    - ‘If the IOC was to honour your city with the Olympic Games, what would it mean?
    - Why do you want to host the Games?
    - What would you give back to the Movement?
    - How would you enhance the ‘Olympic brand?
    - How would you hand the Games back to the IOC after the closing ceremony, stronger and with a new dimension - than when you were first awarded the Games?

    All fundamental questions to really getting the IOC members to think about a bid, and ultimately to vote for you. And yet all too often, bids miss this single most important issue.

    Looking back now at the 2016 Campaign, Rio was the only one of the four finalists that truly set out to address the issue. Each of the other cities stepped forward with strong technical plans, but failed to answer the critical question – why, what do you offer that is new?

  3. Political Dynamics – Timing

    Although there is no formal political geographic rotation of Games venues, the issue is always a sub plot, and it was clear from the outset that this was a space that Rio could and should own. Tokyo was always going to be hampered by the perception that the IOC would be returning to Asia too soon after Beijing. Awarding the Games to Madrid would mean a third successive Games in Europe, something that had not happened since 1952.

    In the final months of the campaign, the Rio team came up with the idea of the ‘map’. As Alan Abrahamson, of, one of the most informed and respected of the Olympic beat reporters, summed up the situation: ‘the Map could not have spoken more elegantly. The map was a stroke of genius. It summed up everything and without words.  The Summer Games had never been held in South America. How could that be? Wasn’t it time to rectify such an obvious injustice?‘

    From the ‘maps’ first outing at the SportAccord meetings in Denver in April 2009, it was continually refined and enhanced, so by the time it was presented to the members in Copenhagen it was spelling out the facts – 2 Games in Oceania, 5 in Asia, 30 in Europe, and 12 in North America, 8 of which in the US.

    The map was speaking directly to the conscience of IOC members.

  4. The Bid Team – Strong Dynamic Leadership

    Bid teams are strange animals. They need military discipline to develop a plan to stage the largest and most complex event in the world. They need the Machiavellian skill set to lock in the local politicians into the campaign and then to control them as the campaign embarks on it’s international journey. And they need to be able to become best friends to the voters.  The old maxim is as true in the Olympic world, as anywhere else – it is easy to say no to someone you do not really know.

    Rio already had a head start in the race here, with a leader, Carlos Nuzman who was a respected IOC member. Of all the four bids, Rio was the only one to be lead by an IOC member, who could truly speak to his colleagues on a one on one basis.

    The other leading members of the Rio bid team, were all well known in Olympic circles, having in many cases been part of the Olympic Movement for a decade or more. They did not have to start learning the names and profiles of IOC members, they already knew them all as good friends. They were multi-lingual with a true love of sport.

  5. Government Support

    It is generally now recognised as impossible to stage the modern Olympic Games without clear Government support. The IOC wants not only to see strong support from the various levels of Government in the host country, but also a genuine appreciation of what it would really take to put the Games on, and what it would mean to the country – not just simple lip service of  ‘yes, we signed all the guarantees, and we want the Games’.

    But why do you really want the Games? That is the question the IOC members keep asking, and see through the usual platitudes of the standard politicians pitch.

    Rio was again fortunate to have a dream team set of Politicians standing behind the bid, and actively committing themselves to campaigning. They worked hard to understand the Olympic Movement, travelling the world not only to lobby for the Games, but as importantly to meet with past Olympic Organisers to understand the potential benefits and challenges of actually staging the Games.

    When it came to meeting IOC members, they were fully conversant with what it really meant to be an Olympic host, and could engage in a meaningful discussion about why, what hosting would mean for Brazil and what Brazil could offer the Olympic Movement.

    The trio of President Lula, Governor of Rio Sergio Cabral and Mayor Eduardo Paes all made gaining the Olympics their number one political priority over the past two years. The IOC members could see just quite how important getting the Olympics was to the future development of Brazil.

    President Lula did not just come to the IOC Evaluation Commission once, but three times. He did not just write a general letter to the IOC membership, but wrote 110 individual, personal letters and had his Ambassadors deliver them by hand. Lula made a point of extending his stay in London after the G20 meetings, to go out to the Olympic Park, and meet with Olympic officials.

    The time and energy Lula devoted to understanding the Olympic Movement, gave him an inside track and a better feel of which strings to pull and buttons to press with the IOC – something that President Obama, and other politicians flying in minutes before his presentation, could never hope to achieve.

  6. Communications Strategy

    Ever since the IOC banned Member visits to Host Cities, following the fall out of the Salt Lake scandal, media commentary has played an ever more important role – providing a critical platform to speak to members and opinion formers, and build momentum.

    Communication spin doctors, selling your campaign, and briefing against the competition has become a fine art – but one that is critical to setting the agenda, creating a ground swell of support and movement towards a particular bid.

    After Rio was shortlisted by the IOC, they hired Mike Lee – who had redefined the nature of Olympic Bid communications as Director of the London 2012 campaign. Lee bought with him the discipline and hard knocks of real political campaigns – having spent his formative years developing strategies for the Labour Party to regain Government.

