With the London 2012 Olympics just about a month away, starting on the anniversary of the 1990 Coup (July 27, 2012), Brian Lewis, secretary general of the T&T Olympic Committee, last Monday sat for an interview with the Business Guardian to talk about local companies exploring opportunities from the Games.
Q: What are some business opportunities available for London 2012?
A: London 2012 opportunities have gone. Authorised associations have been long completed. The sport industry—of which Olympic marketing is just a part—is very much in its early stages. In fact, I don’t think it has begun to get off the ground. The fact that there is a sport industry is not understood or embraced, and as a result, all stakeholders are losing tremendous opportunity by not appreciating the possibilities, in spite of the discussion about diversifying the economy. I think that we are losing, and leaving a lot on the table. In many ways, when you consider the international, worldwide or global sport industry, it’s (valued) in the multi-billions. I’m seeing figures as (high) as US$400 billion and that’s absolutely mind-boggling. In the Middle East, countries are developing a sport sector as a vital and critical part of their economies in the next 20-30 years.
In places like Singapore, Qatar, Doha, Russia, Brazil, and India, and a lot of countries with far greater energy resources than us, they see the need to diversify their economy and many of them are seeing sport as a critical part.
If our neighbour St Lucia, for example, can host the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games, who are we? Jamaica, for example, has been using the success of their track and field programme (with) over 50 Olympic medals to shape and market Jamaica. In many ways, the income that young Jamaicans adds up.
Sport offers opportunities for sustainable employment in many forms. You have different ways to make money in sport. Apart from event hosting, you have sport tourism and sport marketing. I think that people don’t realise that there’s an aspect of it going on already: sport as a lifestyle brand. There are a lot of Adidas, Puma and these brands around, so somebody’s making money. The sport industry also fills hotels and brings in foreign exchange. Horse racing, the TT Pro League, the Trinidad (former Clico) Marathon, and cycling, bring in 10,000 to 30,000 people each year.
Why are businesses not exploring these opportunities?
A: I think it’s because we grew up in a culture where sport is seen as recreational and a pasttime. So because of that, I think people don’t take sport seriously. It could also have to do with, well, people feel business and money tarnish sport. You don’t want to spoil a good thing. It has a negative connotation, as if money is the root of all evil, but it’s not that.
What can sport offer businesspeople?
A: The profit motive because at the end of the day, when you talk about a sport sector, we’re not talking about making a donation to the TTOC or sponsorship. We’re talking about facilities, event management, sport marketing, sports medicine, media, and hospitality. I believe we’re sitting on a goldmine, but like a lot of things in T&T we take things for granted. Unless we could buy it low and sell it high, we’re not in it, and the fact that we have oil totally spoils us. Over-dependence on oil and the fact that we have oil have sapped a lot of our appreciation of our creativity. If we didn’t have oil, we might have had to take the creative industries—I include sports in that—seriously.
How does this year’s sponsorship of the TTOC compare to previous years?
A: I think sponsorship opportunities have been impacted by the downturn since 2008. I think sports perceived as minor sports would have had some difficulties maintaining their sponsors, but some have maintained their sponsorship portfolio. including, to be honest, the T&T Olympic Committee.
Can athletes sign individual contracts with sponsors?
A: Yes, they can but they cannot wear the logo for competing brands at a TTOC event or at the Olympic Games. Let’s be honest, the attraction for a sponsor, is the Olympic Games, so there is that limitation with regard to the Olympic Games. In an Olympic year, the TTOC is faced with the challenge of managing the Olympic marks and logo. In the past, there has been some misunderstanding surrounding the use of Olympic marks and logo. No company, organisation or individual in T&T is authorised to use the Olympic marks and logos in any form of advertising, sale, marketing or public relations without the express permission of the International Olympic Committee, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and the T&T Olympic Committee.
This restriction relates to all forms of media, including, but not limited to, video, print, audio, new media and mobile telephone, and also extends to advertising and public relations expressions, such as good luck wishes, and congratulatory messages to accredited Olympic athletes. The approved partners that have permission but with restricted access to the event marks are the International Olympic Committee partners, which also have rights in our jurisdiction: Coca-Cola, Ethos, Dow, Omega, Samsung mobile phones, Panasonic, Acer, McDonald’s, Visa, General Electric, Procter and Gamble. In T&T, the TTOC partners: Guardian Holdings, Lisa Communications, bpTT, Scotiabank, Adidas and bmobile.
So, basically, you are saying to businesses, “No congratulations please”?
A: People feel they could just go and give you congratulations, using your image, without what is called an “authorised association.” To be able to do what we do, the TTOC needs money. Money provides the means. Our partners partner with us in all forms. It goes beyond the dollars. It means providing human resource.
How much would it cost a company to become a partner of the TTOC in time for the London 2012 Olympics?
A: The Olympic year is the final year in what is known as the quadrennial cycle. So to come in as a sponsor in the last year just for the Olympics, we would have to be mindful of the relationships we have had. You will find that the people who come in the last year, their “price point” will probably be beyond a small contribution. You can’t be branded a partner paying two cents.
So what is a small business to do if it can’t spend money like bigger corporations, but wants to make a contribution? Congratulate?
A: Let’s be blunt: if you’re going to congratulate, what contribution are you making? Realistically, if you came with your small business, what we would do is refer you to individual athletes who need support.
The Olympic Games is a premier global brand. So I won’t fool anybody. You can’t get a $10 ticket. There isn’t a $10 ticket. What we have to do is not inexpensive.
So to become a TTOC partner, how much should a business aspire to muster?
A: Now, you know you’re asking me a question that I’m not at liberty to answer. Let me put it this way, to run our programmes, the Olympic committee programmes, on an annual basis, during the quadrennial requires high six figures.
An industry employs people. Can a sport sector employ athletes?
A: There are a lot of young people along the East/West Corridor whose talents are in music, art, sports and drama. It is not about feeling sorry for people and giving them handouts. It’s not about “make-work” programmes. It is better and more productive to have a young man play football rather than do a ten days. Let him play football for a living.
Whose role would it be to create that sport sector?
A: The energy sector was developed by government policy. Everywhere you go in the world, an industrial sector is developed by a vision of the government. There are so many things that can be done if you’re trying to develop an industry. It could include tax holidays to attract investors to T&T to build world-class sports facilities.
There has been no meaningful discussion in the 50 years of independence that identifies sport as an economic initiative. T&T could become a destination for pre-season training camps in track and field, swimming, football, rugby. I can’t see why we can’t have a pre-season tournament where AC Milan and some of the bigger names come here for a pre-season tournament. We have the weather. We have the athletes with the networks and international recognition. With the kind of contacts that a Brian Lara, a Dwight Yorke, a Stephen Ames would have, we could make it happen.