What’s Old is New, Again.

Terrence Burns ©2017

It’s been a while; I’ve been busy with LA 2024 and our quest to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. As the debate for the 2024/2028 Games heats up with two great potential Host Cities vying for the honor, the IOC continue to review and consider a new approach to bidding on and hosting the Games.  I thought I’d share my thoughts and recommendations that I sent to the IOC back in 2014, for their then-new Olympic Agenda 2020 process. In light of recent events, it makes for interesting reading.

May 2014

Thank you for the opportunity to present my thoughts pertaining to the Agenda 2020 Committee on Bidding for the Olympic Games.


I began my Olympic “life” as a sponsor, managing Delta Air Lines’ sponsorship program for the Atlanta Games.  After the 1996 Games, I joined Meridian Management SA, the IOC’s then new marketing agency where I was responsible for managing the marketing relationships with the TOP Partners and helping to institute a first-ever brand management program.

After leaving Meridian in 2000, I’ve had the opportunity to work on many Olympic bids as an advisor, among them Beijing, Vancouver, Sochi, PeyongChang and the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup.  I also worked on many bids that were not successful such as Moscow 2012, Doha 2016, Rome/Baku/Madrid 2020 (that may be a record, by the way, for one campaign) and Lviv 2022. One often learns more by losing than by winning.

For bids, I have traditionally worked on the image, marketing, communications, and branding areas, which included the presentations to the Olympic Family and global sports community.  Sometimes, although rarely, we work on the technical plans. For a variety of reasons both personal and professional, I have never engaged in lobbying IOC members on behalf of bid clients.

Rightly or wrongly, because of my background and experience, I tend to view virtually everything that happens in the Olympic Movement through the lens of “brand management”.  Much has been said and written about the foundation of the Olympic Movement, which to me is the athlete.

There are, however many other important moving parts such as IOC Members, National Federations, International Federations and of course National Olympic Committees.  I believe that there is one item often missing from the list: Bid Cities.  Without bid cities, there would be no Host Cities.  Thus, in my mind, Bid Cities also have a place at the heart of the Olympic brand; they are the seedlings of the Olympic forest.


Olympic bid cities are the “canaries in the coal mine” of the Olympic Movement.  The number and “quality” of bid cities is a direct indicator of the future health of the Games. I say future because there seems to be a cycle (or two) delay in how the future bid cycle reacts to the current economic situation due to the seven-year timeframe between bidding and becoming an OCOG.

As economic pressure increases on cities, regions, and nations (as it has since 2008/2009), coupled with a seemingly never-ending escalation in size, scope, demands, amenities and costs of Games editions, we are finally seeing negative responses to the perceived cost/benefit analysis for hosting the Olympic Games.

 Looking ahead

Bid Cities as Brand Ambassadors

First and foremost I firmly believe that Bid Cities competing to host the Olympic Games present a tremendous yet undervalued brand opportunity for the Movement. Bid City campaigns take place virtually every month of every year regardless of the timing of an Olympic cycle. The opportunity to “generate good news” (and what could be better than a city and its citizens yearning to host the Olympic Games?) year-round is self-evident.

Imagine the 2012 race, when the Movement had New York, Paris, London, Moscow and Madrid pursuing the Games. What a communications opportunity for the Olympic brand!

Unfortunately, the IOC’s highly constrictive rules on bid city promotion preclude virtually any brand benefit to the Movement from a bid cycle campaign.

I am not advocating letting the bid cities do as they please, what I am advocating is that the IOC use them and the race as branding and communications opportunities.  A healthy field of bid city candidates with the proper promotion and communications activities helps to create positive news about the Olympic Games – and will encourage future bids.


-The IOC team should craft a global communications and promotional framework that includes all bid cities’ activities aligned with the existing Olympic calendar

-The IOC brand and communications team should meet with bidding cities (potential and current) early in the process and explain the program their roles in it and what is trying to be achieved

-The Olympic Movement should look for creative opportunities for bid cities to promote themselves within a set of standard parameters that generates parity for all cities, yet creates the greatest opportunity for news and content for the Movement

-The IOC needs to take the lead on a true, unbiased economic study of past Games but it cannot only be economic; it should attempt to track and measure progress across a variety of measurements including, quality of life, health, brand image, education, etc. Too often opponents of bidding have an array of negative reports and studies purporting to illustrate the “waste” of hosting an Olympic Games.  Some of the data is, unfortunately, accurate; however, the Movement needs to engage in this debate honestly and with data of its own.

