Reflections on the Olympics 2016

The games of the XXXI Olympiad are just over. The two-week event featured amazing athletic feats, spectacular shows of teamwork, touching personal narratives, and inspiring examples of hard work paying off.


Broadcast and Social Media Coverage

With a diverse slate of 11,000 athletes, wall-to-wall coverage, live commentary, and the often jarring peek into the minds of viewers around the world that social media offers, the Olympics are truly one of the great broadcasting events

During the two weeks of the Olympics I watched the games on both Canadian CBC and the American NBC as well as observing social media

The CBC coverage of the Olympics is wall-to-wall and most coverage was live while NBC coverage was mostly prime time with too many tape-delayed events; over-hyping of a few stars; fawning feature pieces; and, of course, jingoistic emphasis on American athletes.

Throughout the 16-day sports extravaganza, viewers ripped NBC on social media for tape delays, endless commercial breaks, and announcing blunders. More offensive to Canadians of all ages seems to be NBC’s American booster-ism. Does NBC, even know there are other countries in the hunt?

Every Olympics has its share of winners and losers. At the 2016 Rio Summer Games, however, many seem to be in the broadcast booth. It may be the rise of social media, but Games gaffes are almost as big a story in Rio as the medal counts. Angry tweets were flying faster than Usain Bolt.

Mistakes happen and they happen on both sides of the broadcast border. Canadians winced when an NBC commentator briefly identified our bronze medal sprinter Andre De Grasse as being from France.

Nobody has felt the wrath of social media more than Elliotte Friedman. who was fried on Twitter after confusing U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps with pool rival Ryan Lochte during the 200-metre individual medley final.

As I mentioned, NBC is often accused of cheer-leading for the Games, as opposed to covering them, because of the company’s enormous investment in them. In that regard, the network deserves some credit for flipping into news mode, however uncomfortably, to report on swimmer Ryan Lochte’s discredited account about being robbed at gunpoint along with three teammates. The scandal has added a strange coda for the Olympics

CBC does not have the resources of NBC, so their packaged, pre-event profiles while generally pretty good are not as elaborate. But despite smaller budgets, the CBC did shine during the week. Most of the “colour coverage” provided by former Olympians was very well done and CBC broadcasters as usual were first class.

Prime-time host Scott Russell did an admirable job of covering the events. The veteran CBC sports host wisely allowed commentator and former gold medalist Donovan Bailey to seize the moment for the 100 and 200 metre sprints.

CBC seemed to be trying to piggyback on the surge in social media with their Rio on the Edge clips, a sponsored segment featuring ski and snowboard specialists Philippe Marquis and Craig McMorris capturing Brazil on their phones.

As for the tremendous number of ads, anyone with a PVR knows the best way to watch the Olympics is to do some recording, the better to zap through them.


Some Personal Observations of the Games

Karina Leblanc, who formerly played soccer for Canada, was fabulous in the broadcast booth. I suspect we will be seeing more of her on CBC sports coverage.

What happened to the men (except Track and Field where the men were outstanding) the women clearly outshone the guys? Also what happened to our rowers, canoe and kayak athletes. They seemed to have had a blowout.

Our women swimmers were fabulous and a star is born with Penny Oleksiak who is just 16 and has many great Olympic moments ahead of her. She leaves these Games with a gold medal, a silver and two bronze. She’s one of the most decorated athletes in Canadian history, even if she fell one short of tying speed skater Cindy Klassen’s record of five medals in one Olympics.

The other star in the future will be speed merchant Andre De Grasse. The 21-year-old sprinter from Markham, Ont., needed only a few days in Rio de Janeiro to become a household name outside of Canada and get people talking about De Grasse as the heir apparent to Usain Bolt

One of the highlights for Canadians was the performance of the women soccer, rugby and basketball teams. Two of the three put on courageous performances and won medals and although the basketball team did not win a medal this time they are clearly a team to watch in future

Call me old fashion but why do we allow professional basketball players, both women and men from the USA, play against mostly amateurs. It makes no sense. At least with hockey we have professionals from most countries playing for their respective teams.

Rosie MacLennan, Canada’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremony, and who repeated in Rio as gold medallist in trampoline, was clearly a highlight for Canadians.

First we had corruption in figure skating now we have a number of boxing referees and judges dismissed for their controversial decisions in a series of bouts during this year’s Olympics. How do we get rid of corruption in judging Olympic events?

