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Volume 20 No. 42
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Games’ lasting legacy: ‘London at its best’

As the rest of the world today weighs in on the legacy of the London Games, the story of how hosting them benefited Great Britain shouldn’t be overlooked. Speaking last week, WPP Chief Executive Officer Martin Sorrell said the London Games provided a big boost to Britain’s brand worldwide and raised the spirits of its citizens. WPP agencies worked with 16 of 25 worldwide Olympic and London 2012 sponsors, and Sorrell said all of them saw benefits from their association with a Games that came off as strong, modern, intelligent and quirky. He elaborated on that and more during a conversation last week with SportsBusiness Journal Olympics reporter Tripp Mickle.

You were in China in 2008. How do these Olympics compare?

Sorrell says it’s easier for developing countries to justify the Olympics, but the U.K.’s infrastructure will benefit.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
SORRELL: They were very different. Both were extremely good.

Beijing was extremely well-organized, as London was. Beijing was more methodical and formal. London was warmer and clearly, more quirky.

The opening ceremonies [in 2008 and 2012] were equally good. In China, you couldn’t help but be impressed by the scale, the technology and the difficulty. It was much more ordered. Much more militaristic.

London was much more quirky, intellectual and full of inside jokes for people in the U.K. Having said that, Danny Boyle did a fantastic job.

Was it worth the estimated $14 billion cost?

SORRELL: It’s much easier for China or Brazil or Russia to justify. For fast-growing markets, one of the ways to reposition your country is through the Olympic Games, World Cup or Formula One. For a mature market like the U.K., it’s much more difficult to justify the infrastructure investment. But it accelerates the infrastructure investment. It drags forth airports, hotels and the likes.

What will the London Games be remembered for here in London and the U.K.?

SORRELL: There are two things the bid talked about: one was legacy for East London, which has been considerable. I know there are naysayers, but if you look at before and after, visitors are amazed by that legacy development. The question is do we continue to use it in an effective way.

The second is the impact on youth. Will it encourage young people to be healthier in the aspect of their life and encourage them in life? I thought it was interesting whilst GB was losing on [penalty kicks] to South Korea, you had unpaid athletes … Mo [Farah], Jess [Ennis] and Greg [Rutherford] all winning gold, and we had our highly paid footballers losing on [penalty kicks]. I thought that was an interesting juxtaposition.

There was a lot of grumbling coming into this. What has surprised you most about how the Games went?

SORRELL: This must have been the first time the media got behind something in this country. A media member told me that the turning point was when Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France the Sunday before.

A lot of people were concerned about the opening ceremony. Part of it was relief, but more of it was genuinely being impressed by it. It didn’t have the scale of Beijing, but it did have some scale. You walked into the stadium and it was all of England’s green and pleasant land. … Everyone I spoke to said it did play well on television.

There have been the blips. There was one tragic incident there with the bus driver and cyclist.

How will they be remembered around the world?

SORRELL: London at its best. Not just London but Weymouth and Eton Dorney. Britain will be seen as a country that can organize something extremely well, is quirky but has a good bit of humor. … The stadium was amazing. The torch lighting was incredible — to bring a new twist to it. It will be remembered as well-organized, well-executed and something of beauty.

For example, the triathlon was very well done visually. The marathon on Sunday looked extremely good using all the tourist hot spots. Despite being a small country, it’s a country that hasn’t lost its touch.

A decade ago, the Olympics were under fire for corruption. Now they seem to be on a run of over-delivering for sponsors and advertisers. How would you describe their health?

SORRELL: Jacques Rogge has done an amazing job. There were concerns. There was a change in leadership. Jacques has done an incredibly good job in repositioning the Olympics. There are similar challenges for FIFA. There are similar challenges for Formula One. This is all about the professionalizing of sport. It has to be professionally run and carefully run. … It will become more and more important.