Planning for Future Host Cities

Per my recent post, I believe that the IOC has entered a new era of brand stewardship and the bid process can no longer just be a “game of chance” around parameters that can be manipulated.

I am not advocating a systemic process whereby the IOC chooses a city ahead of time.  I believe the Movement still needs the “thrill and excitement” of a real bid city campaign, but the cities should be chosen and prepared ahead of time, prior to bidding.

I believe the IOC should review and identify where and when they believe the Games should be held over the next four bid cycles based upon the needs of the IOC, the IFs and NOCs and global sport. This review should include:

  1.  Where in the world the Games can help develop sport (such as emerging economies)
  2.  Where do the Games have to be every ten years or so to keep the brand relevant in the first-world economies, and
  3. What is the true risk basis for each city and its bid (sophisticated financial and political risk analysis tools exist in the private sector that the IOC should use instead of asking bid city to provide what is most likely, inflated or exaggerated data)

The IOC should then make a list of the global regions where they desire to see the Games hosted.  In these regions, they should then make a list of cities/nations “most likely and most desirable for the Olympic brand to succeed”, and implement a long-term plan to assist those cities and nations to be prepared to bid when the time comes.


-This means fully engaging the public and private sectors early on in the process

-This means that teams of IOC experts, IOC members, and former OCOG executives should visit the potential bid cities with advice, encouragement and above all, facts about bidding for and hosting the Games

-This means laying the groundwork by helping create a rational, long-term venue development (use of existing facilities, more temporary facilities, only new facilities as a last resort) plan tied to their city’s long-term municipal or regional planning.

-This means setting criteria that must be met in order to bid for a Games, e.g., 70+% of the needed venues must exist or be in process with fully transparent funding models in place; the city/country must have hosted a certain amount of world championships/cups to illustrate operational competence ability; the potential host nation and NOC have a desirable record as it pertains to anti-doping; the public and private funding discussions and responsibilities should be fully agreed to in writing ahead of bidding; etc.

-This means asking the bid cities to address the “Fundamental Principles of Olympism” per the Olympic Charter in their bid applications, point by point

-This means implementing a communications plan foundation around the potential bid to illustrate the “what’s in it for me” rationale to the general population and local, regional and federal governments.

-This means engaging the National Olympic Committees to be part of this process and every National Federation

-This means utilizing former Host Cities and their leadership as case studies and, never allowing a member of the Movement to denigrate a former Host City (as is often done with Atlanta, for example). That is unprofessional and self-defeating – former Host Cities are also still part of the “franchise” and should be treated accordingly. It is also insulting to the thousands of Volunteers who gave the Movement months and months of their personal time for the Games, and to the citizens who supported the bid, the Games and welcomed the world with open arms.

-This means making International Federations a working partner in the process. To be honest, and I’ve been there, in the past many IFs placed inordinate demands and expectations on Bid Cities. And Bid Cities being Bid Cities have no choice but to try to comply in order to attempt to obtain votes. This process is upside down and it leads to ever-increasing and often illogical venue commitments. I understand that many IFs want gleaming new, state-of-the-art venues at every Games, but that is just not sustainable and in the end, it is not good for sport because it inevitably leads to White Elephants, which scares away future potential Bid Cities.

 Whose Brand is it?

The IOC has to take control of the image and reputation of the Olympic brand. During and after the Slake Lake City Bid scandal, I worked on the IOC crisis team that helped made the decision that the OCOG or Games brand should be the “hero” brand in all Olympic communications activities because, essentially, the brand image of the IOC itself was in serious trouble.  This made sense at the time, but no longer.  The IOC’s image and reputation cannot be left up to others to define (Germans and Norwegians claim they like the Winter Games – just not the IOC!); the IOC must define its own image and reputation going forward.

The Games are too complex, too expensive and too subject to geopolitical machinations for the brand to be left in the hands of amateurs (Organizing Committees, and I use the world amateurs in the most respectful manner possible) every two years. The IOC cannot leave “success” up to a group of well-intentioned people who have never done it before – and only in seven short years. And, I mean “success” in a context that is far beyond the 17-day hosting of the Games.

