In the 1942 film Casablana, cynical Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart, quipped “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Well, London, here’s lookin’ at you – and congratulations!
For all the media castigations preceding the event – was it ever different? – the London Olympics went pretty much like a dream. The years of detailed planning, in excess some may have suggested, all paid off. No foul-ups, no scandals. The security personnel shortages were well-covered by military and others; traffic didn’t snarl; and the photographed empty seats transformed into full houses for every event. London is now bathed in the warmth of affection and great memories. The atmosphere became incredibly affable. The 70,000 or so volunteers, the ‘Games Makers’ led in the identity stakes were the lubricant that made unforgettable the experiences of so many.
Sure, the budget roughly trebled but from the moment the new stadium came alive, all that was forgotten. Well, for the time being, until the matter of who will take the stadium as ‘home’ and thus the final post-games configurations are determined.
Sure, some of the bid-time propositions about participation in sport, education and others – were they promises?- have not been achieved and will come back yet in debate and head-scratching but the visual reality of Olympic Park, now Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and a new East London is dramatic, bold and in part an exciting social experiment. The celebration of the ceremonies lifted the audience and seemingly the whole UK, otherwise mired in its economic malaise. The Games have injected a new spirit into London, the UK and indeed the Olympic movement.
Did all of London embrace the Games? Not fully. The reports of West End and much of London’s retail business feeling cold and left out suggests that parts of London really did not engage or benefit. Yet that is to be expected in such a large city. By comparison Sydney was able to engage more fully.
And what of the five boroughs around the Olympics area? They are now on the map and included in London in ways they never imagined, with some quibbles that fewer of their residents secured work in the lead-up to the Games, wondering about the facilities they thought may be delivered and querying whether the focus will now dissipate. But in reality, these previously troublesome parts of London are part of a massive transformation that will yield results over the next 20 years. The government saw the stalled development at CanaryWharf created by slow delivery of public transport and was well-ahead with new infrastructure into and through east London.
Already parts of east London are experiencing property price increases towards levels equal to more salubrious parts of the city. A new tech city, ‘Silicon Roundabout’ as it has been dubbed, is providing jobs and contributing to a new identity for the area. Tech City is now attracting strong UK government support. Millennium Dome is now said to be the busiest music venue in the world. The further expansion of the athletes’ village development, to be called EastVillage, so capably delivered by Lend Lease along with the adjacent Westfield Stratford Cityand Newham city will bring totally new populations.
Britain committed to achieve competitive success in the sports of the Games and several years ago initiated sports development and training programs for elite athletes. Public money under the banner of the National Lottery was driven into sports. Major sports received substantial funding: Rowing – £27,287,600; Cycling – £26,032,000; Athletics -£25,148,000; Swimming – £25,144,600; Sailing – £22,942,700. The UK athletes performed tremendously and in the process their own sports heroes have become enthroned, and rightly too. Incidentally, with an eye (or ear) to AOC’s John Coates’ recent comments, The UK government announced on the final weekend of the Games that UK Sport, who distribute funding to Olympic and Paralympic sports, will receive £125m per year up until the Rio Games of 2016. Previously that cash had been guaranteed only until 2014.
Not only but also, the UK government is now intent on taking British games and events expertise to Brazil, in particular for the next Olympics in Rio in 2016. To take another line from Rick Blaine, “Where I’m going, you can’t follow.”
They have learned from Australia’s success in the international sporting events marketplace and the post-Sydney Olympics and Melbourne Commonwealth Games experience. With really clever and innovative specialists and moderate government support, Australians have established a formidable international reputation. The British recognise that such enterprise needs concerted and top level support to succeed and are committing substantial resources to get there. So the games and events planning challenge is changing and we need to become even more smart. Two more Casablanca lines…
Berger: We read five times that you were killed, in five different places.
Victor Laszlo: As you can see, it was true every single time.
With a good amount of core intellectual property having travelled from Sydney via Athens and Beijing to London, with a good number of outstanding Australian games planning specialists involved, for some years in many instances, and several Australian hundred event and production working on the games, there really is a true embrace and connection in the success of these Olympic Games. This is a big story – more on another occasion.
The opening and closing ceremonies were from two worlds. Simon Schama wrote in the Financial Times, “It felt as if the Games had suddenly been programmed byEngland’s version of the Chamber of Commerce, which decided to take advantage of this final moment in the international spotlight to produce one long and kinetic ad for the country’s pop culture.”
Both productions were geared to television. It seems the full story within the spectacular opening ceremony was meaningful mainly to the Brits, with commentators needed to explain its vignettes. It generated all sorts of analyses and reviews of the British psyche, its past glories and fading currency. The closing ceremony was a musical and tech celebration probably as good as we’ll ever see. Truly memorable.
Much has been said about sponsors and the policing undertaken by LOCOG and the IOC. Probably overkilled it. It didn’t stop some interesting instances of grey-ambush, for example did you see all those gold trimmed shoes, product of Nike rather than sponsor Adidas? Was there too much sponsorship and marketing of calorie-clad products? So whatever the logo and rules, we find that brand is indeed as much or more to do with perceptions. Whatever, Coke and McDonald’s did well. Visa was the only form of payment accepted (just as well toilets were free) and ended the Games as only form of payment for the Olympics memorabilia auction that has already been held. Procter and Gamble were happy enough to adopt an extra positioning for the Paralympics. Much was made of Twitter and Facebook, new ideas and new apps with some excellent outcomes for some sponsors.
Television viewers records were set. NBC reckoned they had some 220 million US viewers. NBC Universal presented 5,535 hours of coverage across its TV and online channels. In the UK, almost 52 million people – 90% of theUK population – watched the Olympics for at least 15 minutes, according to the BBC -. 27 million and 26 million watched the opening and closing ceremonies, respectively. In Australia, Foxtel reckoned they had some 600,000 per night. Channel 9 seemed to simply deliver banal commentary and much of the sport that would push viewers to Foxtel. Channel 9’s live coverage of the closing ceremony drew about 1 million viewers.
The Games brought outstanding performances and for those as well as the sheer enjoyment, London will be associated with Phelps, Bolt, Farah; and 44% of athletes were women, a new peak.
Congratulations to LOCOG, London, to Boris J for his panache (will he become PM?) and to the Brits.
Sports writer Paul Hayward, wrote “If there is a single word to describe the quality at the heart of London 2012 it may be “soul.” The Games had “soul.”
Eric Winton is a specialist in the business of major events. He is recognised as a ‘go-to’ person in the industry. Eric is director at New Millennium Business, located in Sydney, Australia. This is his first post for SB Insider.