London Asks: Hey America, How do you like me now?
Strong Olympic Games Propels Popularity
One reason cities host the Olympics is the belief that doing so will expose people to the host city. From that perspective, hosting the Olympic Games is one big advertisement to entice potential visitors and create a residual economic benefit from being on the world’s stage. A necessary step in that process is raising awareness of a city and casting it in a favorable light.
That is exactly what Vancouver, British Columbia achieved with its 2010 Winter Olympics. Prior to those games, only one-third of American adults had a clear impression of Vancouver. Afterwards, however, 46 percent of US residents had an impression of the city and – most importantly – virtually all of them liked the city. The two-week Winter Games effectively showcased Vancouver.
This summer it was London’s turn. After the estimated $14.5 billion investment, the results are in and positive. Heading into the games, 40 percent of Americans had no clear picture of England’s capital. That figure has now edged up to 45 percent. That might be a puny pay-off if the story ended there, but the real gold for London’s image came from the fact that the Olympics created more intensely positive feelings about the city. As negative assessments went from 5 percent to a mere 2 percent, the percentage of Americans with strongly positive impressions of London rose from 16 to 24. Taking these attitudinal movements together, London’s Olympics significantly improved its standing among Americans. Extrapolating from the percentages indicates London created about 19 million more big fans in the US alone.
How does this happen? Well a city has to start with a mega-event and the Olympics certainly are that. At one point or another 77 percent of American households tuned in to the games. The comparable figure for the Super Bowl is a similar 75 percent, so about the same number watch both. However, Olympic host cities leverage the eyeballs more because viewers are continually reminded of the association between the games and the city. A more important metric than the raw percentage of people watching is the percentage who know where the event was held. After this year’s Super Bowl, 60 percent of Americans knew the game was played in Indianapolis, but 78 percent know that London hosted the Olympics. There is a stickiness factor with the Olympic Games.
But London could not just host the event, it had to be good. In fact, almost no one in the audience was seriously disappointed with these games. A miniscule 2 percent of those who watched rated these games below average. In contrast nearly half rated it above average, including 20 percent who were so taken with the Olympics they labeled it one of the best ever. Why is this important to London? Because of transference. People who liked the games really fell in love with London. As the chart illustrates, half of those who were enthralled by the games now express very positive views of the host city, and that is why London picked up those big fans.
So the lesson here is a little more than “build it and they will come.” Yes, the Olympic brand is alive and well; it is able to move the needle when it comes to awareness of the host city. However, London had to put on a good show in order to reap the benefits, and that it did.