The cost of the Olympic Games versus the feel-good legacy

The Olympic Games Legacy?

The Olympic Games Legacy?

One year on, the UK puts on a PR campaign to build the feel-good factor – but will it work? If it does, Rio could take a lesson in proactive PR

Despite much cynicism surrounding the benefit of the Olympic Games to the UK in 2012, and with the cost of staging the event widely publicised, it now appears as though the British public are still buzzing with the feel-good factor left behind one year on – at least that’s what recent polls are showing. The Office for National Statistics found that the public were happier one year on from the Games with 77% of respondents rating their life satisfaction as at least seven out of ten.

In comparison, Beijing was left with a legacy of a different sort entirely, as while there was much praise for the architecturally stimulating buildings at the time of 2008 Olympic Games, these same structures are now costing China by the day. It is believed that at the current rate of use, it will take three decades to pay off the US$480 cost of building the ‘Bird’s nest’ stadium.

The legacy of the 2004 Games in Athens is even more disappointing, as the sites have been mostly left to ruin, many even blame the Games for the beginning of Greece’s financial troubles, and top athletes instead travel to Cyprus to train. In more extreme cases, the young national athletes’ parents cannot afford petrol to drive them to training sessions.

The UK taking a lead on post-Olympics PR
But not so the UK. Even now, one year on, firms are still fighting with each other to be connected with the legacy of the Olympics. Sainsbury’s saw the opportunity in sponsoring what was a normal diamond league athletics meet re-branded as the Anniversary Games, and Coca-Cola have launched Legacy 365, a further investment in youth participation in sport until 2015. The main reason behind this is the effect it has on linking memory of the Games with the brand itself. A survey conducted by PR Week/one poll found that respondents identified brands featured at the Games ahead of their competitors.

Firms, it would seem, are keen to be associated with the ‘greatest show on earth‘ and what it has done for ‘Brand Britain‘.

So the commercial side has worked well, but what about a sporting or cultural legacy?
Despite the numbers coming out in support of the Games raising the profile and reputation of London (68% believed that the reputation of British Sport has increased as a result, while 64% felt the City’s reputation had improved), there is more unease about the possible lack of a legacy. A majority (55%) of people said that they did not believe the Government would do enough to ensure a lasting legacy from the Games.

The London Legacy Development Corporation, the company who took over responsibility for the Olympic park and its legacy following the Games has also stepped up its communications this summer, more than doubling its staff one year after the Games to keep the profile of the legacy alive.

However, the telling point is that this non-profit, public sector organisation’s responsibility is for the future of the Olympic park, ensuring that a lesson is learned from Beijing and Athens: large white elephants abandoned after the Games attract negative headlines. This is described as ‘one of the most important Olympic legacy promises made in the original London 2012 bid.’ A statement which underlines the concern that the infrastructure left over from the Games is a more observable and tangible measure of legacy than one of sporting participation.

In terms of the sport, the Games have been kind to some, but not to others: while the number of people taking part in track and field events rose 28% in the year following the Games, other disciplines such as road-running and jogging have seen a fall year on year. Overall, 88% of people polled said that their level of activity had not changed since the Games.

Are there lessons to be learned?
It would seem that each host nation has a vision for what the Games will bring: Greece wanted to recapture the feeling that the Games had returned to their birthplace; China wanted to open itself up to the world and improve the environment for the citizens of Beijing. None however, has managed to retain that vision. London has sought to reignite citizen participation in sport and economic redevelopment of the East End.

Perhaps in the next few years we will see a new generation of athletes who will say that they were inspired by those who competed in the 2012 Games, but until then the argument for more sporting inclusion has yet to be proved and ‘the jury is still out‘.

The legacy battle is far from won.

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