The tears of joy that marked Rio’s winning Games bid are a distant memory, replaced by troubled preparations, crisis in Brazil and the spectre of doping. But it’s going to be a great party – right?
1. Back in 2009, Rio’s winning bid was sold as a showcase for Brazil’s booming economy and the Carioca vibe. Seven years on, Brazil’s economy has tanked, the Petrobras scandal has engulfed the Government and big business, and civil discontent is raging. And if all that wasn’t enough, along came Zika. No modern Games has been staged against such a crisis-riven domestic backdrop. The showcase has become a spotlight on a country in crisis.
2. Athletics is uniquely important to the Olympics’ image and credibility. And the spectre that haunts the Olympics is doping – in particular of athletics. So, following the IAAF’s disgrace and the exposure of Russia’s state-sponsored doping, the IAAF decision later this month on whether to allow Russia to compete in Rio is of huge significance. Whichever way it goes, it will be key to the Games story – and the Games’ credibility.
3. On the track, one man above all will once again carry athletics, and the Games itself, on his shoulders: Usain Bolt. Rio’s story will also be the story of Bolt’s last Games. Few, if any, have been as important to the Games, to their sport, and to sport itself, as Bolt. Rio will quite rightly be a celebration of that. But the Olympics post-Bolt? Big shoes to fill.
4. A great Games off as well as on the track is critical for the IOC. Worldwide, cities and their citizens are increasingly sceptical about the benefits of hosting the Games, leading to fewer and fewer bidders. Rio’s legacy – chiefly, its effect on the city’s image and infrastructure – will therefore be a major talking point. But the biggest scrutiny will be on Games-time operations. Organisational failures continue to dog the preparations: failure at Games Time however is simply not an option.
5. Famously, the Olympic ethos is that the most important thing is not winning but taking part. Whereas, if you know Brazil, you’ll know that for Brazilians, sport is all about winning! The interplay between these two contrasting philosophies will be fascinating, especially given the huge importance to Brazilians of winning the Olympic football tournament — the only major football title they’ve never won — and the probability of Brazil winning far more Paralympic than Olympic medals.
6. Creatively, this Games could be special. The creative collisions between Brazil and Rio and the Olympics and Paralympics should be really inspirational for all the brands involved in the Games. I’m hoping they rise to the occasion, particularly the global Olympic Partners, and raise the bar for Olympic and Paralympic Marketing.
7. With the average age of an Olympics fan now over fifty and rising, 2016 is Year Zero for the IOC’s new digital channel – an attempt, above all, to sell the Olympics to the young. How well the Olympic Channel performs in reaching new audiences will, in terms of the future of the Games, be the story of this Olympic year.
8. Rio will be a testing ground for one of the biggest changes to the Olympic sponsorship ecosystem in years – non-sponsors of the Games being officially allowed to use athletes in marketing campaigns around Rio, following the IOC’s decision to bow to athlete pressure and relax Rule 40. Which brands are given waivers, and to what extent their activity impacts Games sponsors will be one of the biggest Rio sponsorship stories to follow.
9. London 2012 was the first truly Socialympics, but Rio will take this to new heights given how social Brazilians are – Brazil leads the world in time spent on social media. And for the Brazilian consumer, one platform will be an incredibly influential force during the Games – WhatsApp, which is used by 100 million Brazilians. Rio will be the first WhatsApp Games.
10. Every Games evolves the Olympic and Paralympic brands. Some leave particularly fond memories — LA, Barcelona, Sydney, London. Some, for varying reasons, the reverse — Munich, Moscow, Atlanta, Athens. All the signs are that Rio will have a more profound effect than most, with the outcome uncertain. Rarely has so much been at stake for the Games, for its host city, and for the IOC. Rarely, if ever, has sport been in such crisis. So let’s hope that when we look back on Rio, we remember it for all the right reasons.
And for being a great party too.
This article originally appeared in the 2016 edition of ‘Now, New & Next’, Synergy’s annual look ahead at key issues in sports and entertainment marketing.
By Tim Crow on June 7th, 2016