6 September 2004
Former International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Juan Antonio Samaranch declared the Sydney Olympics “the best Games ever”.
Could the Athens Games rise to this challenge? The Greeks certainly had a tough act to follow and the doom-merchants had a great time cataloguing the problems facing the organisers, but by the closing ceremony the praise was all but unanimous: the Greeks had delivered.
The blanket coverage of the preparations for the 2004 Games only gave a hint of the complexities involved in staging one of the world’s greatest sporting events. Aside from the development and delivery of the myriad facilities, the creation of the legal infrastructure required to underpin the Games could rightly be described as an ‘Olympian’ assignment. In short (if you will forgive another topical metaphor), the Games’ lawyers have been involved in a six-year marathon. How do I know this? Because my colleagues and I are currently making the hard yards in the next great race, acting as international counsel for the 2008 Beijing Games.
For Morrison & Foerster (MoFo), the road to Beijing began with a competition of Homeric proportions. Starting the race to represent the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) were reportedly over 100 law firms. An initial culling of the field by half was then followed by a further reduction to five firms; and eventually, after many months of competition, two firms – one international and one domestic – were hired.
Preparing to host the 2008 Summer Games is a huge undertaking requiring legal advice in many areas. Two years into this six-year project and the significant hurdles of broadcasting and marketing have been cleared. While ultimately the Olympic Movement is non-profit, the commercialisation of the Olympics and its IP is now a critical part of generating funding. Not only does this make the Olympics sustainable, it also ensures that more amateur athletes have the chance to participate.
Historically, or at least since the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, the event has been financed in significant part by the value of its IP, which consists of five interconnected rings, the word ‘Olympics’ and various other symbols and logos. It is no surprise, then, that the IOC guards the value of those words and symbols and protects them in the context of each Games. Beijing, as with Athens, is obligated to protect those rights, both for the benefit of the Games in the long-term Olympic movement, but more importantly for the ability of Beijing itself to use those marks and, through sponsorship arrangements and broadcasting rights, to finance the event.
With broadcasting typically the largest source of revenue – the Games are viewed or listened to by an estimated four billion people – the establishment of Beijing Olympic Broadcasting (BOB) is key to the successful operation of the Beijing Games. BOB will be responsible for producing the television programming that will be picked up and used by broadcasters worldwide for their broadcast of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. BOB will feed national and international television and radio networks during the Games, construct and operate the International Broadcasting Centre and broadcast facilities at other venues, and provide other relevant broadcasting services to the rights-holding broadcasters of the Games.
Equally important is how the Games are marketed. Commercial entities around the world are convinced of the benefits of being associated with the Olympics and the values and ideals represented by the Games. While the marketing strategy hardly shifts from one Games to the next, the detail of the marketing plan – sponsorship arrangements, licensing and ticketing for the Games, as well as coin, banknote and philatelic programmes based on the Olympic IP rights – has to be agreed upon between the IOC and the Organising Committee.
Ensuring a profitable Games is important, but as Atlanta found out, sustaining the Olympic spirit is more important still. For Beijing, for China and for all those involved in staging the Olympics in 2008, there is an immense amount of pride, and no stone will be left unturned in ensuring that Beijing delivers the most remarkable Games.