Top Stories of 2008 – #2 – Beijing Olympics

With 2008 winding to a close, I want to countdown the top sports business stories of the year.

#2 – The Summer Olympics in Beijing

Since the Olympics only happens once every four years, they are naturally a huge story. But this year in particularly, the Olympic Games in Beijing had a tremendous impact in sports business across the globe. Here are some of the notable impacts:

– The Political Climate:  Many people were upset that Beijing was allowed to host the Olympics.  There are accusations of human rights violations, protests over possession of Tibet, concerns about air pollution, and questions about media access.  There was also the banning and subsequent unbanning of Iraq from participating.  How would a major international event like the Olympics be able to proceed in this type of environment?  Surprisingly well, it turns out.  The city seemed to manage the various protests and keep the distraction to a minimum once the Games began.

– The Global Business Landscape:  China’s government makes it difficult for non-Chinese companies to develop a foothold within China, which poses many challenges for sponsor companies.  So some companies needed to find local partners to truly leverage their Olympic partnership.  For others like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s who were already in China (and every other country in the world), having the Olympics in Beijing  provided the largest global stage for them to leverage. 

– Michael Phelps:  Not since Tiger Woods has an individual male athlete captured the attention of a nation, and quite possibly the world.  Because of his historic performance in this year’s swimming events, Phelps instantly became the most marketable athlete of the year and for years to come.  From his athletic ability to his charming smile, he is a natural target for almost any company looking to align themselves with a successful and engaging athlete.

– The Stories:  There were many great story-lines to this year’s Games, many of which were also significant on a business and marketing level.  The “Redeem Team” was a huge success and was a wonderful platform for Nike.  Usain Bolt became the fastest man ever, which also comes with a great deal of marketability.  The battle between the Chinese and American female gymnasts was heightened by the age controversies.  The opening ceremony was generally considered one of the most magnificent ever, even in light of the lip-syncing and fireworks controversies.

– The Business:  Over seven million tickets to the various events were sold.  Over 5,000 different Olympic product were available for sale, generating millions in revenue.  On the media side, the entire event was broadcast in HD, over 2,000 hours of online content were created by NBC, and for the first time, some content was streamed live on the Internet.

Clearly, the 2008 Beijing Olympics was one of the biggest sports business stories of the year, and this was just a very brief summary.  The coverage of the games was tremendous, as was the exposure for the corporate partners.  I am excited to see what Vancouver and London have in store for 2010 and 2012!