European media having been showing photos and reporting on the state of Olympic Games stadia in Greece. All are falling apart and/or are not maintained. Millions were wasted for two weeks “glory”. This games played a role in the current economic debacle in Greece, which was obvious but ignored. Of course, many made a lot of money in bankrupting the country.
This made me wonder about hotel bookings in Sochi. Millions—perhaps billions—were spent for a few weeks glory for Russian. I am certain that many hope for a bright future with tourists flocking to the “resort city” on the Black Sea. Rich and powerful from Moscow will continue to occupy their villas, but foreign tourists will surely avoid this city, because they have so many alternatives not tarnished by crazy politics or filled with ill-mannered Russian tourists.
Me In Moscow
To answer the question posed yesterday, I must provide additional background. (Be patient, I’ll get to Moscow eventually.)
Starting in 1990, I occupied a senior management position in global brand marketing at a sporting goods company--adidas. This company had a long history of supplying athletic equipment to athletes and organisations around the world, including all communist countries. Many products were produced under license in factories in communist countries and royalties were collected, just like in a capitalist country. adidas was the first western company to hold a majority in a joint venture in a communist country--Hungary--before the fall to the Iron Curtain. Relationships were deep and long-standing; the demise of the Soviet Union had no impact, other than intensifying the needs of former adidas partners. Their world had fallen apart, but adidas was a familiar friend in an unfamiliar world. What they did not know was that adidas has also changed and was also in trouble.
The well-known sports brand had grown out of the ashes of World War Two based upon the inventive genius of Adi Dassler, products better than any competitor, and sports sponsorship. In the days prior to Nike, sponsorship meant free product and generous entertainment (free food, drink, and accommodation). adidas owned two hotels, one in Herzogenaurach, Germany, and one in Landersheim, France, which had a Michelin-starred restaurant and one of the best wine cellars in the world. Partners were wined and dined as part of any sponsorship negotiation, signing, or simply a friendly visit. IOC members and sport federation officials were welcomed guests and frequent visitors. During the 80s and 90s, adidas “owned” the Olympic Games and World Cup soccer events (managed by the Dassler family company, ISL), in part due to Horst Dassler’s saving of these bankrupt organisations. Soviet sports officials loved to visit adidas, because they could live like decadent capitalist at no cost. Hard currency was rare, even for those permitted to travel outside Russia on business, so adidas’ generosity was welcome and expected. Hotel staff expected the minibars to be emptied, and charges were passed to the sport promotion department. The sommelier in Landersheim hated these visits, because his cellar was depleted and he could charge the sport promotion department only his purchase cost and not the restaurant wine menu price. Sport managers at adidas each had a huge T&E budget for home or away “games”. (To put this into perspective, my personal T&E budget for my first year with the company was DM150,000. I used only a small portion and asked for far less in the second year. This is compared to my entire budget DM25,000 at my previous employer--Young & Rubicam--allocated to manage the global adidas advertising account.)
I took over responsibility for adidas sport promotion (their name for sponsorship) at a time when the company was sliding towards bankruptcy. Deaths of Adi Dassler and his son, Horst, had led to leadership struggles and ownership turmoil; bad strategic decisions had led to product disasters; and the rise of real competition had led to sales decline. I was responsible for the company’s largest budget, therefore was expected to make the largest cuts.
In the early 1990s, adidas was stuck in the past and needed to change the way it did business. Sport promotion accounted for 85% of marketing spending at a time when media advertising was building brands. Sacred cows dominated the herd, and no one liked to cut back. I was not popular, because I was new and “did not understand”. But, I was given the job of butcher, and I could decide what had to be slaughtered.
The primary stumbling block to cutting sponsorships was the contracts with sports bodies. These ran on a four year cycle of major events. The contract with the Soviet Union accounted for about 19% of the budget and had been signed before the fall of the country. Being desperate to save money at a time when the company faced bankruptcy, I argued that the contract with the Soviet Union was null and void, because the other party no longer existed. Company lawyers agreed with me. (This later proved to be false, but that’s another story.) In December, after the budget meeting, I wrote a letter to the Russian Olympic Committee canceling our support for the Olympic Committee.
The response came by an unusual route. I received a call from the CEO informing me that we had to support the “Russians” and that I should find other cuts to the budget. He had received a plea from Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the IOC. He had stated that if adidas did not support the “Russian Olympic Committee”, they could not attend the games in Albertville or Barcelona (his hometown). Samaranch had been the Spanish ambassador to the Soviet Union, so he had strong ties to Moscow. I would have to negotiate a new contract with the “Commonwealth of Independent States”, represented by the IOC member of Russia, Vitali Smirnov, then chairmen of the Russian Olympic Committee (and still IOC member, who could be seen sitting behind Putin at the ceremonies in Sochi). Fortunately, this could be done in Switzerland, home of the IOC, so I traveled by train two days before Christmas to Lausanne. At some point during the meeting, I agreed to fly to Moscow to sign the agreement....