If we want healthier bid cities in the future, we need to ensure that once chosen, Organizing Committees are great sources of news about progress and are a brand investment in the Movement. A thriving and healthy Organizing Committee preparing for the Games creates a positive media environment and helps stimulate interest in hosting the Games instead of fear of hosting the Games.

Is “Great Sport” Enough to define Success?

I think that the IOC can no longer afford to say “sport was great, so the Games were a success”. Because of costs and investment, it has become more complex than that in the eyes of those outside the Olympic Movement – the Olympic Movement is no longer the sole target market for appraisal of success or failure. Many more variables are now at play.

Look at Sochi and Rio, for examples. For Sochi, the venues were perfect and sport on the field of play was successful by virtually any measure. But in the end, what did the negative reports leading up to Sochi cost the Olympic brand? Well for starters, we know negative media reports around Sochi (again, real or imagined) have cost us two, possibly three European first-world capitals as bid cities in the 2022 race.

I would state unequivocally that this is NOT Russia or Sochi’s fault.  They did what they said they were going to do. They built a city for the Winter Games. It is the IOC’s responsibility or should have been, to “manage the world’s expectations” about the Sochi Games.  It would have been, and still is, easy to say “No single Games is a perfect example for future Games. The expenditures made by the Russian government to host the Sochi 2014 Winter Games made sense for Russia, and we thank them for a tremendous Winter Games.  But we do not, by any means, expect similar investments by future bid cities going forward.”

We cannot hide behind the shield of sports success as the sole arbiter of an Olympic Games’ effectiveness. The Games have to make sense for local communities.


National brand building as the sole source of hosting an Olympic Games “isn’t good enough”. Potential bid cities must illustrate the value of their bids beyond their own borders – not just with words, but also with deeds years ahead of time from their bids.

-Rewarding desired behavior. As an example, look at the 2018 Winter Games race.  When appraising the technical plans of Munich and PyeongChang, there was no “bonus weighting” applied to Munich’s creative use of existing venues or its world-class environmental plans.  From the IOC’s members’ perspectives (the people who vote) it appeared as if the Munich and PyeongChang technical plans were both of equal value, when in fact, Munich’s was much more visionary and one could argue better for the Movement at the time.  The IOC selection criteria must be more objective with quantitative metrics and it should be willing to give “credit” (enhanced value) to cities that put forth responsible, prudent plans instead of being impressed (or blinded) by expensive new building projects.

In closing, allow me to summarize:

  1. Bid Cities can and should be key pieces of the IOC’s overall global communications strategy – let them compete more openly, yet under control of a strategic IOC communications plan designed to achieve objectives
  2. The IOC should alter the Bid City selection process by 1) looking 20 years into the future to determine where and when the Movement would like to see the Games hosted, and 2) identifying potential cities far in advance and helping them “get prepared” to bid
  3. The IOC should consider more stringent criteria (such as existing venues, experience, etc.) that must be met before allowing a city to bid
  4. Allow the “bid city race” to continue (it generates media interest and excitement – or should), knowing that the Movement has prepared cities whose plans are predicated on the IOC and the Movement needs, rather than left to chance, or worse.
  5. The IOC needs to implement a communications program (not just PR) to take control of its own image and reputation. This can be done in concert with OCOG brands but the IOC has to control its own reputation destiny
  6. If the IOC doesn’t want bids that are based on theory and fiction, then stop rewarding them. Given credit and praise (openly) to cities who provide thoughtful, affordable, responsible plans to host the Games.
  7. The IOC needs to be more involved with the operational success of the OCOG. True functional matter experts in Games operations and planning, Sport, Sectary, Branding and marketing communications, Sponsorship, etc. should work alongside the OCOG
  8. As to member visits, I think that is up the IOC Members themselves to debate and discuss. But I do think it is unusual (and perhaps ill-advised) to ask one hundred-plus people to make a multi-billion dollar decision without ever having seen the city.

Thank you again for this remarkable opportunity to share some of my views with you and your colleagues in Lausanne; please know that all my observations and suggestions are my own, and they reflect my complete respect for the Olympic ideals.  Every day I wake up and am so thankful that I have the chance to be a (small) part of the Olympic Movement.  Thank you for all that you do to make that happen.


