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Marketing Lessons from the Olympics in Athens

Less than a month before the Games open, stories already fill the press about troubles in the Greek city: unfinished construction projects, potential traffic jams, and fear of terror attacks. Now the Greek government has another thing to worry about: lackluster ticket sales. The latest issue of Knowledge@Wharton, a bi-weekly online resource on business, information and research, touches on the marketing lessons from the Athens experience.

Less than a month before the Games open, stories already fill the press about troubles in the Greek city: unfinished construction projects, potential traffic jams, and fear of terror attacks. Now the Greek government has another thing to worry about: lackluster ticket sales. The latest issue of Knowledge@Wharton, a bi-weekly online resource on business, information and research, touches on the marketing lessons from the Athens experience.

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By the end of June, about 1.95 million of the total 5.3 million tickets had been sold, the report says. Cartan Tours of Manhattan Beach, Calif., one of two companies in the United States officially designated to sell Olympic tickets and accommodations, said sales are down 20 percent from the 2000 Sydney Games.

The marketing lessons? First, when so much is riding on attendance, there has to be close cooperation between the local Olympics planning committee and the national tourism commission, which helps to build interest in the games around the globe. This is particularly true in a small country such as Greece, which needs a strong international contingent to fill its venues. The Greeks, however, didn’t put together a tourism marketing plan.

Second, the Olympics’ host country has to focus hard, and early, on addressing concerns in the media to overcome negative perceptions. It’s not enough for government officials to hold press conferences and say all is well. It has to be more pro-active, rather than reactive.

Third, don’t expect the Olympics to create miracles. At the end of the day, Athens is not considered to be one of the top tourist destinations — unless you are an ancient Greek scholar — and doesn’t have a lot of hotel rooms. In fact, cruise ships are being used for hotel space for fans and athletes.

The Olympics are the single largest brand in global sports — and probably the toughest one to manage. But as you can see, the marketing lessons are not so different from those for managing much smaller brands.

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