I'm still in a glow from my past week, having had the good fortune to spend four-and-a-half days of it in London watching the Olympics games. It was an extraordinary experience that I will not soon forget.
Soon after I arrived, I attended a talk by Michael Payne, the former CMO of the International Olympics Committee, hosted by Nielsen, the official Marking Research Services provider to the London 2012 Olympics Games. Payne talked about the amazing 25-year-long resurrection of the games from the IOC’s near-bankruptcy post-Montreal in 1976, to the now-very-robust IOC and very successful games in Athens and Beijing.
A central element of the resurrection strategy was recapturing and centralizing control of the global marketing rights for the games and the iconic Olympics five-rings symbol, all of which were previously owned, managed and exploited in piecemeal and piss-poor fashion by scores of national Olympic committees. Of course, it wasn’t enough to recapture those marketing rights, but to turn them into a change-maker.
Payne related the challenges of getting all of the national federations to come together on a common strategy, particularly since it occurred during a particularly tense period in the Cold War, when the Soviet Union and the U.S. and their respective allies were super-sensitive about not doing anything that might benefit the other. As you might remember, sport was a critical battleground for publicity and propaganda in that war.
As we all now know, Payne and the IOC were successful in their endeavors. The Olympics games and its five rings are now one of the most powerful and most valuable franchises in sports -- and in all of marketing, for that matter. But it wasn't just because they had the right strategy -- recapturing and centralizing the rights. It's because they did an extraordinary job of executing once they had those rights.
Brands like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola have used the centralized Olympics platform to solidify the global nature and appeal of their food and beverages. Brands like Visa and Samsung used the games to challenge and gain equal footing with their larger rivals American Express and Sony. The Olympics were saved because there was great execution. The IOC and its marketing partners saved a tired and near-bankrupt sporting event because they aligned their interests and executed extraordinarily well, and survived their share of bumps in the road, like the Salt Lake bribery scandal and steroids and doping.
As an entrepreneur, I love to learn about -- and from -- stories of great execution in these key businesses. After 18 years in start-ups, I've learned that great execution wins over great strategy every time. Thus, it was with that lens that I ventured out into the London 2012 venues, wondering whether LOCOG (the local organizing committee) could continue on the execution path that Payne and his former IOC boss Juan Antonio Samaranch had blazed over the decades before.
How did London do? Well, I suspect that each of you has an opinion, having caught some of the games, either on TV or online or on your tablet. In my opinion as an attendee -- as well as a viewer of many, many hours of the games on NBC -– I think that London did a magnificent job with these Olympics. When it came to execution, they did the Olympics proud.
If you want to learn more about the Olympics resurrection, I highly recommend Michael Payne’s brand-new book on the subject, “Olympic Turnaround.”