Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Less Than One Year

Just the other day (Oct. 2 to be exact), the calendar marked “one year to go” for the International Olympic Committee’s selection of the 2016 Olympic host city. Four cities – Rio de Janiero, Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo – remain in the running to host the Games of the XXXIst Olympiad.

Toward the conclusion of the Beijing Games, on level two of the Olympic Green McDonald’s, the top executives for all four cities gathered for the only combined press conference, a media breakfast and panel discussion hosted by the team at Around The Rings.

It was an interesting press conference, featuring some of the world’s smartest business and sports executives (with their P.R. counsel at their side – loved it!). ATR Founder Ed Hula was the moderator, with topics such as each bid city’s key messages and challenges covered while a couple dozen Olympic Movement reporters took notes and TV cameras rolled.

During the Q&A session following the program, I took the opportunity to pose the question, “What keeps you up at night about your bid and competition for the Games hosting duties?” Unfortunately, the metonymy “keeps you up at night” was lost in translation for CEOs of Rio, Tokyo and Madrid (each executive fell back to their message points about their strengths, a sign their media relations counselors trained them well).

It was very cool that Chicago’s Olympic bid leader, Mr. Patrick Ryan (Aon Corporation founder and executive chairman), gave a frank yet upbeat answer, reporting that Chicago’s main challenge (and cause for “lost winks” of sleep – another phrase sure to be lost in translation) is that The Windy City is well known in North America but not so much globally (while the cities from Japan, Spain and Brazil each are by-and-large ‘brand name’ destination cities with worldwide recognition). Thank you, Mr. Ryan! (His team created some great videos in China.)

Ryan’s remarks inspired me (during my last few days in China) to ask several hundred people, “Have you ever heard of Chicago?” and/or “Do you know what makes Chicago a great potential Olympic host?”

It was fun to learn that lots of the unofficial poll responders were very familiar with Chicago, with most having a favorable impression (though mostly from feature films of John Hughes).

Mr. Ryan’s sleepless in Chicago nights might be justified, however, as very few of those questions (mostly Chinese nationals or Europeans) could name any major sports events or teams from Lake Michigan’s shoreline metropolis (I laughed hard when one person from Japan actual mentioned my girlfriend’s hometown of Milwaukee, Wis., and their Brewers as a 'Chicago sports team').

One Mr. Nice Guy in Beijing who also took time to answer my Olympic Bid questions was none other than Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. This guy ROCKS! I would love to see Chicago win 2016 for a million reasons – among them, to affirm Mayor Daley’s remarks (which he graciously repeated when I had a Flip Camera snafu inside USA House in Beijing -- see video).

It will certainly be intriguing to track the candidates during the next 350-or-so days, and I’ll post some additional details and comments on each city in future posts. Good luck, Chicago. Boa sorte, Rio. 良い運 to Tokyo and buena suerte, Madrid. And THANK YOU, Obrigado, Gracias and ありがとうto the bid executives for answering my P.R. questions on site at the Around The Rings breakfast event.

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