Review by Stefan Stern, Business Voice Magazine & Financial Times
July 6th 2005 was a proud day for Britain. The International Olympic Committee, meeting in Singapore, announced that the 2012 Olympic Games were to be held in London, the first time the capital would play host to the games since 1948. The horror of the following day, July 7th, has to some extent inevitably obscured the significance and excitement of the Olympic win. But as the worst memories of 7/7/05 begin to fade, the thrill of 6/7/05 should begin to reassert itself. 2012 will of course represent a massive business opportunity for this country. As Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of media giant WPP, never fails to point out, the two great macro-economic boosters to his and many other businesses are US Presidential elections and Olympic games. And it is not just the south east of England that will benefit: as events are spread right across Great Britain, business leaders everywhere would be wise to think what they can do to get a piece of the Olympic action.
The prospect is even more tantalising when you think that the Olympic games might never even have made it to 1992, let alone 2012. As Michael Payne, former marketing director for the IOC points out in this remarkable book, the Olympics were very nearly dead in the water two and half decades ago.
Many readers will remember the bleak scenes at Moscow 1980, where, in spite of the heroics of Messrs Coe, Ovett, Wells and Thompson, the US-led boycott helped reduce the games to a pretty miserable affair. Four years later, the Soviets’ tit-for-tat boycott of Los Angeles, while not quite as damaging, nonetheless undermined the event.
Payne came on board in 1983, asked to create the first ever global marketing strategy for the Olympics – the TOP programme – which has turned out to be one of the world’s most successful marketing initiatives ever seen. As the IOC’s first marketing director and then its first director of global broadcast and media rights, he oversaw a growth in sponsorship revenues from around $100 million every four years to over $2 billion.
Always the tension existed between the Olympics’ amateur and non-commercial origins, and the urgent need to generate revenue. The IOC are now past masters at protecting what they call their “clean venues” – that is, no rogue, ambush marketers placing products for free in front of worldwide viewing audiences. Ever tried taking the wrong soft drink or the wrong types of training shoe into an Olympic stadium recently? You won’t forget the experience in a hurry.
Remember the US basketball “dream team” draping Stars and Stripes flags over their “inappropriate” sports logos to spare the blushes of the official Olympic sponsors? Thank Michael Payne and the new spirit of business that the IOC has latterly adopted. At least corporate sponsors know that their investment will be respected by the games’ officials.
Another classic example of this sort of attention to detail came at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 – and it almost cost Costa Rica its first ever gold medal. As Payne explains: “Claudia Poll won the women’s 200 metres freestyle event. The flag of Costa Rica looks remarkably like the logo of Pepsi-Cola – a red, white and blue wave. Everyone thought that Poll was swimming with a head-cap proudly bearing the national flag. Only on close examination of the press photographs after the event did it become clear for all to see that the cap was also an advertisement for Pepsi.”
Beijing 2008 promises to be an extraordinary event. More than $2 billion will be invested in the event by businesses. Broadcasters from around the world will pay $2.5 billion for the TV rights – 17 days of vast global audiences. It is an enormous opportunity. British business: wake up now. London 2012 is coming soon, much sooner than you think. Get involved.