Terrence Burns

So, that’s was my point of view three years ago. It remains so, today. Time will tell if these ideas and concepts have any impact on the 2024/2028 decision, or beyond. I hope so. If so, you read it here first.  Thanks as always.

When “Why” Matters

Terrence Burns ©2015

Hamburg 2024.  Where to start?

Let me begin by offering my sincere condolences to the 48.4 percent of Hamburg citizens who wanted to host the 2024 Games and, to my many friends (e.g., Bernhard, Nikolas, Susanne, Claudia, Stefan, Carla, Michael, Alfons, Christian …) who worked on the bid. They are actually more than friends; they are family – so is Germany to be exact. Germany is a great sporting nation full of welcoming people. I am hopeful that Germany’s Olympic time will come again sooner rather than later.

What happened?

I should state up front that I believe the soul of the Olympic brand isn’t really about sport; sport is the path, but eternal human ideals and values are the destination of the Olympic brand.

Brands live in the emotional sphere, not the rational. BMW owners buy “driving excitement”. Mercedes owners buy “prestige” and Volvo owners buy “safety” – what they don’t buy are well-made, expensive, highly engineered automobiles. Consumers buy the brand promise in each of these products.

So, let’s think about that in the context of the Olympic brand; specifically, what are its core values? The IOC states that they are “Excellence”, “Respect” and “Friendship”. Those are indeed uplifting, admirable values. But alone do they truly differentiate the Olympic brand from other sporting events? I’m not so sure because I think sport at every level embodies these three values. And given the current events transpiring in global sport regarding bad governance, corruption, doping and worse, the Olympic brand desperately needs to differentiate itself – Hamburg’s citizens just proved that.

Somehow, over the course of time these three core values have become a commodity. A shared positioning with others. A diluted promise. And what happens in this circumstance with any brand? It loses the meaning of its original purpose, its emotional payoff, its power to stand distinct and apart – it loses its power to inspire.

So what does this have to do with Hamburg 2024?

A lot, I think.  Not enough people in Hamburg were sufficiently inspired by the Olympic brand.

To me, the Olympic brand is and has always been about hope. The stated vision of the Olympic Movement is “building a better world through sport”.  I’ll buy that. But what is the emotional pay off? What is the IOC’s singularly unique promise that no other brand can deliver?

Again, I think it is hope. Hope inspires human beings to dream with no limitations.

Hope is the emotional output of the Olympic brand. The Games, and more importantly the athletes, give us hope that something better resides deep inside of us, and, if only for 17 days every four years, we are capable of undeniable grace. Nothing other than perhaps theology offers humankind a similar promise through the demonstration of human achievement.

I am under no illusion that the IOC will suddenly revisit its core values in favor of the word “hope”. What I am suggesting is that by ignoring the concept of hope, we are missing something  powerful that is needed right now.

My friend Christian Winkler’s recent Facebook post help put it in perspective for me: The world is not talking about the value of the Games, only its cost. Cost and value are two distinctly different, yet linked ideas.

The good people of Hamburg can be forgiven for missing that salient but subtle point because the Olympic message has been hijacked. It has been masked by supposedly tangible arguments. It has been too easily compared with lesser things.

I am a big fan of what Olympic Agenda 2020 is trying to achieve regarding the costs of bidding for and hosting the Games. Quite simply, hosting a Games must leave a sustainable and affordable legacy, not only during the 17 days of the Games but for generations that follow. This is the new reality, the new “given”. I applaud the IOC for trying to corral the excesses of the past into a responsible way forward into the future.

What does this have to do with hope or Hamburg?

A city and a community must be inspired to achieve Olympic dreams. Bid Cities and Host Cities come and go – with predictable regularity. What is permanent, what is eternal and what remains are the IOC and the Olympic Movement. They are and must remain the voice and the living expression of the Olympic brand.

If an astute and media savvy anti-Olympic Games minority are allowed to control the bidding dialogue with a discussion based simply on cost, yet without any consideration of value, what is the chance of a fair discussion? How does one quantify the value of a marriage, an education, a friendship or a belief?

