SBJ/20080623/SBJ In-Depth

Global stage takes planning to the extreme

As the clock ticks toward the Beijing Summer Olympics, planning is under way for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and the 2010 FIFA World Cup. But conversations with leaders of corporate hospitality agencies sound as if they are heading for a day at the beach.

“Waves,” said Wayne Eldevik, who heads Maritz Inc.’s SME Olympic services unit. “We operate in waves.”

A wave is a unit of Olympic guests for a specific set of days. The length of waves — and who will be included in each during the 17 days of the Games — rests at the logistical core of staging and managing the movement of, sometimes, thousands of people from dozens of countries flying in and out of a distant nation for fewer than 100 hours. Five-day, four-night waves. Four-day, three-night waves. Even two-day waves.

In Eldevik’s case, for instance, SME is managing 3,000 guests for Bank of China, an official Beijing Organizing Committee partner. He can install two-day waves for customers commuting from Shanghai.

But Carlson Marketing’s Pete Moore, who manages TOP-sponsor Kodak, is bringing about 500 guests from more than 20 nations. Jet lag and all, four- and five-day waves are his typical stays. Same with SportsMark and its gaggle of Visa, Adidas China, Hilton and Bank of America guests.

SportsMark helped Visa develop a hospitality
suite for the Torino Games that resembled a
bobsled run (top), and transformed a hangar
into a trendy meeting spot for Gillette during
the FIFA World Cup in Germany.

Leaders of four U.S.-based agencies emphasized their tasks involve more than getting their arms around all the moving parts of transporting and feeding guests, shuffling hotel rooms, procuring and assigning tickets — far in advance of knowing who will actually use them — and getting folks to the Great Wall.

Key words for their clients — firms that hire them to run their Olympic and World Cup programs — must be “Why?” and “Who?” Which guests will bring them the greatest return on their global sports marketing investment and objective? (By the way, increasingly, guests are being asked to pay their own airfare.) Is there a product launch that certain customers must attend? Which employees should be on site?

“And you thought this was easy,” said SportsMark President and COO Steve Skubic. “The Olympics are 16 back-to-back Super Bowls.”

As part of its TOP sponsorship, a global Olympic partner is allotted 200 hotel rooms — double occupancy expected — and four tickets per day per room. Sponsors of local organizing committees typically receive a smaller hotel and ticket inventory.

There is no typical day for a corporate client’s guest, but it is certain to include one sporting event, one cultural trip and, probably, some focused business-to-business contact, perhaps by going behind the Olympic scenes to see how their host’s products are used at the Games.

Jet Set Sports’ business is different from the more boutique approaches. Jet Set is a sponsor of various national Olympic committees, including the U.S. Olympic Committee, and also the ticket sales agent in six nations. Jet Set expects to handle about 30,000 corporate-linked guests, said founder and CEO Sead Dizdarevic. With consumer packages — ticket and accommodation plans for average citizens — Jet Set is moving another 60,000 people into Beijing.

Another global property on the horizon is the 2010 FIFA World Cup. SportsMark is beginning to manage Visa’s program. It’s early in the process, but unlike Beijing — where there is a surplus of hotel rooms — South Africa’s cities are short on accommodations.

But Beijing is filled with its own challenges. The most pressing — besides scrambling for travel visas and official letters of invitations from hotels — is BOCOG’s requirement that specific names be assigned to those using tickets to the opening and closing ceremonies.

Despite protests from hospitality agencies, BOCOG has said it needs every ticket holder’s name 20 days in advance of Aug. 8. And no changes.

“Someone gets sick, what do you do with that ticket?” Moore asked. “What is actually going to happen on that day we don’t know.”

Language skills are critical. Moore went to Xian, 500 miles from Beijing, to recruit more than 100 university students who are majoring in English to work for him during the Games. Jet Set established its own English-language hospitality academy and trained 1,200 people.

Despite political issues and earthquakes, agency leaders have seen no retreat among customers. And the five rings are forever turning. SportsMark has already placed its Vancouver ticket orders. Carlson’s Moore has moved to the 2010 Winter Olympics city to whip up business.

The waves are already forming for the next Olympics.

Jay Weiner is a writer in Minnesota.

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