    By the time the IOC was turning to Copenhagen, the world’s press were running headlines ‘The Rise and Rise of Brazil: Faster, Stronger, Higher.’

    As the UK’s Independent would write ‘God may be Brazilian, as many inhabitants of Rio proudly boast, but the almighty seems to be swinging his or her not inconceivable influence towards the Citade Maravilhosa, the marvellous City on the Southern Atlantic Ocean, as it pitches strongly to stage the 2016 Olympic Games. It’s three rivals, Tokyo, Madrid and Chicago seem to be fading as they turn into the home straight towards Copenhagen….’

    IOC Members were reading the world’s media, and the headlines were helping to convince them and give them confidence to follow their conscience and heart.

     Further headlines in the week before the vote in the influential Financial Times, questioned the financial health of the city of Chicago, only serving to turn the focus on Chicago’s bid’s Achilles heel – the financial viability of their plan and the true nature of the Government guarantees, or possible lack of.

  7. Clear Funding Model

    The 2016 Olympic Bid was perhaps the first time that IOC members paid real attention as to how the Host City were going to pay for the Games. The global economic turmoil over the previous 12 months had not left the Olympic Movement unscathed, with the next two Organising Committees Vancouver and London struggling with the financing of their Olympic villages. Sponsors withdrawing, broadcast negotiations being postponed catapulted to the forefront the economics of how the City might actually fund the Games.

    Rio had unprecedented levels of Government support, but it was unclear whether the international community actually understood the true strengths of the Brazilian economy in 2009.

    So the Governor of the Central Bank of Brazil, Henrique Meirelles, the architect of the country economic emergence over the past decade, was brought onto the team, giving the IOC a master class in the Brazilian economy. His gravitas, talking about the booming Brazilian economy, how Brazil was the only economy of the top 10 countries in the world, never to have staged the Olympic Games, and an economy by 2016 according to the world bank that would be the fifth largest in the world, carried far more authority and impact than any hyped political speech.

    The message to the IOC membership was simple – Brazil was no longer a financial basket case, with hyperinflation, but one of the few countries to have withstood the global economic tsunami. Everyone knew Rio as a legendary party town, but that Brazil, unlike in days gone by, was now a sound financial bet.

    There might be many reasons why the IOC might not want to award the Games to Rio, but funding and economic weakness would no longer be one of them. By the time IOC delegates arrived in Copenhagen, Rio was being seen financially as one of the strongest bids, with Chicago for all of its commercial muscle, one of the riskiest.

  8. National Public Support

    It is very simple – the IOC only wants to award the Games to a country that really wants them. Since 2004, the IOC has undertaken independent secret polling to gauge public support towards the idea of hosting the Games.

    Rio wanted the Games. Brazil wanted the Games – and IOC polling clearly showed just how much – over 85%, tying equal first with Madrid. Chicago and Tokyo also wanted the Games, but their citizens did not necessarily want to pay for the privilege. When Chicago’s polling dropped below 50%, after Mayor Daley announced that he had no choice but to sign the Host City Contract, and it’s unlimited guarantees, Chicago was in real trouble.

    Subsequent to winning the Bid, Brazilians have talked about the success being equal to, or even greater than actually winning the World Cup – (not the right to host, but the actually Cup itself) such is the sense of national pride, that their country has finally arrived on the global stage, and been fully recognised by the international community.

  9. The IOC Evaluation Commission Visit and Report

    It was clear from the outset that Rio had far more to gain, and far more to lose than any of the other three bidding cities with the IOC Evaluation Commission Visit (The IOC forms an Evaluation Commission made up of IOC Members, and key technical experts to visit each City, and undertake an in-depth analysis of each City’s plan. The Commission then prepares a detailed report, that is submitted to all IOC members prior to the bid).

    So important was the Commission’s visit and report to Rio’s campaign, that it was  decided to stage not one, but two full dress rehearsals with a team of experts being flown in from around the world to put the Rio Bid team and politicians through their paces.

    It was a tough, ruthless experience, with the ‘dummy investigators’ grilling bid members on their plans, challenging politicians on their true commitment, exploring every possible angle to catch them out. Well heeled politicians used to the cut and thrust of local political debate, were left speechless with the nature of potential IOC questioning – and were sent home to rethink their speeches and answers.

    By the time the IOC arrived in town, last April the Rio team and it’s Politicians had been well rehearsed, practiced every single scenario with everyone very much on the same page. It showed, with the IOC talking of never having seen such a united effort between Sport and Government, and with crowds packing the Cocacabana beach to cheer the IOC inspectors on, the IOC was given a foretaste of the unique celebratory nature that a Rio Games might offer.

    The fact that the General Secretary of the Bid, Carlos Roberto Osorio was a former CNN television presenter, speaking 5 languages fluently, helped to ensure that the evaluation commission question and answer sessions flowed smoothly, no matter how tough or out of left field the questions might have been. Carlos’ calm and professional demeanour helped to further convey that Rio really had their act together.

