Patrick Nally: Will it be gold for London?
The countdown to London 2012 continues apace and, at the time of writing, everything appears to be running smoothly.
With the exception of the almost inevitable issues over ticketing and the future use of the Olympic Stadium itself, this has been a remarkably hassle-free build-up which bodes well for Games time when the years of planning, building and testing come under the ultimate scrutiny of hundreds of thousands of spectators and their attendant transport and security issues.
"Most Games are defined - at least in part – as much by what goes wrong as by the brilliance of athletic performances"
I have been to many Olympic Games and more or less every one has had its share of drama, and sometimes tragedy, either in the build-up or during competition.
Nobody who was in Munich in 1972 will ever forget the horror of the terrorist attack on the quarters of the Israeli team in the Athletes’ Village while Montreal, Moscow and Los Angeles were hit by boycotts which inevitably devalued some aspects of the Games. Montreal will always be remembered as a financial calamity, a distinction it shares with Athens where headlines were made by the panic to be ready in time for the Opening Ceremony. Then there was Atlanta ’96 which was scarred by a bomb attack on a fan park and marred by early organisational catastrophes.
My point is that most Games are defined - at least in part – as much by what goes wrong as by the brilliance of athletic performances. And that makes it interesting to consider what issues may emerge to define the London Games and shape the future of the Olympics.
Accessibility to the Games is likely to be one such issue. Despite the attempts of Locog to be scrupulously fair in the way that tickets are made available to the public, there is already disquiet about the number which are off the market because they are reserved for corporate sponsors and their guests.
Those of us who work in the sector fully understand the importance of tickets and hospitality to the sponsor package and how important sponsorship and hospitality revenue is to making the Games a commercial success. But even if the public grasps this point, they cannot necessarily be expected to empathise with it, particularly as they are the taxpayers who inevitably foot some of the bill for putting the Games on.
This, and the potential disruption of London’s already overcrowded road network because of ‘Olympic Lanes’, will not play well with the British public or with a free and vibrant media which isn’t afraid to tell it as they see it.
Britain has a great love of sport and an intense dislike of ‘corporate fat cats.’ When the two collide - as they surely will at London 2012 - there are bound to be fireworks, and a backlash which will be reflected in the media in the UK and around the world.
"London’s security must be ever present but not overriding, a significant challenge but one which the UK authorities will do their best to overcome"
Another potential danger comes in the visible level of the security presence. We are told there will be warships on the Thames and anti-aircraft batteries on apartment block roofs. This cannot be allowed to be the enduring image of the Games.
Security is central to the Games and the range of potential threats is growing and evolving. But, as Peter Ryan, security advisor to the IOC has said, they must be a sports event and not a security event. London’s security must be ever present but not overriding, a significant challenge but one which the UK authorities will do their best to overcome.
Security, hospitality and ticketing may appear at first glance to be very different issues but each is central to the future of the Olympic Games and their commercial prospects.
Highly visible and even intrusive security can only have a negative impact on perceptions of the Games and cause damage to its brand image. If the Games are no longer seen as a fun event, which celebrates the best of humanity rather than acting as a reminder of the worst, it will have a knock-on effect on the desire of companies and brands to be its partners. Ultimately that means less sponsorship income.
The same outcome will result from a prolonged failure to address the balance between public and corporate ticketing. If the Olympics come to be seen as the primary preserve of corporate guests rather than ordinary sports fans, the bond between the Games and the world will be broken, with all that entails.
When Locog sought bids for 2012 ticket and hospitality rights, I was involved with the Spectate consortium, with Dentsu and other parties. The consortium made a multi-million pound offer for all three categories; Prestige Hospitality, Trip UK and Short Breaks. We also devised and included a concept to create a global membership of the Olympic ‘family’ linked by social and media activities. The concept was designed to lessen the difference between corporate hospitality purchasers and the general public, who would all come together in a central Olympic community. There was a great deal of empathy for the creativity and longer term opportunities presented by the Spectate approach but, at the end of the day, Locog based its decision solely on what was best financially for London 2012. This meant going for the higher guaranteed income achieved by selling each category separately. Locog’s position is understandable but it does demonstrate how the interests of the IOC, and the longer term interest of the Games, may be overlooked when decisions are determined entirely by local considerations.
Given the inevitable commercial pressures on the IOC, this raises the question; where will the Olympic Games go beyond London?
Locog has been tremendously successful in concluding domestic sponsorship deals and these partners appear to be making a much a greater impact than the TOP (global) sponsors contracted by the IOC itself. This trend seems to be continuing in Brazil where Rio2016 has already raised more sponsorship than London’s target, which indicates a shift in power to the LOC and means the IOC will need to rethink its global marketing strategy.
It was also interesting, during the recent SportAccord Convention in Quebec, to see the announcement of the three final candidate cities for 2020 – Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul. Given the current economic pressures on both Madrid and Tokyo, will Turkey follow in the footsteps of Russia and Brazil and become another new market for the Olympic Games? If that is the case it will be interesting to see how the IOC’s commercial partners react.
These are issues which should provide some food for thought for the International Olympic Committee as it considers the future of the Games. The last three decades have brought us bigger, more sophisticated and increasingly corporate Games and the question facing the IOC is whether this is a trend which needs to be reversed. Should the Games be scaled back, making them more manageable and giving them a more human face?
We will also see a change of one sport for a new sport on the Olympic calendar. Personally I feel that now Fifa is investing substantially in its own junior championships, it is time for football to be taken off the Olympic calendar. That may help to ease some of the congestion.
In Buenos Ares in September next year, we will see the departure of IOC President, Jacques Rogge, whose leadership has kept the IOC on a very stable course since the departure of Juan Antonio Samaranch. The selection of the next President will be key to the future health and sustainability of the Games. New thinking is needed to deal with the challenges of digital and social media and establish a more balanced structure between the IOC and its Local Organising Committees. Amid all this it is vital that the IOC does not lose the connection between the Games and the public who are the ultimate emotional stakeholders in the Olympics and their ideals.
So let us hope that London 2012 passes off peacefully, smoothly and is remembered only for brilliant sporting performances.
Patrick Nally, co-founder of West Nally, has pioneered innovation in the sports marketing industry throughout his career. His next column will appear in the July edition of SportsPro. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.
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