The Olympic world must inject and include the concept of  “value” for hosting an Olympic Games alongside the very necessary variable of “cost”. Either without the other is a false computation.

I don’t know the optimal relative weight of each, but I do know it is up to each bid city and its local community – not an exportable set of anti-Olympic arguments by outsiders – to define what does and does not make sense for that particular city’s future.

Hamburg 2024, as with every Olympic bid city before it, began with hope in the belief that the Games would be good for the city and its people’s future. That dream was eventually smothered by an atmosphere of confusion, distrust, alarm and perhaps fatigue.

This is precisely the moment when hope must triumph over doubt. And this is precisely the moment when we can surprise ourselves by adding just a little bit of hope to the equation.





When “No” means “I Don’t Know”.

Terrence Burns ©2015

Boston, the Great Hope of the USA for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games ended in painful, dizzying demise this week. We worked for Boston as advisors, joining the team on April 1st of this year. Our role, as with all the bids we’ve worked on, was to focus on the international brand development and the presentations to the Olympic Family. We were looking forward to eventually helping Boston tell its unique Olympic story to the world – but that was not to be.

When we learned that the USOC selected Boston in January, our team was in Almaty, Kazakhstan helping prepare the Almaty 2022 bid for their presentation to the IOC Evaluation Commission. We got a call from the Boston team asking if we would join the bid. We were definitely interested, but wanted to know more about their bid, the team, etc., before deciding.

We scoured the Internet to find any materials we could on the bid – it wasn’t easy as the USOC’s 2024 bid process was closed. The four cities’ (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and Washington DC) bid documents were not public.

But, we eventually found the Boston 2024 “Bid 1.0” documents and frankly, after reading them, we thought it looked like a spectacular bid in many ways.

The Games Concept was innovative and intimate for a Summer Games. Boston is of course, a jewel of a city. Boston is a tremendous sports town. Boston is endowed with the finest collection of universities and colleges in one place in the world. Boston is a powerhouse of financial stability and power. And, Boston has some of the smartest and most accomplished people in the United States; we thought, “imagine the energy and new thinking they could bring to hosting an Olympic Games”. Boston is also one of if not the most progressive cities in America.

It seemed like a slam-dunk. I am sure the USOC thought the same.

I have been doing this type of work a long, long time. I’ve made great friends around the world that I will cherish forever. In my business, you get hired or re-hired for doing a good job, for keeping your word and telling the truth.

In Boston, I admit that I was taken aback by the sheer viciousness of the public debate about the bid, the petty, personal social media attacks – which others and I continue to endure – and the stunning lack of civil dialog from a city full of very bright people. I was told “this is how we do it in Boston…”

I’m not so sure.

The people with whom I worked at Boston 2024 were, without exception, exceedingly nice, hard-working and fair; it was the same with our USOC colleagues. I enjoyed them as people; and to be honest, that is not always the case.

But, the people of Boston said “no thanks” to the Games. And guess what? That is their prerogative. That is how it works in a democracy.

I am sure pundits will argue, some gleefully, “what happened to Boston 2024?” for years to come. As best I can tell from living through the past four months, opponents of the bid felt as if they were not consulted at best, or mislead at worse. Either is a no-go for a bid.

Did the USOC make a mistake? Did Boston? Whose fault was it? Who knows…? And that is not the point, anyway. The important point is what does this mean for the future, and what can the Olympic Movement – or any of us – learn from it?

I have a few thoughts.

First, I don’t think that the Olympic Movement can distance itself from local politics any longer. Too many great cities have opted out of the great Olympic experience for the wrong reasons. These are not stupid or ill-willed people. They are people who were and are rightly concerned with the cost/benefit analysis of hosting an Olympic Games. Future bid cities needs facts, not spin, to make decisions that will affect generations to come.

Second, I think that the “Boston 2024 experience” is not only a USOC or Boston problem. It is everyone’s problem in the Olympic Movement. The new Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms are designed to force fiscal responsibility and true sustainability into the bidding and hosting process. Let’s pray it works. The alternative is what just happened in Oslo, Stockholm, Krakow and now Boston.

Third, and this is one that will not be popular with some of my friends in Lausanne (apologies in advance), is this: the IOC has to lead on the issue of why hosting an Olympic Games is a good idea.

They own the franchise.

