Canada must build upon the legacy of our “free” Olympics success

book coverIt’s been dubbed The People’s Games but how did it happen?

Now that Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic & Paralympic Games are over many of us wish them back. But it wasn’t so long ago the public had a less generous opinion of the pending Olympic experience. Polls as late as January indicated widespread ambivalence about the Games in their home province, although it was clear that the Torch Relay built goodwill beyond BC’s borders.

Then, almost as if the light went on, Canadians fell in love with hosting the Olympic & Paralympic Games. The change in mood was so sudden and so ebullient, that it came as a complete surprise to Games veterans. Even Jacques Rogge described Vancouver’s enthusiastic embrace as unprecedented.

Many theories exist now on why it worked so well, but there is no doubt in our minds that the key ingredient was the numerous free activities, which thanks to social media were properly promoted.

At alone we received 2.5 million page views, 2500 comments, and thousands of Twitter and Facebook shares during the Games, and hundreds of calls and email inquiries from as far away as Texas and Toronto.

Where governments and VANOC couldn’t agree to promote where to be for free, we gladly stepped in to volunteer our help. What was an Olympic anomaly – providing dozens of free attractions for the citizens of a host city – is now something no future Games can do without. And Canada must lead the way during London 2012 and Sochi 2014.

It is our recommendation here at that the Government of Canada in partnership with other provinces and regions by the end of summer strikes an Olympic marketing secretariat, which will feature representation from throughout the country.

In the upcoming European Games, Canada has its first and best opportunity to dazzle the world like it did this year. We must put a British Columbia pavilion, Alberta, Saskatchewan Houses, Manitoba, Ontario, Maison du Quebec, Atlantic Canada – and especially the hugely popular Northern House (which, by the way is STILL OPEN and closes this Friday!) – all within steps from each other in a high traffic area connected with London and Sochi’s celebrations.

Just think of the buzz a well-presented showcase of our culture, our arts and business would create again among the world’s media, especially in a city like London. And because it will all be “free” entertainment, hundreds of thousands will be attracted to discover more about Canada.

What we mustn’t overlook is a coordinated strategy to promote the showcase. In Vancouver, both mainstream and social media played a large part in generating excitement about what was happening on our streets. Pictures on TV showed the crowds, but the handheld devices let you know what they were thinking.

Blogs, Twitter, Facebook and even email is where the conversation started. Then the discussion online became the exchange in line, as people queued for hours sometimes just to be a part of the experience.

Of course, Canada benefited from the powerful images of celebration in our streets, and bodies flailing over Robson Square on the Ziptrek line. In the world’s eyes Canada shed the reputation of being cold, and became cool.

Other countries around the world invest heavily in how they are perceived abroad. The reason they do this is because it’s good for business. Take for example Switzerland and Holland. House of Switzerland and Heineken House have become staples of every Olympic Games. They are a veritable combination of diplomatic services, a marketing machine, and a makeshift embassy all in one.

Lost your Dutch passport? They’ll take care of you at Heineken House, which by the way is a consistent fan favorite. And the admission is free.

Presence Switzerland is part of that country’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Their stated goal is to increase the country’s international visibility, and “to enhance and foster Switzerland’s network of contacts with current and future decision-makers and opinion-leaders.”

That little spot where you could taste chocolate fondue on Granville Island was a well-oiled marketing tool of the Swiss government.

Canada House – a vibrant showcase for our whole country under one umbrella – would be a worthwhile investment in building and affirming our international reputation in the long run. And the initiative would be a strong signal that our country is ready to compete on the world stage for business and investment.

In the end let’s not forget the real value of staging all that free fun. You turn some of the Games’ biggest skeptics into supporters of the sporting event.

That alone almost makes it worth the investment.


See also Vancouver’s Games most embraced by locals ever – why?

This Thursday evening's crowded social calendar
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  • Sharon

    who are we talking to when we say we want more free events? The government? That would be us.
    There is no such thing as free. The only consideration is who should pick up the tab. For there to be more free events in Vancouver there needs to be a collaboration between the city, (to reduce red tape, fees, restrictions), business – (a willingness to sponsor, host, promote etc.) and the public (to volunteer, support the organizations that initiate such activities, behave so there are not rediculous policing costs tied to an event)
    You remove one component out of the mix and it all falls apart. The reason the Olympics worked so well is that cooperation was essentially forced.

  • Austin

    Good post Mike! You guys did a great job during the Olympics and should be applauded for your work. I totally agree that we should be doing something in 2012 and 2014. Let’s hope government is reading your site! Which I’m sure they are.

  • Bob

    It was that turned it all around with your sleuthing out the list of free events. Congrats to you folks.

  • See, this is what I don’t understand is how come when the games are here, we get the short end of the stick? Other games such as Torino and Beijing all had a Canada house that looked amazing and was open long in advance and stayed open long after the games. Once the games were in Vancouver we got a portable tent to show ourselves off to the world. Personally, I think the Government of Canada should have struck a deal to house Canada’s pavilion at Canada Place. It would’ve made sense when we think about it.
    That said, Northern House and Russia House were the two best of the games! The Saskatchewan Sphere was 3rd.
    As far as future games, yes, we need to learn from our successes as well as our failures (IE: BC Pavilion closing long before any other pavilion…not a good way to showcase the host province!!), in order to market ourselves to a world audience.
    Provided it is allowed, for London 2012, the ideal location for the Canadian pavilions would be in Trafalgar Square. Anyone in London can tell you this is where our embassy for the United Kingdom is housed. Where better to have ourselves set up?