Bolt and Phelps are tremendous athletes and have received more than their share of recognition for their incredible performances at three Olympic games but have we not seen this movie before, why not focus on some of the younger athletes who deserve more recognition.

And what’s with Gulf State countries like Burundi and their rent an athlete program.  Many Gulf countries have routinely recruited athletes from various African countries to participate in their teams, prompting accusations of unfair competition and, sometimes, of using false documents to register new roster members. Burundi’s athletics men’s team has four athletes born in Kenya, three in Ethiopia, one in Nigeria, one in Morocco and none in Bahrain. Their women’s team also features three athletes born in Ethiopia, another three in Nigeria, one in Kenya and none born in Bahrain. Meanwhile, both women who qualified for the United Arab Emirates’ athletics team are from Ethiopia.

Why was Russia allowed to participate in these games? The action the IOC took has forever set a bar for how the most outrageous doping and cover-up and corruption possible will be treated in the future.

And one more thing, why are females who are more male than female running in a race against other females? This happened at the women’s 800 metres, won handily by South Africa’s Caster Semenya, with silver and bronze respectively going to Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Margaret Wambui of Kenya. All three have faced public questions about their testosterone levels. Semenya is routinely described as an “intersex” woman with high testosterone levels. British runner Lynsey Sharp told The Daily Telegraph earlier this summer, “Everyone can see it’s two separate races, so there’s nothing I can do.”

That’s it for now. Congratulation to all of our Olympic athletes. You were wonderful!

Can’t wait for the Winter Olympics where Canada really does “own the podium”!



Olympics Fun to Watch but a Terrible Investment

At the Olympics in China, every color was represented… and that was just the drinking water. Evan Sayet

I recently read that the Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism in Canada thinks that there are “great upcoming opportunities, including the Pan Am Games” to draw in tourist dollars to Canada. Well yes, I do understand that politicians who are not known for their business acumen think the Olympics and similar sporting events are going to fill up the cash registers in the community they are held.

Of course if any of them would do their homework they would remember the Mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau, confidently predicted that “the 1976 Olympics can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby”. The Olympic legacy was a poor one for Montreal. The city faced 30 years of debt after the games finished. The stadium became known as “The Big Owe”, and its astronomical costs were only finally paid in full in December 2006.

However the politicians will tell you there is mucho tourist dollars associated with the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Pan Am Games etc. The facts of course never get in the way of a politician who wants to make the big score by bringing home a big event for their jurisdiction.

Well, looking for an out-of-the-way holiday destination this summer – some undiscovered place that’s off the tourist trail? Try London. You might think the British capital would be jammed to the rafters with visitors flying in for the 2012 Olympics, which has attracted 100,000 spectators from other countries. But in an economic phenomenon that repeats itself every cycle; the Olympics have driven away most of the 300,000 tourists who’d usually be in London over the summer – a loss that far outweighs any tourism benefits from the Games. Source

By Jove never heard the Mayor of London telling us this was going to happen!

The results are dramatic. This week during the Olympics you could roll a bowling ball through Covent Garden without striking anyone. In Leicester Square, you can actually see the ground. Soho’s bars have plenty of patio seats available. If you have been to London in the summer you know that in any normal early August, these places would all be packed to the rafters.

It may go against intuition, but having the Olympics arrive in town has made London a completely different place .The central London attractions such as the London Zoo, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and the British Museum are all seeing attendance figures down 30 to 35 per cent last week compared to the same week last year. As a result there are no queues and tickets are easy to get.

“Olympics would earn billions, we were told. Some hope!” the Daily Mail tabloid harrumphed this week.”

The hotel industry is suffering from the lowest booking levels in years.  58 per cent of Britain’s hoteliers felt that the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee have been “non-events” that have had a “negative impact” on business.

Bloody awful! Has anyone briefed her majesty and her entourage?

The result has been a mass selloff of empty rooms. Rooms at four-star hotels in Bloomsbury and St. Paul’s are going for less than £170, £80 to £100 below their usual summer rates.

Further from the Olympic site, the Hilton Paddington (do they serve marmalade sandwiches?) was dumping its rooms for less than £120, and rooms in decent three-star hotels in West London were easy to find for less than £100.  London hotel prices are on average now 25 per cent lower than usual.

