David Owen: London 2012’s merchandising revenue fails to make headlines, just like its products

Monday, 19 November 2012
David Owen ITGWhatever the London Assembly might have thought, there was good news and bad news in those new London 2012 revenue figures.

The good news - although you could easily have missed this - was on ticketing.

Whatever the shortcomings of the overall ticketing system, that £659 million figure raised from tickets for the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG)'s operating budget was a colossal achievement, testifying to the warmth with which the British public embraced the Games – in spite of tough economic times – and auguring well for the country's ability to attract future international sports events.

To put it into some kind of context, it helps to convert it into what, these days, is the reference currency of the International Olympic Committee (IOC): the US dollar.

At the present exchange rate, it comes to more than $1 billion – $1.05 billion to be exact.

London 2012 waterpol ticket Nov 18One of the London 2012 tickets that helped raise £659 million for LOCOG 

This is the first time this $1 billion barrier for ticket sales for a single edition of the Olympic and Paralympic Games has been approached, let alone breached.

To spell it out yet more clearly, the top Olympic Games for ticketing revenues prior to London 2012 were: Sydney (2000) – $551 million (£347 million/€432 million); Atlanta (1996) – $425 million (£267 million/€333 million); Vancouver (2010) – $250 million (£157 million/€196 million); Athens (2004) – $228 million (£143 million/€179 million); Beijing (2008) – $185 million (£116 million/€145 million); Salt Lake City (2002) – $183 million (£115 million/€144 million); and Los Angeles (1984) – $156 million (£98 million/€122 million).

Unlike these numbers, LOCOG's £659 million includes the Paralympics, so the third Olympic Games staged by the UK capital will not be king of the IOC's ticketing castle by quite the margin that $1.05 billion conversion suggests.

Nonetheless, erstwhile champion Sydney will scarcely be rounding the final bend as Lord Coe and his colleagues flash across the line.

The not so good news? Merchandising/licensing.

I had a nagging feeling that LOCOG chief executive Paul Deighton had once told me revenues from this source would set a record at London 2012.

It took a while, but I have just unearthed what he said, as published in the Financial Times of 16 May 2006, under the headline, 'Olympics chief predicts record performance from 2012 merchandising'.

London 2012 shop  Nov 18An official London 2012 shop located on the Olympic Park 

Deighton said: "I am quite excited about doing better than anyone has done before in that area [general merchandising and licensing of London 2012 products].

"Look at the World Cup now [2006, remember] – there won't be a house or a car in England which won't have a St George's flag.

"There is clearly a market out there for this stuff and we need to figure out when and how to tap it to help us pay for the Games."

In the event, LOCOG's figure of £85 million (€106 million) converts to $135 million, the second-best tally ever, but some way short of the $163 million (£102 million/€128 million) raised by Beijing in 2008.

In Deighton's defence, at the time of our conversation, the top dog for Olympic merchandising was still the Atlanta Games of 1996 with $91 million (£57 million/€71 million), so, in that sense, London 2012 did do "better than anyone has done before".

Even in his second month in the job, as he was then, I would be surprised if a cookie as smart as Deighton did not have a pretty shrewd idea that Beijing would probably shatter that record and, thus, that his comment was likely to be interpreted as suggesting that London could outdo the Chinese capital.

Beijing 2008 shop Nov 18Example of merchandising on sale during the Beijing 2008 Games

What the heck - he got nearly everything else right in his stint alongside Coe at LOCOG's helm.

It would be easy - and no doubt partly justified - to lay the blame for that merchandising number on the UK's badly flagging economy: even if they were prepared to tighten their belts for a once-in-a-lifetime experience at an Olympic final, hard-pressed local fans drew the line at loading up with mementoes.

I have a hunch, and admittedly it is only a hunch, that they might still have been tempted to splash out if the items on offer, some of them at least, had been a bit more, well, edgy and inventive.

I would never pretend that I spent my days scouring the aisles for "must-have" London 2012 mementoes, but if there was a merchandising equivalent to Coca-Cola's remarkable – and remarkably eye-catching – Olympic Park pavilion, I didn't see it.

London 2012 paralympics merchandise Nov 18 London 2012 merchandising included Mandeville, the mascot of the Paralympics Games

Bearing this in mind, my unsought-for advice to future Games organisers would be: declare open season; invite anyone and everyone to dream up and submit their designs for items of Olympic-branded merchandise.

Then assemble a panel of experts, do some market research particularly with young consumers, and negotiate individual agreements with the authors of the best ideas.

I can see that this might be deemed an unduly time-consuming approach to an activity that accounts for a relatively small slice of Olympic income, it might be introducing a modicum of risk, and I am certainly no expert in the field, but I bet some of the results would be stunning.

David Owen worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2010 World Cup and London 2012. Owen's Twitter feed can be accessed here
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