News Analysis: Lessons from Athens

The Athens Olympics offered London's 2012 bid team inspiration and education in equal measure. There are parallels to be drawn between the Athens Olympic Games and Kelly Holmes' triumphant romp to gold in the 800m and 1500m; both had been dogged by disappointment and worries prior to the event, and few expected a podium finish. Yet both will now be feeling the satisfaction of a job well done.

For the London 2012 bid team, the event proved a useful, if sometimes difficult, experience. The team arrived in Athens amid controversy following a BBC Panorama programme, which saw reporters pose as bogus bid officials trying to secure International Olympic Committee (IOC) member votes for money. But its fortunes changed midway through the Games when the five cities bidding to host the 2012 Olympics were invited to make their case to the world's media. The presentation by the London team was hailed as the best.

The question now is what lessons will have been learned from Athens by the chairman of the London bid team Sebastian Coe and his cohorts when they sit down to discuss it later this week. Top of the agenda is likely to be marketing strategy.

Mike Lee, communications director of the London 2012 bid, says he was impressed by the Athens Games, but sees room for improvement: 'Athens taught us how important it is to get your marketing and ticketing strategy absolutely right. There is evidence to suggest the Greek organisers did not do that.

'The ability to market effectively not just in your own country, but internationally, in the build-up to the Games and to develop a ticketing strategy aimed at ensuring full stadia as well as decent revenues is an area in which we feel we have a lot to offer, and something to which we will give more emphasis as we prepare our final bid document.'

Admissions struggle

Ticket sales in Athens proved sluggish for the first week, but as the Games gathered steam, the heavily guarded turnstiles began to move more frequently and by the final week organisers delivered on their promise that the main events would be sold out.

However, it was only thanks to a late rush, five days before the closing ceremony, that the initial ticket goal of 3.4m - out of a possible 5.3m - was reached.

'It was disappointing and sponsors would have viewed it with some concern, as it was not a positive association for the Olympics,' says Karen Earl, managing director of independent consultancy Karen Earl Sponsorship.

'I don't think it would have left them concerned about the product they bought into, because it really picked up in the second week, but if I were a sponsor, I'd want to ask how it happened.'

Lee believes London 2012 can enhance its bid by introducing a more sophisticated level of sponsorship activation on-site. 'The sponsors are present in the main venues, but there isn't much opportunity to lever their involvement beyond that,' he explains.

'We can apply the lessons we have learned from organisations such as UEFA and what it has done with the Champions League, about how to deliver greater value to sponsors.

This could include setting up additional sponsor-led events around the venues and in the city centre, which would give spectators a better overall experience and would mean a greater return on investment for sponsors.'

Yet it is a fine balancing act between giving corporate backers more value and running the risk of accusations of over-commercialisation.

This is a problem familiar to Karen Webb, the IOC's manager of marketing communications, who, despite the signage-free stadia of Athens and previous Games, finds it is an accusation frequently levelled at the Olympics.

'We have conducted market research into the way the Games are perceived and the response has been that some people say it is over-commercialised.

When we ask them why, they say it is because of the signage in the stadia, but there is none,' she says.

'Over-commercialisation was a problem at Atlanta in 1996,' she adds, 'but the IOC has taken steps since to make sure the balance is right.

Sponsors invest in the Games' credibility, so we have to ensure that what they are buying into are the ideals of the Olympic movement, not a cluttered landscape. We are extremely pleased with how Athens has gone.'

Positive response

Sponsors are never slow to voice their discontent should there be a problem, so their silence regarding Athens is golden for the IOC.

McDonald's senior vice-president of global brand business Dean Barrett was delighted at the way the event was staged, and expressed no concern over the ticketing issues. 'It has exceeded expectations in every way, from our on-site presence to our partnerships with athletes to our country programmes and activities,' he says.

'We are very pleased with the positive worldwide attention it has received and believe the Athens Organising Committee, the IOC and the Greek government have done a great job.'

The overall impression left by Athens has been positive and has encouraged those companies investing heavily in bringing the event to London.

Gareth Wynn, director of communications for 2012 premier partner EDF Energy, says the event has vindicated its support for the London bid: 'We have been very encouraged by the Athens Games and it makes us more determined than ever to do all we can to help London win the 2012 Games.'

DATA FILE

Athens 2004

THE HIGHS

- London's 2012 presentation bid is declared the best by critics the world over during back-to-back displays by the five competing cities.

- Kelly Holmes wins 800m and 1500m gold. She is predicted to make £5m in endorsements within 18 months.

- Matthew Pinsent secures a fourth consecutive rowing gold.

- A major crackdown on ambush marketing means that the event passes off with little embarrassment to official partners.

THE LOWS

- Greece's top sprinter, Costas Kenteris, dodges a doping test and is withdrawn from the Games.

- Half-empty venues in the first week are not the image Athens wanted to send to the world - but it is saved by a marked improvement in week two.

- British expectations of a gold medal for Paula Radcliffe in the marathon are dashed 23 miles in, when she pulls out due to exhaustion.

- A host of medal decisions are either altered or overturned.

DATA FILE

Revenue (dollars)

1997-2000 2001-2004

Broadcast 1.85bn 2.24bn

TOP sponsors* 579m 603m

Host sponsors 655m 736m

Ticketing 625m 608m

Licensing 66m 81m

Totals 3.77bn 4.26bn

Source: International Olympic Committee.

Note: each Olympic partnership is signed for a four-year period which

incorporates summer and winter Games. *The Olympic Partnership sponsors

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