David McGillivray

Professor, interested in events, culture, digital participation & sport.


Major events and fan experiences: Bringing the Games to you?

Along with an ex-colleague, Matt Frew (aka @graffiticloud, http://bit.ly/q19pDr), I’ve been interested in the increasingly influential experiential element of major sports events (though not exclusively sport-focused). When we first looked at the Fan Parks held as part of the FIFA World Cup in Germany 06, we were left convinced that co-created experiences were the way forward for event hosts, sponsors and spectators alike. This has proved to be the case, with every major event now hosting parallel ancillary fan experience activities alongside their core delivery schedules.

The London 2012 Olympic Games will involve fan participation in a number of ways, with Live Sites around the UK and the Torch Relay being the most obvious. These two initiatives encourage (at least superficially) spectators to move from a passive to an active role, involving them more meaningfully in the outcome of the event itself. Moreover, these events are also perceived to represent ‘authentic’ encounters with the spirit of the Games through a call for community involvement. Because the Live Sites and Torch Relay have avoided the charge of exclusivity made against sporting events (i.e. Ticketing), they have also been viewed as attractive vehicles for Olympic sponsors looking to secure greater reach into the wider population – to justify the significant spend many have committed to the London 2012 megaspectacle.

One pertinent example of this approach is Lloyds TSB, an official sponsor that has been extremely successful at exploiting locality and community to raise awareness of its Olympic sponsorship and to secure positive PR for the company at time when banks are facing unheralded public condemnation. Lloyds claims it’s ‘bringing the Games closer to you’ – emphasising its community focus as an antidote to the vagaries of global capitalism. Social media campaigns have been instrumental in creating widespread awareness of Lloyds TSB as an Olympic sponsor and this takes me back to the experiential dimension which provided the motivation for this post. Whereas the (Corporate) Olympics and other major sporting events are regularly criticised for being detached from those they are intended to benefit, moves towards greater spectator engagement gives the impression of interest in sustainable, collaborative models of working. However, experiential initiatives are invariably framed by the language of commerce (activation, monetization, comms), using the terminology of engagement, interaction and ownership to give the impression of a conscious capitalism (or capitalism with a conscience). The problem with the prescribed spaces of experiential consumption (i.e. The Live Sites) is that they are too often seen as an extension of Olympic brand management rather than being a space for creative engagement with the Games themselves. Securitised, dressed with official sponsor imagery and broadcasting adverts for official sponsors in controlled spaces – the opportunity for meaningful two-way interactions are lost.

There’s more to say on this topic and I’m involved in a couple of projects that will hopefully evaluate the outcomes of both the Torch Relay and UK-wide Live Sites. Maybe I’ll be convinced.

David McGillivray • October 21, 2011

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