Sharing Thoughts


In the last decade we have seen a new world of media and rights management emerge.

Back in 1996 the internet hardly existed but just three years later the media was writing off the traditional broadcast industry and sports rights holders were being challenged to entirely re-think their distribution models. In many respect the sector was being seduced by the techie MBAs who were running internet companies.

The suggestion was that this was the end of  the era for sports television  and that those rights owners who did not jump on the internet bandwagon would be lost forever.

But something just didn’t make sense. I simply couldn’t make the numbers add up and see how anybody was going to make any money out of it all.

The IOC’s response was to stage a global conference (held in Lausanne in December 2000) which involved all of the leaders of sport and of the emerging online sector.  The conference conclusions acted as a reality check even before the bubble burst and people began to realise that there wasn’t a sustainable business model FOR the internet AS an entertainment medium and not an alternative to broadcast. The technology simply wasn’t there.

The conference served as something of a wind break and allowed calmer minds and more rational thinking to prevail. It played a part in ensuring that the sports sector did not allow itself to be driven by pressure eliminating from banks looking over their shoulders for the next IPO opportunity.

Now we can see the internet in a genuine light and appreciate its massive potential as a communications vehicle which is best used to enhance the (broadcast) viewing experience.


Today creating and managing sports brands has become sexy. But do we really know what it means?

I simply wouldn’t had used the word brand to the IOC board prior to, say. 1995. And I  would have been fired for suggesting  that we should manage the Olympic image as a brand.

Six months later, as we  began the countdown to the Atlanta Olympic Games, we realised that the IOC had lost control of the Games’ image management  because of the infighting between the Atlanta City Authorities and the Local Organising Committee. Bill Campbell the Mayor of Atlanta has absolutely no comprehension what a host city’s responsibilities were.

Atlanta turned into a third-world flea market and was condemned by the world’s press. In fact the issues with the city were so serious  that it  forced the IOC to fast track a number of draconian protocols with regards to the use of the Olympic brand by future hosts.

Sydney and Athens provided the evidence that carefully managing the image of the Games played a major role in creating a successful and positive environment. In the 80s and early 90s we hardly even  saw the Olympic Rings in the venue, just a clean stadium.

Atlanta forced us to review the situation and to work with the sponsors  to help them to understand the values of the Olympic games and to run programmes which both leveraged  the image which the IOC was managing and supported those values.


The Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games provided the catalyst for the most significant reform and change in  recent Olympic history.

Looking back one can see that 30 years of change were  instigated in six months and that they were driven by a situation in which we went to the office each morning  not knowing whether the IOC could survive the day.

In many ways, the crisis might be thought to have unleashed the power of the Olympic brand. The nature of the problem  ( offering inducements to IOC members to influence voting for Games host cities) was not in itself all that significant. But  the fact is that it proved how much people cared. The public looked on the scandal as a breach of trust and that in itself underlines the fact that they saw the Olympic Games as special and having a particular set of values.

It was clear that major and dramatic action was called for under  an onslaught from the world’s media and a raiding party from the US political system which was  anxious to control the Olympic agenda for its own purposes.

That action was taken and now, after a few years, we exist in a calmer environment and I feel it is important to reflect on the changes made at the time in a realistic and unemotional way. The current guidelines for bid cities and the focus of the IOC’s ethics committee should not risk suffocating the bidding process  and, potentially, limiting the enthusiasm of future bidding cities which might be concerned that they are liable to be told off like schoolchildren for the slightest unintentional deviation from a complex rule-book.


In many respects I grew up in the sports industry with Horst Dassler, founder of ISL. I worked for him at West Nally in  the 1970s  and then at ISL itself. personally I felt it was a tragedy to see the Rolls Royce of the sports marketing industry run into a brick wall at full speed.

By ’96 the IOC had severed its links with ISL as its rights management agency but the company was in the process of building a super-agency akin to IMG which would be central to the marketing of world sport. Back then it was inconceivable that the agency could disappear.

From the IOC perspective it was clear that the management of ISL Had lost the plot and any lingering sense of reality. The evidence of this came in their spending on tennis and other sports. These deals highlighted the total failure of some federations to do even the basic minimum due diligence.

The collapse of ISL offered many lessons to the sports marketing sector. Federations have become more selective when making their choice of marketing partner and more inclined to take marketing duties in-house so as to maintain greater control over their own destinies. It has also spurred the growth of ‘boutique’ agencies providing high value services in specialist areas. These have been profound  changes which have had an impact on everybody involved in the sector.

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