I know that writing anything positive about Russia borders on treason, but I was surprised by the success of the country’s athletes at the Paralympics. I was under the impression that help for mental and physical handicap was limited or non-existent. I recall children with Downs Syndrome being treated badly, during my association with Special Olympics. The country must be doing something right to have helped handicapped athletes achieve success.
Diplomacy By Other Means
Very few people cared about the Paralympics Winter Games in the past.
Now, with a war to stir up, the media will surely ignore completely the Games in Sochi. Ironically, this (supposedly) peaceful event is just across the water from the Crimea, where different games are being played, and just done the road from from the border with Ukraine.
The hosts of the Games will be excused if their attention is elsewhere. No amount of warm words from the IOC president will affect the hotheads in capitals around the world, who prefer real war to the vicarious kind offered by sport.
Paratroopers seem more likely to make the news than para-Olympians...
The Canada-US game was, partly, a battle of goalies. But, it was also a matter of statistics. Canada outshot the US by about 2 to 1, which meant that they had a better chance of putting one in the net. The one goal was a nice one, so no one can claim that the victory was not deserved.
In case anyone failed to find humor in the game, this happened elsewhere. Check out the below link...
Anyone that has watched Olympic ice hockey might have noticed what looks like cheerleaders in the stands. Americans are used to this feature at football games, where each team has its own troupe.
Gyrating girls in the stands seem to be normal at Russian rinks, which I first noticed watching KHL games. These girls are a cross between cheerleaders and go-go girls, whose role seems to be to animate fans of both teams and entertain during breaks in play. In stead of performing in front, they do it beside fans on the steps. Women’s liberation has not progressed quite as far in Russia. (Cheerleaders at NHL games seem to be a holdover from darker days). Women are more-often seen as objects and available to male entertainment. Being useful to older men was/is one way for young girls to escape the drudgery of having little money. Of course, this goes on everywhere in the world, but seems a bit more blatant in Russia, as it was during Soviet times.
The girls in Sochi are a service provided by the organizing committee and do what they usually do. I’m sure that they were a bit more animated during Russian games, but who can blame them. Now, that the Russian team is in hiding, the girls can concentrate equally of fans of both teams. I’m sure that they are happy to be part of the spectacle, which is better venue than a rink in, say, Novosibirsk or Murmansk or other garden spots having a KHL team.
In The Dark
Anyone looking at Google News or other news accumulators would be excused for not knowing that the Olympic Games are currently being held in Russia. This is not big news for Americans, especially given the less-than-expected success of their athletes. Stories about Pussy Riot being arrested are more important than sports news. Criticizing the Russian president takes precedent over heroics on the ice or snow.
One aspect of the Olympic Games that I find admirable is the opportunity for young people to display their talent and to excel. Stars of the Sochi Games have been a young Russian figure skater or a Swiss hockey player or an American skier.
I always root for the young ones, because they challenge experience and prove that talent is all you need. They are the ultimate underdogs. Regardless of how well the others did, I wanted the young Russian girl to win a medal and was saddened when she fell.
Let’s face facts about the Winter Olympic Games. The only medal worth winning is the gold medal in men’s ice hockey. The other events are only fillers. All athletes are amateurs or receive support from their government. All are merely showing off what they do as a hobby. Of course, biathlon and cross-country skiing are physically demanding and figure skating takes skill, practices, and rhythm, but there’s no money in either. And, we all know that money is the deciding factor in every aspect of human life. This explains why the NHL will not renew the agreement to allow their players to compete in the Olympic Games, thus allowing a bunch of college kids and amateurs to compete in the future...and preventing the kind of embarrassment suffered by the Russian team.
I do not know the numbers, but there would be a competition between Canada, US, Russia, and Sweden for the most highly paid collection of players. Each team is “worth” millions, but that does not guarantee Olympic success. Getting a bunch of stars to work together well in a few weeks is not easy. I do not envy the Russian coaching staff, who will surely take the brunt of the criticism for failure.
The semi-final match-ups this cycle are interesting, but will preclude the possibility of a re-match of the Vancouver final (unlike with the women). There is a “North American” semi-final of US vs. Canada, and “Scandinavian” semi-final of Sweden vs. Finland. Each game is between fierce rivals, so both should be exciting. On any given day, either team can win. The final will be a match between two good teams, but will miss the rivalry factor.
Well, that was a surprise. I have not seen the game (it’s recorded), but I did spot a news crawler.
The millionaires representing Russia in hockey can go back the NHL and KHL with their heads hung. I am sure that all are avoiding bumping into the president in the hallway and are hoping to skip town in their private jets.
Now, we have to wait to see if the millionaires on the US and Canadian teams can deliver as well as the college kid of 1960...
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.