With the opening ceremonies for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro now just 100 days away, the drumbeat of criticism is growing steadily louder.
Many of the concerns being voiced about the Rio Games are endemic to nearly every event of this magnitude: cost overruns, inadequate infrastructure, transportation nightmares, and the expense of staging such a disruptive event for a mere two weeks.
Others are more specific to the host nation itself, ranging from concerns about the mosquito-borne Zika Virus to Brazil’s perilous financial situation and the political scandal and impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff.
There is also growing concern about water pollution at Guanabara Bay, the venue for the Games’ sailing events. The bay has been the site of Rio’s sewage and trash disposal for years, with tests indicating the presence of viruses linked to disease at levels thousands of times those acceptable in the U.S. or Europe.
“Rio 2016 faces a carnival of unusual problems” read a headline in the January 11 edition of The Wall Street Journal; “The Rio Olympics are a mess 7 months before the opening” declared a BusinessInsider.com headline the next day. TheBigLead.com, meanwhile, was more blunt in its assessment: “The Rio Olympics are shaping up to be a gigantic disaster,” was the headline of a February 9 article.
But if these headlines (and countless more like them) elicit a feeling of déjà vu, it’s probably because there have been variations on the same theme in the lead-up to other recent Games: “As London Olympics loom, so do problems”; “Is Athens’ Olympic dream turning to dust?”; “Is Atlanta Ready Yet?”.
All of which leads to the conclusion that doom and gloom are as much a part of the Olympics as gold medals.
Yet no amount of bad press can ever completely detract from the Olympics’ mystique and allure. They create a sense of occasion and community, providing indelible moments (John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s Black Power salute in Mexico City; gymnast Kerri Strug sticking the landing on a broken ankle in Atlanta; Jesse Owens dominate performance in Nazi Germany) that can become part of a nation’s very identity.
And in an age of dwindling TV audiences, the Olympics join marquee events such as the Super Bowl as one of the few remaining stalwarts of “must-see TV.” Host broadcaster NBCUniversal expects to make more than $1 billion from advertising on its Rio coverage, with several blue-chip advertisers including BMW, United Airlines, P&G, Kellogg’s, Nike, and Coca-Cola already committed to its Games coverage.
They’re attracted by the vast audiences, yes, but the Games offer more than a mere awareness play. It’s an opportunity to align their brand with the very best aspects of the human condition: triumph of the will; sportsmanship; pride; teamwork; and fair play. And for brands that choose to shoulder the cost of becoming a Games sponsor, the accompanying halo effect can be significant, even transformative, for their business.
So let the naysayers decry Rio’s dodgy facilities, environmental challenges, and political turmoil; when the Olympic cauldron is finally lit on August 5, billions of people from every corner of the globe – including your customers – will be unable to resist one of the greatest shows on Earth. And I know I’ll be right there along with them.