The Olympics: Rebranding London

The Olympic rings already adorn London's St. Pancras Train Station to get ready for the summer competition.

(Editor’s Note: Some students in the International Media program at American University are now researching their final capstone projects. These projects will take the form of either scholarly papers, or professional and creative projects. We are posting proposals and updates on these projects to demonstrate their progress.)

by Tunde Akinmade
Special to Sutradhar’s Market

The Olympics are perhaps the biggest sports spectacle the world has ever seen.  The only event that I think that comes close is the FIFA World Cup.  Every four years, I’m riveted by the amazing displays of talent and athleticism that the Olympics provide.   A truly global event, athletes from almost every nation travel to one city to compete in what could be the pinnacle of their careers.  The triumphs and failures of these athletes are on display for millions of viewers via their television screens.

Athletes are not the only ones put on display during the Olympic Games.  The host cities responsible for hosting the games perhaps receive more intense media attention over the course of three weeks, the duration of the games, than they would normally over a period of several  months.   That’s because almost the entire world is literally watching.  According to Nielsen, 4.7 billion people tuned in to watch some portion of television coverage of the last Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Perhaps it is this intense scrutiny that motivates many different cities to perennially compete for the right to host the games?  The International Olympic Committee is responsible for choosing a new host city every few years. When deciding where the 2012 Olympics would be held, the cities that the IOC had to choose from needed no introduction: London, New York, Paris, Moscow, and Madrid.  The right to host the Olympics surely must be quite the prize if cities of this caliber are competing so vigorously for the privilege.

In my study, I am hoping to gain insights about the motivations that lead a city to compete for the right to host the Olympics.  Many felt that hosting the Olympics was a turning point for China, a coming-out party of sorts for a country on the cusp of becoming an important world player.  China demonstrably used the opportunity in 2008 to broadcast an image of themselves to the world. In other words, the Olympics became a big nation-branding and public diplomacy opportunity.

Using a comparative case-study approach, my study will compare nation-branding and public diplomacy via the Olympics in both the British and Chinese contexts.  Through a review of data from stakeholders in government and non-governmental organizations directly involved in the planning of the Olympics, I hope to discover the differences and similarities between how nation-branding strategies are used in the prelude of the Olympics in London and Beijing to advance the public diplomacy goals of their respective nations.

(Photo by David Holt of London, England, U.K. via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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