The Olympics can be bad publicity

14 August 2008

A new study from the Norwegian School of Management BI shows that people who followed the television broadcasts from the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, got a bad impression of the Italian people.

The Olympics as a marketing channel for a country

The competition for the  Olympic Games is becoming increasingly tougher. Cities and countries are fighting for the right to organise both the Winter and Summer Olympics. The costs of organising the games are staggering. The income from ticket sales, television rights, advertising, etc. does not even come close to covering all the expenses. An olympic championship attracts international attention, with international focus on both the organising city and country.
 
Norway’s candidate for the 2018 winter Olympics is the city of Tromsø. The Norwegian debate more or less assumes that the Olympics in Tromsø in 2018 will have such a huge positive impact that a government guarantee of close to NOK 18 billion is justified. Chinese authorities are, however, painfully aware of the fact that the media attention in connection with this year's Summer Olympics can be a double-edged sword.

The Olympics - a risky sport

"The marketing effect of organising the Olympics is not necessarily good. In that respect the Tromsø Olympics is a high risk project," claims Geir Gripsrud, professor of marketing at the Norwegian School of Management (BI), who has conducted a study together with associate professor Erik B. Nes and professor Ulf Henning Olsson at BI to see whether the Winter Olympics in Torino in 2006 helped change Norwegian students' impression of Italy. They wanted to find out if the Olympics had an impact on:

  1. The impression of the organising country
  2. The impression of products from Italy 
  3. The intent to purchase  products from Italy 
  4. Interest in visiting the country

The research team randomly selected two groups of bachelor students at BI. The first group of 223 students was interviewed prior to the commencement of the Torino Olympics (with a reply rate of 37%), while the other group of 312 students (with a reply rate of 52%) completed the electronic questionnaires after the games were over. The students were informed that it was an international survey (the Olympics were not mentioned), and equivalent questions were asked about Italy and England. England was included for control purposes.

The results from this study have now been published in the Norwegian popular science magazine Magma.

Less favourable impression of Italy

"Students who followed most of the television broadcasts from the Winter Olympics in Torino, got a less favourable impression of the Italian people as a result of the event," Geir Gripsrud states. The negative change was related to the human dimension (the Italian people) and not the social dimension (the Italian society). Several factors may contribute to explaining the negative effect. There was a lot of negative press concerning the logistics of the games. Also, the Torino Olympics failed to live up to its slogan "Passion lives here". There were few and uninspired spectators at some of the events. Maybe the disappointing Norwegian achievements influenced the sports-interested Norwegian students.

For the less sports-interested students interviewed, there was no change in their attitude towards Italy, neither the people nor the society. For the control country England, there was, as expected, no change in the impression before or after the Torino Olympics, regardless of sports interest.

"Overall there are good reasons for questioning whether a sensible decision-maker should stake several billions of kroner on organising the Olympics if economic development and promoting of the country are the essential issues," the BI professor challenges.

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