Consultant, TSE Switzerland
After the Beijing Olympics, what should China have its eye on for the future?
After seven years of preparation, Beijing played host to the world's biggest international sports event in the summer of 2008. China took an event, the biggest one it could, and decided to use it as its 'coming out' party. Even if the Chinese authorities' real brand objectives haven't been made public, it is surely fair to say that their intention, using the Games, was to re-position themselves as the all powerful, technologically innovative giant that they had been for thousands of years.
Translated into action, this gave the biggest and most technologically impressive opening ceremony ever (watched by over two billion people ), in the presence of the biggest political leaders in the world, with bombs that could dissipate clouds, perfectly run events without any organisational glitches, thousands of friendly volunteers ready to assist visitors in any way they could and great sporting miracles with hundreds of medals won.
China wanted to say strength, it showed muscle. It wanted to say innovation, it showed hi-tech.
But, after the IOC (International Olympic Committee) packs up and leaves town, what then? After the curtains are drawn on the closing ceremonies, what's next for Beijing? Maybe not the leading question on the minds of the public around the world - but it should have been, on the minds of the Beijing officials long before the closing ceremony. As for any city that plays host to a large scale event, the next step needs to be carefully planned and prepared for after the circus leaves town.
So how should a city like Beijing plan for what happens after a major event like the Olympics to fully reap the benefits of hosting major sports events? And which type of events should a city, like Beijing, be attracting as their next step - a circuit event that returns yearly or a one-off extravaganza such as another multi-sport event or a World Championships?
Building the brand with a long term strategy
The harsh reality of hosting a large scale event, such as the Olympics, is that once it is over the attention of both the general public as well as the sports movement shifts immediately to the next big event. The public is now bombarded with news of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and the 2012 London Olympics and one would struggle to find any significant mention of Beijing in the media today despite its greatest success in hosting the Olympics a year ago.
There is no doubt that over the two week period during the Olympics everyone stopped and took notice of what was going on in Beijing - but once those two weeks were done Beijing's time in the spotlight was over. This is why it is so important that Beijing is well prepared to continue the great brand building it has started through hosting the Olympics.
It is for this reason that cities like Beijing need to have a long term sports events strategy in place if they are to fully benefit from sports events. Brand building cannot occur through the hosting of a single event but over many years with recurrent hosting of sport events that have synergies with each other to achieve such benefits. Since the hosting rights of sports events are awarded three to four years before the actual competition, and in some cases seven years for mega events, cities need to have a long term strategy in place to understand which events they should target and bid for these events early so that they can build a good calendar of sports events to reach their objectives.
An example of a place that has a long term strategy beyond an existing major event that is yet to take place is the province of Gauteng in South Africa, where TSE Consulting has developed a post-2010 FIFA World Cup sport events strategy. The emphasis in this strategy is that the 2010 FIFA World Cup is only the beginning and not the end of Gauteng's journey in building its international profile. This means that long before the World Cup starts next year, the provincial government is ready with a strategic plan with targeted sports events over a 10-year time frame that allows them to already start bidding for sports events beyond the World Cup that would suit their strategic objectives.
Circuit events versus one-off events (i.e. World Championships)
After hosting a one-off large scale event such as the Olympics, the initial instinct may be to try to host various different World Championships or other large scale multi-sport events. This strategy, however, risks doing nothing for the brand building a city could be basking in. All of these World Championships or one off events will simply come and go - the anticipation for the event will be there - however it will be quickly forgotten as interest turns to the next host city or major event taking place in the world.
With a circuit event, the return to the city year after year will allow the build up of a strong city brand that is revisited frequently. How many sports fans can remember where the last World Championship in most sports was held? But few people would be able to think about Monaco and not think about the Formula 1 Grand Prix. Or, if you mention Wimbledon most people would have a hard time not to think about tennis. A circuit would allow Beijing the opportunity to further develop the brand they have created.
