We will all agree that the major global events, whether in sport, culture or in the professional field, represent a unique international promotional tool for the organizing territories and that, among these, the Summer Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup or the Universal Exhibitions are the ones that have the greatest impact, hence the increasing competition between cities, regions and countries to host such events.
However, such events are not just a powerful promotional tool but also a unique opportunity to catalyse the physical transformation of the hosting city or country as well as to position the place at the international level in order to get attention and relevance attracting tourists, investment and talent or helping them to better promote their products and services abroad.
This was exactly the case for Barcelona, Spain’s second largest city in terms of population and the capital city of the region of Catalonia, on the occasion of the organization of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games.
In a recent book ‘City Branding: Theory and Cases. Keith Dinnie 2011’, I argued that “the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympic Games marked a before and after, a turning point in the push for the transformation and international projection of the city. The resources generated and the tremendous energy unleashed by a challenge of such magnitude acted as a catalyst for the process of transformation that the city had planned. The great international shop window that are the Games, allowed Barcelona to show the world the redesigned city as well as the enthusiasm and capacity of the people of Barcelona to develop and manage with creativity and efficiency an event of such characteristics and complexity.
The Olympic Games helped to completely re-imagine the city and present it on the international scene as a modern capital, creative, innovative, welcoming, daring, cosmopolitan, initiative-taking, with its own style, and as a city with an excellent quality of life, developing a great feeling of self-esteem and pride on the part of its citizens.
Today, Barcelona continues to be the European city with the best quality of life, one of the favourite cities for businesses and international meetings as well as for foreign investment. Every year an increasing number of tourists, students and professionals want to come and visit, to study and to work in the city”.
As the example of Barcelona clearly shows, this type of events help to build the city brand and position the city for investment, not only through rational reasons that make the place attractive for international investors, such as the cost and quality of the labour force, the availability of qualified professionals, the tax system in relation to FDI or the connectivity of the place, but also through a more emotional attributes related with its brand.
The Barcelona municipal authorities, aware of the importance and value of the brand as a key factor to attract investment to the city, are trying to maintain and increase the Barcelona brand value on the international scene, trying to organize and capture the highest possible number of big international sporting events, such as the Davis Cup finals, the Tour de France, the European Athletics Championships, he Barcelona World Race, F1 races, etc. as well as Barcelona other top level events and meetings such as the Mobile World Congress, that is being held these days in the city, with an estimated direct economic impact of 300 million € and positioning the city as the ‘mobile World Capital’ attracting further investment and initiatives to the city is this field.
The same applies when we analyse, for example, the London Olympics that will be held this summer in London, creating an entire new metropolitan district in the city and allowing and reinforcing the positioning of the London as “the best big city in the world, a city that is safe, welcoming and full of opportunity” (Boris Johnson, Major of London).
In the words of Andrew Altman, CEO Olympic Park Legacy Company, “major sporting events offer unparalleled opportunities to put places on the map and accelerate their development”.
Another good example of this is Sochi, the Russian city that will host the 2014 Winter Olympics and that, not long ago was a place that was not in the map. The city is currently receiving huge amounts of investment and that will build its positioning as an attractive international resort attracting this way further investment and visitors after 2014.
Or in the case of the Spanish city of Valencia, with the organization of the America’s Cup in 2007, an event that the city won in an aggressive bidding war against other candidate cities and that helped to completely transform a significant part of the water front area of the city, including a portion of the commercial port, with new public buildings and parks and new commercial spaces, but, especially, helped to put Valencia on the map and position the city as a modern, attractive place to live bringing in new tourists, events (such as the World Formula One), and further investment into the city.
Big international sports events will continue to be a major tool to transform and to brand and position a city or country as an attractive place to visit, to live, work or invest and, for this reason, we will see increasing and aggressive competition among places to host such events.
However, the key for the success of places taking the maximum benefit out of this type of events will be to understand that the real opportunity will come, not only by successfully organizing the events, bout being able use them as a unique opportunity to transform and position the place as an attractive place for investment.
Find out more about the relationship between sports and urban development in this month’s Urban Intelligence newsletter, with new exclusive content from cities expert and blogger, Greg Clark.