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 / Spring 2007 / Issue 46(originally published by Booz & Company)


A Gold-Medal Partnership

TOP was designed to do away with that morass. The program bundled all the rights for the IOC, the Winter Olympics, the Summer Olympics, and more than 160 National Olympic Committees into a single, four-year, exclusive marketing package, offering companies one-stop shopping for their global Olympic involvement. The TOP program boosted sponsorship revenues from $56.5 million for Lake Placid in 1980 to more than $850 million for Salt Lake City in 2002.

David D’Alessandro, chairman and CEO of the insurance group John Hancock, describes the Olympic Games as “the biggest marketing opportunity on earth.” Such blue-chip marketers as Coca-Cola, Kodak, McDonald’s, Swatch, Visa, and Samsung have signed on for lengthy sponsorships. We achieved all this with less commercial association, not more. By reducing the number of our marketing partners, we made our relationships with existing ones deeper and longer-lasting.

4. Anticipate political pressure. For public–private partnerships of any sort, the political world is a potential minefield. For the Olympic Movement, danger looms at the international, national, regional, and municipal levels, and the profusion of agendas can easily stifle action.

When Juan Antonio Samaranch took over as IOC president in 1980, the Olympic Movement was a pawn in the cold war. Time and again it found itself powerless in the face of politically motivated boycotts. Samaranch changed this through diplomacy. After the Soviet boycott in 1984, he set out to cultivate ties with Moscow, North Korea, Vietnam, and several African nations. His idea was to avoid problems by anticipating and engaging with political issues early on rather than desperately attempting to solve them at the last minute. That there has not been a boycott since 1984 is widely credited to Samaranch’s efforts.

Of course, even with all the planning and goodwill in the world, some political problems cannot be avoided. That leads us to the next rule.

5. Appoint an umpire. One organizational advantage the Olympics have over other public–private partnerships is that the IOC stands in ultimate control and can act as an umpire to neutralize excesses on either side. This arrangement has more than once saved the Games from wrongheaded decision making, especially prior to the 1996 Atlanta Games. During the years planning those Games, it became apparent that the relationship between the city and the organizers was dysfunctional. As the Wall Street Journal noted, “The IOC were prepared to repel the usual corporate ambushers but not a host city ambush.”

Even though the city of Atlanta contributed little to the cost of the Games and reaped important benefits, including $500 million in new construction, the city council was keen to exploit the event even further. The Atlanta host committee, for example, built a $207 million baseball stadium, which was designated as the new home of the Atlanta Braves, and guaranteed that the team would not relocate. Nonetheless, the city council saddled the host committee with a $9.5 million bill for extra policing and sanitation costs and would have continued to take such liberties had the IOC not stepped in and threatened a lawsuit.

The IOC came to the rescue again in 2004, when political infighting threatened to derail the Athens Games. The Athens Organizing Committee was rudderless after such infighting forced out Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, whose leadership had won Athens the Games in the first place. After her departure, the IOC, alarmed at the glacial pace of planning and sponsorship development, forced the committee to reinstate Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, and in the end her efforts won most of the corporate support that the Games received.

Successful public–private partnerships must have a similar recourse when the partnership is hijacked. There must be an accessible arbiter to avoid stalemate.

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  1. Alain Ferrand and Luiggino Torrigiani, Marketing of Olympic Sport Organisations (Human Kinetics Publishers, 2005): Advice for marketers on working with the Games, with insight into the differences between for-profit and not-for-profit sports organizations.
  2. Mark Gerencser, Fernando Napolitano, and Reginald Van Lee, “The Megacommunity Manifesto,” s+b, Summer 2006: Describes how public, private, and civil leaders can develop their own Olympic-style mutual efforts. Click here
  3. Philip Kotler, Donald Haider, and Irving Rein, Marketing Places: Attracting Investment, Industry and Tourism to Cities, States and Nations (Free Press, 2002): How places can turn themselves into appealing “products” by cleaning themselves up, helping their industrial base, and marketing themselves more effectively.
  4. Michael Payne, Olympic Turnaround: How the Olympic Games Stepped Back from the Brink of Extinction to Become the World’s Best Known Brand (Praeger, 2006): An inside account by the first marketing director of the International Olympic Committee (and author of this article).
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