Olympic Roundtable: LOCOG, London’s legacy and learning for the future

From left, Radiate Group's Jan Katzoff, The Marketing Arm's Mary O'Connor and IMG's Gary Pluchino
TRIPP MICKLE PHOTO
With the Olympics beginning to wind down in London, we pulled together a small group of sports marketing executives on the ground to talk about how the Olympics have gone and how they will be remembered.

The group met at Casa Brazil, home to Rio 2016, in Somerset House on the Strand. It was comprised of Jan Katzoff, the Radiate Group’s executive vice president; Mary O’Connor, The Marketing Arm’s vice president of Olympic marketing and global partnerships; and Gary Pluchino, IMG senior vice president and head of global Olympic consulting. Between them, they work with more than 20 Olympic sponsors.

We split the conversation into two parts. The first, which was posted Thursday, focused on sponsors. Friday’s outtake focuses on organizers, London’s legacy and what Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 can learn from London.

How did the London organizers do?

KATZOFF: The first two days were really rough on transport. We definitely had our hands full. I will say to their credit they helped us attack the problem and fix it. But it was a very rough start, like a lot of them are.

From that point on, for our clients, it’s been one of the best operations I’ve ever seen. The fact that they decided to take money and put 100 (bag scanners) in instead of 30 means you can go in and not have to wait in line. That initial guest experience is fantastic. It’s not like Beijing where people are (irritated) before they get to the venue.

T3 (private cars for sponsors and Olympic executives) was the only thing that didn’t work.

O’CONNOR: We had a pretty rough couple of days.

What was so bad in the first days? T3 service?

KATZOFF: It wasn’t just the T3.

O’CONNOR: It was all of it. We had multiple motor coaches and passenger vehicles not show up. I’ve never had days where zero vehicles show up. I had those days.

To the credit of LOCOG, they gave passes with every ticket to the Tube. That access allowed every partner, regardless of the issues, to have an alternative at hand. There was an instant plan B. If you’re good at what you do, to your guests, it’s seamless. You just say, “I guess we’re taking the Tube today.” And you go onto the Tube and it becomes a cultural experience and it’s easy.

PLUCHINO: I’ve taken the Tube a lot. I’ve had absolutely no problems. This overcrowding concern, the doom-and-gloom thing, you’re-going-to-have-to-wait-30-minutes-to-get-down-the-steps, it hasn’t happened.

On the T3 issues, what was the issue?

KATZOFF: It was the way the navigation system (GPS) was programmed and was point-to-point (from official venues to official venues). When you look at the size of what we’re operating here, it just wasn’t practical. I’ll give you an example: I’m staying at the P&G headquarters hotel. They won’t do a T3 drop-off (for VIPs) there. But they’ll do a T3 drop-off at the Park Plaza Westminster, which is a 20-minute walk away. So if you’re lucky enough like Visa to be at the Chancery Hotel, which is a T3 stop, you can use the cars. Otherwise, it’s difficult.

PLUCHINO: The T3 cars I’ve taken, some of it is the GPS. Early in the Games the GPS went down.

KATZOFF: And there’s a lot of drivers not from London. And that’s the biggest problem.

PLUCHINO: Exactly. When your entire system is based on a system technology and you don’t have a backup plan, what happens?

The other thing for the first week of the Games was the (live site at) Hyde Park was not as well attended as some of our clients would have liked or even the mayor’s office would have liked. What was the reason for that? It was promoted as a ticketed venue. That implies cost. Well, it was a free ticket. They were looking to get 150,000 people a day in there. That didn’t happen.

These Olympics, with the exception of Olympic Park, are really fragmented. Venues like Earls Court and Horse Guards and Wembley and Wimbledon are spread out. The Olympics easily get lost in London. How has that affected the Olympic atmosphere in the city?

PLUCHINO: There’s good Olympic vibe at Olympic Park because you have hundreds of thousands of people there. I would agree that in central London because it’s spread out that maybe it’s lacking that Olympic feel, that Olympic buzz.

Iconic venues like at Horse Guards Parade made the London Games special.
KATZOFF:
I agree. It’s not like being in downtown Vancouver where everybody’s faces are painted and everyone’s flags are out. But the fact that they decided to pick iconic venues like archery at Lord’s Cricket Ground, Wembley, Earls Court, Wimbledon, Horse Guards Parade were brilliant.

O’CONNOR: From a hospitality and entertainment perspective, (those venues) combine cultural with athletics all in one. It takes people to the tourist spots they want to go to already. We walk people to the beach volleyball (at Horse Guards), they walk through Trafalgar (Square), they see it all. That’s fantastic.

If Beijing was China’s coming out party and a chance for all the companies you work with to enter the Chinese marketplace, what will London be remembered for?

O’CONNOR: For our clients, it’s a fantastic all-around experience. I don’t think this Games for us was remotely similar to Beijing in the sense that you walked away thinking, “This is China’s Games.” I wouldn’t say here that people will walk away thinking, “This is a British Games.” There was a great distribution of equity between the different countries that are here. We’re seeing new athletes rise to the top.

Our guests will walk away having had a great cultural and athletic experience. It’s been seamless to them. They’re on the London Eye one minute, Buckingham Palace the next. They’re watching the Dream Team in the basketball arena that night. They’re having dinner at Mosimann’s. It’s a fantastic hospitality opportunity. It was easy. It really was easy, with the exception of transportation.

PLUCHINO: People will be leaving here with a great international feel. Some of that has to do with the fact that London is one of the most international cities in the world. But you still had those 205 countries (competing here) in Beijing, didn’t you? And you did not come away with that international feel. This was truly the world coming together, which is what the Olympics are all about.

It was a welcoming environment for people. I always say it this way. You come to the Olympics, you expect the sport to be the best in the world. That’s a given. You expect the event to be operated well. You expect the stadiums to be brand new. But if you don’t feel welcome and it wasn’t a hospitable environment, that’s what you’ll go home with. I think people will leave these Games with a very good feel for England, London and the Games.

KATZOFF: It’s hard for me to disagree with Mary and Gary. It was the perfect conversion of one of the greatest cities in the world with some of the greatest athletic moments of the world. For people to say they were here to see Michael Phelps break the all-time Olympic record. For people to say I’ve always dreamed about going to Wimbledon. People walk by Parliament or Westminster Abbey and they’re awestruck by having a chance to see them. From the emotional side, the sports side and cultural side, there’s been a really good convergence.

What are the lessons from this Olympics for Rio and Sochi?

PLUCHINO: Although we’ve said there have been a few hiccups on the organizational side of things, Rio can learn how to organize a Games. We all know Rio can be logistically challenging. Organization and organizational skills may be a challenge for Rio.

KATZOFF: Despite the fact that organizers spend hundreds of millions of dollars, it all comes down to security and transportation. I hope the takeaway, and we’re going to raise it with the IOC and organizers going forward, is to get aggregators (bus contracting companies) out of the middle and let the agencies or sponsors deal directly with end producers. I don’t ever want to be put into the position we were put into. It’s happened too many times.

O’CONNOR: One great learning they can take away, despite the G4S debacle, is security. We have a tremendous amount of security in the Waldorf (where the Chinese Olympic Committee is based), and they are so well connected with Scotland Yard and Olympics security. The fact that there was a big worry, and everything thus far has been really well handled. Rio is a security concern for all of us. If they can learn from what they did in London to protect people coming to the Games, that would be fantastic.

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