  10. The Competition

    It is though in the end a race and a very competitive one at that. Whilst you must run your own race, you also need some luck as to how your competitors are performing. And to be fair, Rio had a lot of luck.

    It was clear from the outset that Chicago had the potential to prove the greatest threat to Rio – and for much of the three year campaign, Chicago was seen by many to be the favourite.

    However, whenever Chicago would begin to try and get some momentum, the USOC would ‘kindly’ undermine their efforts by either refusing to engage the IOC in a serious discussion over the long standing dispute on revenue sharing, or deliberately ignoring IOC instructions about new marketing initiatives such as the proposed Olympic television channel.

    It was with a remarkable stroke of irony that the new President of the USOC, Larry Probst stood before the IOC Session in Copenhagen, and promised to be the IOC’s best partner. Nobody believed him!

    Even if Mayor Daley eventually was able to persuade his City Council to agree to him signing the Host City Contract and it’s guarantees, the IOC had carefully watched the vocal nature of the debate, and were not sure they liked what they saw.

    For all of the marketing power and expertise in the US, the Chicago bid failed to develop a magical – emotional message – with the presentations and speeches generally being flat, and surprisingly lacking in any passion. Whilst the Tokyo team and it’s politicians spent months learning English and French so as to be able to address the IOC in their own official languages, the Chicago team stuck resolutely to English, with the exception of one technical speaker, who struggled with a few short sentences in French, and looked mightily relieved when he could revert back into English for his presentation. The Rio team made their final presentation, fluently in four languages. A simple but critical point, and one that non English speakers really do notice – whether the bids are trying, and paying respect to their local cultures.

    Olympic historian David Wallechinsky, did not mince his words in summing up Chicago’s final presentation when he said – ‘without the Obama’s, Chicago had nothing.’

    The above Ten Point List developed back in the autumn of 2006, stood Rio in good stead over the three years of campaigning. However for all the pretty pictures and emotional speeches, everyone knew this was first and foremost a marketing – sales campaign.

    As in any marketing – sales campaign, Step number one, has always been to know your customer. Any good marketer will tell you that there is a world of difference between defining your customer, and really knowing them in terms of what truly motivates them.

    Rio developed a real familiarity with the electorate – taking time to understand what each member was looking for, how to address any real or perceived concerns they might have about Rio and what finally would truly engage them.

    The Rio bid team had been building relationships with IOC members over a decade or more – able to walk into a any Olympic room, and work the floor, rather than just building initial awareness, as to who am I.

    It was a surprise to watch a real and legendary political machine as so finely tuned and experienced as Chicago – who prided themselves, as no other US City, on their ability to manage elections, telling people how they are going to vote before they even approach the polling station, to so totally miss the plot. As the 18 vote first round so clearly showed – Chicago totally failed at the very first rule of elections. Chicago never really understood the electorate, and how to communicate with them.

    At the end of any campaign you also have to know how to close the sale – which in the case of the Olympic pitch, was to answer the question why / what is in it for me? When it came to presentation time in Copenhagen, Rio focused on what electing Rio would do for the Olympic Movement – opening up a new continent, engaging the 180 million youth of South America, showing that other countries could aspire to host the Olympic Games. Rio played the history card, and played it hard.

    President Lula began to drive the message home with his remarks: ‘Among the countries that today compete to host the Olympic Games, we are the only one to have never had this honour. For others it will just be one more Games. For us, it will be an unparalleled opportunity. It will boost the self esteem of Brazilians. It will consolidate recent achievements. It will inspire new ones.’

    Lula continued: ‘The bid is not only ours. It is also South America’s bid…..a continent that never hosted the Games. It is time to address this imbalance. For the Olympic Movement, this decision will open a new and promising frontier……and it will also send a powerful message to the whole world: the Olympic Games belong to all peoples, to all continents, to all mankind.’

    Carlos Nuzman would continue the sharp focused message in his final remarks: ‘The Games have always been the greatest…when they have explored new territories and new connections. The Olympic flame has always burnt the brightest…when it has bought people together and marked a new chapter in history.’

    The other three bidders focused on what it would mean to them, the city – but it was unclear what it would really mean for the Olympic Movement. Rio stuck to the basic principles of ‘branding’ – offering a clear point of differentiation from the other 3 cities in contention, and then clearly establishing Rio’s relevance to the IOC.

    Nuzman and the Rio team knew from the outset that whilst the process is technical, the decision is always emotional. An Olympic Bid is increasingly a communications campaign and that in the end people will vote for who they like best, who they believe in most, who they can trust and in the Olympic context who can offer them something more, than just another Games.

    When the results of the vote came through, the world’s media were shocked. Shocked that Chicago had got it so wrong, and gone out in the first round. Shocked that Rio had won by such a large margin. However, they all agreed that the IOC had made the right decision, and that Rio had run a flawless campaign.

Michael Payne was senior strategic advisor to the Rio 2016 Bid campaign. Former Head of Marketing – Broadcast Rights at the IOC, Michael now runs his own international strategic consulting group advising Media Groups, Corporations, Governments and Sports Properties.

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