They own the long-term knowledge and history of the Games.

And, I truly believe the IOC can no longer leave it up to NOCs (even sophisticated ones like the USOC) or new bid cities to understand the complexity of how to express the long-term benefits of hosting an Olympic Games in today’s challenging economic times, and instantaneous and often hostile social media environment. The entire Movement has to work together to tell the world why hosting the Games makes sense.

The paradigm is a simple one: the more real and viable information that cities have about the long-term benefits of hosting an Olympic Games, the more cities will (perhaps) bid on hosting an Olympic Games. The question is where does this information come from, who disseminates it to the world and how? Maybe the Olympic Channel, for a start?

Initially, my colleagues around the world watched the Boston 2024 drama unfold with surprise, and then with growing alarm because they knew, “There go I but for the Grace of God…”.

Olympic Agenda 2020 is based on change; let’s help the IOC make sure it is change for the better. That has to start with encouraging more cities to bid for the Games by providing them with the right information and motivation.

Finally I leave you with this – my dear friend and mentor George Hirthler, telling it like it is on why the Olympic Movement really matters.  God Bless you, George for refocusing, or trying to, the conversation with the good professor.

This is what the IOC should be saying, every day, in addition to all the great (but as George points out, unknown and unappreciated) work the IOC does every day on behalf of sport and kids around the world. It is a shame Boston didn’t have a chance to add their very special character and legacy to this incredible force for good in the world.



“You Know Nothing, Jon Snow…”


Terrence Burns ©2015

This is a post about Almaty. I know what you are thinking. Why no picture of the mountains? Why a picture of a breakfast buffet?

Bear with me.

Pride. Dignity. How does one measure these with a spreadsheet tracking the costs and benefits of “Olympic Legacy?”

I’m sitting here at breakfast in my Almaty, Kazakhstan hotel. The staff, mostly new it appears (from my many times here before) are bustling around. There is a new breakfast buffet set up. It all seems new to them. Some struggle a bit with new roles and responsibilities.

But they smile.

They straighten table arrangements. They try, hard, to get it all right. They are happy to see me. They are appreciative.

They are young (40% of this city is under the age of 24). This is a young nation, too. And it is not perfect. Is yours or mine?

This could be my last day here after so many. Tonight we fly to Kuala Lumpur to help this city prepare for its presentation to the IOC in that city on July 31. Almaty wants to host the 2022 Winter Games. We are competing against a very formidable Beijing.

To be honest, we’re considered a long shot.  An underdog.  A year ago, we weren’t even considered at all – for anything. Things change. Why?  Because you can learn to love anyone, if you are willing to listen to their story.

If we win, I may be back; if we lose, who knows?  What will I miss about this place?  The people. I’ve seen every mountain you can see. Every perfect sunset and sunrise. Every beautiful forest and fresh mountain lake. What is unique here is the people.

Thousands of years of a genetic melange thanks to the Ancient Silk road. These people embrace “others” – they do not push them away. They are not and have never been “closed”. They welcome guests and make them feel at home. The people are warm and lovely. They are everything an Olympic Host City should be. They even think Borat is funny because it’s premise is so absurd. They don’t hold grudges.

I will miss them terribly if I never return.

Honestly, Almaty (unlike some bids I’ve worked on before) is actually ready. There is a free and open internet here, by the way. It is a secular society that is 70% Muslim. Great nightlife. Hotels. Restaurants. Bars. It’s all here. Did I mention mountains right in the city full of fresh natural snow? 70% of the needed venues exist and already are in use in this beautiful winter city.

The city is full of educated young people with bright eyes for their future.

Some in the West, in fact some friends on this very post no doubt, will react predictably about the government here. I ask that you come see it; then judge if you must judge. They don’t judge you and all your/our imperfections. In fact, they want to meet you and learn from you, from us.

As I post this, reading the NYT on my iPad, I must say the omelet is perfect and the cook is nodding at me, beaming with pride.

These people see the potential in hosting an Olympic Games. They understand the premise of that word, “potential”. Maybe the Games aren’t for everyone and it is fair to debate it, for sure. Debate away. But some things can’t be measured and often those things are invaluable.

But until you experience this place and its people, “You know nothing, Jon Snow…”

Keeping it Real.