However, Beijing currently does not seem to be pursuing such a strategy to host circuit events. In fact it has gone rather quiet after the Olympics and its only visible efforts bidding for international events are for the basketball (which lost to Spain) and triathlon World Championships. Other events like the Italian Super Cup and the Barclays Asian Trophy are other one-off events that will occur this summer may stimulate keen local interest but not achieve much in the area of brand building for the city as a sports events destination.
Shanghai on the other hand looks to be favouring circuit events and building up on a range of such events. For a start, it hosts the Formula One circuit and this event itself is a powerhouse as a branding vehicle that puts a stamp on Shanghai as a city that has "arrived". Other examples of circuit events in Shanghai include the Shanghai Masters (Snooker), Golden League (Athletics) and the Shanghai Masters Cup (Tennis), all of which are high profile international circuit events. Besides these, Shanghai has also won the hosting rights of the 2011 World Swimming Championships, arguably the biggest single-sport world championship after football and some would argue, athletics.
Given the current scenario, it does seem like Shanghai has the upper hand in the profile of the sports events that it has managed to attract. The circuit events in Shanghai would enable them to build on this experience in a way that future one-off events wouldn't allow. Returning year after year the event would become easier to organise. This would allow Shanghai to focus more on the added value it can offer to the event rather than on the simple logistical matters of making sure the event itself runs smoothly. It is this experience that will allow a city to flourish and become attractive for other events. This experience can also be developed into an added value for future bids for other major events.
Lesser known cities facing real challenges
Moving the discussion beyond Beijing and Shanghai, there are increasingly a number of lesser known cities (to the international audience) in China that are increasingly becoming interested in hosting international sports events to raise their international profile. However they usually struggle to capture the hosting rights of major events. Guangzhou winning the 2010 Asian Games appears an exception but it was the only city that remained in the bidding process for the event. It is no secret that despite local governments in lesser known cities willing to fork out healthy funding to host international events, international sports federations are still apprehensive about going to these cities in China for their events.
Why is this so? The key issue is that many of these lesser known cities do not put in sufficient effort in building relationships with international sports federations and actively promoting their interest in hosting their events. The usual approach of offering a substantial event organising budget and justifying that an event suits a city's profile is not sufficient to convince international sports federations to entrust their prized international events to these cities, which do not appear to know enough or care enough about their sport to ensure that the event would be successfully organised.
Another issue compounding the situation is that cities are usually keen to host only the very top level events of international federations to gain maximum benefit, which is comprehensible. However, the international sports federations who own these events usually require host cities to start with the hosting of smaller events to enable cities to build up their experience and capabilities before entrusting them with the top events which are a lot more complex to host. This is not something that many cities in China are very willing to invest in over the long term, preferring a quicker route, and so it becomes a challenge to strike a deal between city and event owners.
Thus it is important that at some level, whether provincially or nationally, that lesser known cities in china should band together in a coordinated effort to promote themselves jointly and to embark on international lobbying with the sports world, with the assistance of specialised international agencies to take the initial steps of building up awareness and trust within the international sports world to pave the way for these cities to be able to start winning bids for major sports events.
Securing a place in the international sports world
The Beijing Olympics have certainly placed Beijing, and China as a whole on the map. But after the Olympics it risks quickly being forgotten, at least in the sports environment, unless it has a strong sport events strategy. New cities in China are popping up day after day as potential hosts and Beijing risks losing out on the opportunities it created. So while Beijing took the spotlight for two weeks last August, Shanghai with its circuits will be reaping benefits for years to come.
Cities in China (even the lesser know ones) have the potential to become successful and prolific sports events destinations. However, to do so there is an urgent need to centralise their efforts to reach out to the international world of sports to build long term relationships and partnerships and to continually lobby for events. Only then will China and its cities slowly but surely secure its place in the international sports world.
This article was printed in BusinessForum China, Issue 4, July-August 2009
 Nielsen Media Research (2008) Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony :Over 2 Billion Viewers Tune In