Los Angeles Olympics: What Event Producers Need to Know Now

Veteran producers share tips for planning events and brand activations around the 2028 Summer Olympic Games, which will be held in the United States for the first time since 1996.

By Claire Hoffman August 10, 2017, 7:32 AM EDT

In 2009, the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games and the Los Angeles Sports Council co-sponsored a party—complete with a torch lighting—to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the games' most recent visit to town.

Photo: Dan Eldridge Photography

On July 31, Los Angeles announced its candidature to host the 2028 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. Paris plans to take on the 2024 games; the International Olympic Committee (I.O.C.) will take a final vote in September. (Tokyo had previously been named the host city for the 2020 games.)

Los Angeles made headlines for its bid by pledging to spend roughly $5.3 billion—a radically low number for an event of this scale, and not even half the cost of the Rio Olympics. The city has proposed building no new permanent venues, instead creating a sports-park model as opposed to one singular Olympic park. The four parks will surround a cluster of existing and temporary venues in Downtown Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, the South Bay, and Long Beach. Los Angeles also plans to forego the traditional Olympic Village, instead housing athletes in existing dormitories at local universities.

While 2028 is more than a decade away, local event producers, brands, and venues are already buzzing about how they can prepare for the first United States-based summer games since 1996. BizBash spoke to three producers who have worked on Olympic events in the past to get their advice about when—and how—to start planning for the 2028 games.

Start your planning and research now.
Dwayne Jones, the director of special events for the LA 2028 bid committee, says that while it’s a bit too early for brands and event producers to make formal plans, it’s never to early to start researching the Olympic Games model. “Hospitality and events at the Olympics and Paralympics exist on a different level than many other sporting events,” he notes. “Follow the current Olympic sponsors, National Olympic Committees, and other Olympic stakeholder groups like the I.O.C., and watch what they do at the four games between now and 2028 to get a sense of what types of opportunities exist in this environment.”

Amanda Daniels, senior vice president of client services and production for Havas Sports & Entertainment—which has been activating at the Olympics since 1996 for companies such as Coca-Cola—also thinks that research should start now. “From the moment a city starts thinking about putting their name in the hat to host a games, the time has already started ticking,” she says. “There is not a moment to lose.”

Educate yourself on the I.O.C.’s rules, restrictions, and plans.
David Michael Rich, senior vice president of client services for George P. Johnson Experience Marketing—which developed Cisco’s month-long activation at the 2016 games in Rio De Janiero—advises planners to be aware of the rules established by the International Olympic Committee and local committees.

“If you are an official sponsor, you will need approvals for certain things like logo usage—and those things will happen on their time table, not yours,” he explains. “If you’re not an official sponsor but still want to do events around the Olympic Games, you can’t use the rings and other marks that are owned by the I.O.C. and will be owned by the local committee. There will be other rules you will have to follow as well.”

Daniels agrees. “If you are outside of [the official Olympic] venues, then planning for the Olympics doesn’t really differ from regular events. However, if you are planning an event within one of the venues, such as the Olympic Park, this adds layers of additional considerations, such as permitting and branding regulations, that are not driven by the brand sponsor but by the I.O.C. and the organizing committees.”

Jones recommends that planners start by getting to know the LA 2028 games plan. “Four unique sports parks multiply the opportunities for engagement throughout the city, making it possible for more venues to be involved in the ancillary events surrounding the games,” he says.

“All eyes will be on Los Angeles leading up to and during the 2028 Olympic Games, providing a perfect opportunity to showcase the city's diverse cultural landscape.”

Work with experienced agencies, and choose your team carefully.
All three producers note the importance of hiring an agency or firm that has experience with the Olympics. “If this is your first time doing Olympic work, or if your regular agency hasn’t done Olympic work before, choose an agency who has,” says Rich. “Have them take you through that past work in detail—not only in the usual bid presentation time frames. Bid presentations are usually too short to get into the kinds of details that will make or break you.”

Daniels suggests selecting a vendor team that you can trust to navigate the Olympic world and its nuances. “The planning team you create will be more than a team; it will be a family, as the hours and flexibility will necessitate it,” she says.

However, Jones warns that many of the experienced agencies may not be ready to start planning just yet. “They have four other games to get through before they concentrate heavily on 2028,” he says. But, he notes, it’s not too early to “identify those agencies and think about what you have to offer that differentiates you from other service-providers in this local market.”

Understand the complications that come with high-profile events.
“The Olympic Games are so high-profile that you will likely [deal with] more inspections and more opinions—and more people from inside and outside your organization wanting to impact what you are doing—than on any other event you’ve done,” advises Rich. “You need to spend more time than usual in explaining to people how the planning process is supposed to work before you actually begin. And of course you have to allow for the times frames necessary for the process with this large group to work.”

Daniels agrees that Olympic events require an extra-critical eye. “With the level of sponsors that are activating next to one another, the details are tremendous: everything from how to ensure your brand is the one guests are posting about online to what your brand will be remembered for, both for first-time visitors and those who have experienced a half-dozen Olympics,” she says.

Brands should adjust their messaging as the games get closer.
“Planning for Olympic-related events is all about navigating the tension between when you’d like to have things nailed in place, and when it’s wise to have them nailed in place,” explains Rich. “For instance, when it comes to commodities, if you are in a market of limited supply, you will have to make some decisions really early or be faced with no supply or exorbitant costs to get supply.”

He continues, “When it comes to the content of your campaign, it might be great in some ways to have your messaging finished 24 months out, but is your core brand platform going to remain the same over that period of time? Probably not.” He advises brands to start with the high-level messaging early, then nail the deepest level of messaging down 12 to six months before the games. “And make sure that some of your communications platforms can take late-breaking changes,” he notes.

Know that everything will take longer and cost more than expected.
“Everyone you contact for commodities or services around Olympic events knows that they will only be able to service a limited number of customers and therefore will be looking to maximize the revenue from each,” explains Rich. “Expect to have to negotiate higher rates for some things than you might regularly accept, and make sure you secure suppliers who are stable enough to deliver during the most high-pressured span of time you and they will face. Small markets are tougher than big cities [like Los Angeles], but every location has a finite amount of resources.”

It's fine to start researching hotels and other venues now, but know that it's too soon to begin booking. Hotels contacted by BizBash said they are not prepared today to offer contracts for 2028.

Appeal to an international audience, and leave a lasting impression.
“Whether in person, on TV, or on social media, all eyes will be on Los Angeles leading up to and during the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games, providing a perfect opportunity to showcase the city's diverse cultural landscape,” says Jones.

He notes that all Olympics have a cultural program, developed by the local organizing committee, that is designed to showcase the city’s culture and take advantage of the massive influx of tourists. The program will give planners and vendors the opportunity to host sponsor activations and hospitality events, National Organizing Committee events, local Olympic viewing parties, neighborhood activations, and more.

Rich says that if a planner, brand, or venue is hosting guests—such as customers, employees, dignitaries, press, or more—it’s important to deliver a blend of your company culture, the local culture, and the iconic Olympic culture. “Some of your guests may be coming from far away,” he says. “You want them to remember in a positive way that it’s your company that is hosting them.”

Meanwhile, Daniels advises planners to consider the impression they’ll leave on the international stage. “You have to ensure locally and internationally that the games resonate in person and on TV, and, most importantly, what kind of legacy you want to leave—both physically and emotionally,” she says.

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