Hero’s (and brands)

As a young kid, my bedroom walls were adorned by my sporting Olympic hero’s… it included Steve Ovett (I was always in the Ovett camp rather than Coe), and the likes of the Cuban athlete Alberto Juantorena, the first athlete to win gold medals in both the 400m and 800m. I also bubbled with excitement on being taken to watch an athletics meeting, despite the long lulls between heats, events, and often inclement UK weather.

Today, does the Olympics hold the same appeal? I’m not so sure. No disrespect of the recent medal tallies, nor the many hours of dedication in the ‘years running up to donning a GB vest and standing on the starting-line (or blocks). But to me it feels it’s become slightly desperate: invest heaps of money = success; a tad self-indulgent for the athletes; and host Cities struggling to justify or appease their citizens. (On the first point, I do however salute John Major and the introduction of the National Lottery as a charity.)

I think to appeal to new audiences, events have been added (some I question whether really of Olympic status?), and whether alone will truly broaden and bring new appeal? And speaking to friends internationally I was staggered that many (that I would consider as sport enthusiasts), had little or no interest in the Olympics…

I meanwhile watched many events live, bleary-eyed due to the time difference in Japan, and then watched the highlights the following morning and also again in the evening- the triathlon mixed relay (as just one example) will remain memorable for a very long time, which interestingly was a new Olympic event.

I’m sure statistics will dispute my comments above, and show it does have a direct correlation to encouraging many kids to get into sport, and an increase in health/well-being- and the costs therefore justified, and I would applaud that outcome.

But something maybe for the next Olympics in ’24, and beyond, to possibly sense-check how to ensure buoyancy? I for one would like this ultimate sporting event to continue rather than wane, but wane I think it is. The likes of football, cricket, and even darts, have all been on roller-coasters of highs and lows over the years (appeal and audiences) and some have added premiership, or fireworks and cheers-leaders, or pace, and even fancy-dress. Not that I’m suggesting these for the Olympics as solutions, nor the flamboyance of the opening/closing ceremonies to be spread across the 16/17days of sport to generate new engagement- it’s above that!

Turning my ramblings into something design related, the Olympics (and many ‘businesses’) need to think strategically as a brand, because provenance (and holding onto childhood memories) are not enough- as trends and allure change, and new audiences evolve. Your core offer needs to be strong, enable self-propelling relevance, and legacies as the word suggests, are in the past and yet unfinished. Simply throwing money at something, along with wrapping it in tinsel doesn’t cut the mustard, nor bring future longevity and Gold.