Gawd Blimey, London’s legendary West End theatres have been devastated; their expensive plays largely ignored by crowds that are more interested in the real-life drama of sports.  Theatre owners say they are “bleeding,” and a number of long-running plays will be closing due to lack of advance-ticket demand.

Jolly good show! Not!

Restaurants have been hit particularly hard, having lost both tourist traffic and the business of many Londoners, who have fled to the seaside or stayed home during the Games amid warnings from the mayor that the transit system would be overcrowded. (London Underground traffic has increased by only 4 per cent during the Olympics.)

Thanks Mayor! That was blooming stupid!

There has been a marked fall in restaurant bookings … London restaurants have seen a double-digit fall, sometimes considerably more. Covent Garden restaurant, Porters, had seen a 72-per-cent fall in earnings.

I say, old chap! What a turn of events!

And the cash registers aren’t ringing as loudly. Customer levels in central-London shops last Saturday were almost 12 per cent below their level a year before. Even in East London, where the Olympics are located, shopping was down by 7.5 per cent.

According to the tourism experts the Olympic tourist doesn’t act like a normal tourist. They tend not to go to theater and other attractions. Their Olympic-based itineraries are usually so prescriptive they have to be at venues at specific times.

Well now you would think that this should be a big surprise to the Brits but it is not.

This devastation of the tourist market is experienced by virtually every city that holds the Olympic Games – the organizers – usually sports nuts or former athletes including Olympians who are well connected to the government in power predict great tourism benefits which never materialize.  (It’s no wonder politicians want to attach themselves to the Olympics and their country’s Olympic team. They give politicians a chance to show off their patriotism, tie themselves to athletes and games that are more popular than politics, and get seen on the boob tube.)

In any city that already has substantial levels of tourism – that is, virtually any city that could qualify to host an Olympics like Toronto, Montreal, New York and Chicago  – there is a lot more to be lost than gained from the Games. But the promoters of these sports events either do no not do their homework or are dishonest –take your choice. Source

While Winter Games don’t always fit the pattern, as they take place in smaller cities with fewer hotels and entertainment venues, Vancouver did fail to experience a gain in tourism in the year following its 2010 Winter Olympics. I can still hear the BC politicians and their minions telling the voters that the Olympics were going to be a “windfall” for Vancouver and BC. Well it never happened.

In 2000, in Aussie land, Sydney hoped to see 132,000 tourists during the Games, but saw only 97,000, and experienced no growth in tourism in the years afterward. I can remember being in Sydney in December 1999 being told by the folks who I met with in the Prime Minister’s Office that the Olympics were going to put Sydney and Australia on the map and bring a ton of tourist dollars . It didn’t.

Four years later, Athens had an even worse experience: Its organizers had hoped for 105,000 hotel guests a night, but received only 14,000. Not saying that the Olympics contributed to Greece’s bankruptcy but it sure didn’t help.

Well what about Olympic sponsors?

Recent news has drummed into us that Olympic sponsorship may in fact not be worth the investment. (Things the IOC never discuss)

Big brands have invested up to 80 million pounds (125 million US/Canadian dollars) just to be criticised – not to mention confused with non-sponsors. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) vehemently defends its strict regulations on the grounds that official sponsors must be protected and allowed a ‘clear run’, especially around the Olympic venues. On one hand, what LOCOG overlooks is a basic tenet of branding: it’s all about the consumer.

While they may believe they are in fact protecting the official sponsors by harshly regulating marketing and advertising, they may in fact be pushing consumers away from the very brands they are striving to help. Visa, for example, is struggling to put a positive spin on the “greedy” label it has received after any other brand was blocked from becoming an online credit or debit card ticket payment option at the Games, as well as the only acceptable card at Olympic events.

Thanks to a situation in which brands are essentially shoved down consumers’ throats inside official Olympic venues, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s are feeling similar effects. Only last week, news broke that McDonald’s has told the organisers to ban 800 food retailers at 40 Olympic sites from serving chips with their meals. The sponsorship obligations meant that only fish and chips have been spared the prohibition.

But what has not been taken into account are the post-game effects of such pushing. Will consumers use Visa during the games? Without a doubt – because there’s no alternative. Will they resent Visa once they return home? They just might. Source

So the Olympics are great to watch and like most people  am enjoying them but as a marketer I have to say when you look at the impact to sponsors and countries who organize these massive sporting events you have to wonder is this a good marketing investment or boardroom vanity.