With the summer games in London just 100 days away, the U.S. Olympic Committee took to Times Square Wednesday to launch a new fund-raising drive known as “Raise Our Flag.” Starting with an opening ceremony at 10 a.m., the day-long public promotion saw the pedestrian plazas stretching from 45th to 47th Streets turned into a mini Olympic village. It included displays from corporate sponsors and appearances by Olympic and Paralympic athletes, as well as former champions like Alice Coachman, Carl Lewis, Greg Louganis, and Shannon Miller.
“The 'Raise Our Flag' campaign gives every American the opportunity to show their support for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams in a meaningful way, while having a direct and positive impact on the athletes,” said Scott Blackmun, C.E.O. of the U.S. Olympic Committee. “Unlike many of the teams our athletes will compete against in London this summer, the U.S. Olympic team receives no government funding and our athletes rely on individual donations and corporate support.” The initiative invites consumers to donate $12, which buys a stitch in the American flag that will accompany the team to the games.
However, there was more to the public push than a call for funds. “We have a number of sponsors, and events like the one we did in Times Square give us a wonderful activation platform for our sponsors,” said Lisa Baird, the committee's chief marketing officer, explaining the importance of including partners in marketing activities. “Secondly, we always look for opportunities—and Times Square is unique in this way because it reaches a local and national audience—to expose Americans to Olympic and Paralympic sports. We had a lot of sports demonstrations and we had over 80 athletes there, some of our famous legends as well as our hopefuls for London. So exposing those sports to the American people and doing that in the right context is definitely [another] objective.”
In that spirit, the production team—a collaboration between Team Epic and the Michael Alan Group—carved out a section for mini pavilions from sponsors like Samsung, BP, and Hilton Worldwide's Hilton HHonors, while spreading the demo areas around the site to give visitors plenty of places to explore. This included a main stage, where presentations of sports like tae kwon do took place, a 17-foot-tall ramp as part of a BMX cycling course, and a beach volleyball court filled with 100 tons of sand. Elsewhere, freestanding cardboard cutouts, a staffer dressed as a Beefeater, a double-decker London-style bus provided photo ops, and athletes manned a table for autographs. The Olympic Committee even incorporated broadcast partner NBC into the promotion with the Today show on-site from 7 to 9 a.m.
The Wednesday promotion wasn't the U.S. Olympic Committee's first effort to engage the public in an experiential way. In 2009 the organization drummed up attention for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver with an event staged at Rockefeller Center. That, Baird explained, was smaller in scale and helped build toward the one held in Times Square. “The fact that it's grown so big is, I think, a testament to the fact it's a solid idea.”