Q&A with London Olympic Games CEO
Paul Deighton became CEO of the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) in April 2006 and has been responsible for leading the delivery of all operational plans according to the terms of the Host City Contract signed with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). He is in charge of the day-to-day operations of LOCOG, which has included raising £2 billion from the private sector while working closely with the Olympic Delivery Authority to ensure the Olympic Park venues and other new infrastructure are delivered on time and meet requirements for a successful Olympic and Paralympic Games. Deighton has also led LOCOG’s relationships with key stakeholders, including the British Government and all its agencies, the Mayor of London, the British Olympic Association, and the British Paralympic Association.
The following interview was conducted by Rick Burton, a professor of sport management at Syracuse University and the former chief marketing officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and Norm O’Reilly, a professor of sport business at the University of Ottawa. The full interview was published in the June 2012 issue of Sport Marketing Quarterly.
Q: Paul, you’ve been at this task since almost the day London won the bid in Singapore in 2005 and now the finish line is in sight. While I’m sure it will be nicer to reflect on things come September 2012, when the Games are finished and pointed toward Sochi 2014, what are your observations on the last seven years? How has the journey gone?
Deighton: If you had said to me that we would go through one of the toughest economic environments in a generation and come through the other side with over £700m of sponsorship, that we would have sold out in 25 of 26 sports in the first set of ticket sales, and that we would have merchandise guarantees in place with over 50 licensees, I would have said yes in a heartbeat. We’re exactly where we would want to be. That’s not to say there haven’t been some challenges along the way and that’s not to say there isn’t still much to be done. But we are in a great place.
Q: This interview will publish on the eve of the London Games and readers will probably be wondering what you will still be worrying about in July when the Games are at hand. It’s easy enough to suggest security and final budget position but what else will be occupying your thoughts as the Opening Ceremonies reveal their great celebration of the United Kingdom and Olympism? Are there marketing issues or challenges that will be ongoing right up to the start or middle of the Games?
Deighton: I think I’ll be holding my breath slightly during the Opening Ceremony, hoping that all goes well. Danny Boyle and the team have got some amazing plans in place, so I’m sure it will be just fine, but I think once the ceremony has happened, people will relax and the sport will take over.
Q: Many Olympic observers believe that London won the 2012 bid based on promises made to the city of London and the children of London. At the expense of over-working the word “legacy,” what do you think London 2012’s lasting legacy will be? How do you think LOCOG will be judged on what it delivered vs. what it offered to deliver?
Deighton: I hope we will have staged a great Games, which will be the catalyst for some amazing opportunities. Others are going to be judged on whether those opportunities were taken. The bid was delivered by Seb [Lord Sebastian Coe], the Government, and the Mayor of London on behalf of the whole country. I’m proud of the work this project has done so far to leave fantastic sporting venues and a vast team of people who will have worked on the biggest sporting event in the world. The skills and jobs legacy is already massive and we’re seeing many UK companies go on to win work with other major projects. The sporting legacy will take longer to ascertain, but the opportunity is there.
Q: Can you speak also about the new facility constructions for London 2012 and which ones will remain and how they will be used after the Games are completed?
Deighton: The guiding principle of the bid and beyond was that no venue would be built if it did not have a sustainable future. London is blessed with many existing world-class venues which we will be using, such as ExCeL London, the North Greenwich Arena (known as the O2), Wembley Arena, Earls Court, Wimbledon, and Lords. We will be building some temporary venues at iconic locations such as Greenwich Park, Hyde Park, and Horse Guards Parade. In the Olympic Park itself we are utilizing temporary venues for the basketball arena and water polo arena. Most of the venues on the Park have plans in place for after the Games. The Copper Box (handball arena) will become a multi-sport venue, the velodrome will become a cycling center for London, and the aquatics center will become a swimming facility for both elite athletes and the local community. Those venues that don’t have legacy tenants are well on the way through the process.
Q: From a marketing perspective, what was the essence of the London 2012 brand you and your team wanted the world to take away about LOCOG, London as a host, and these specific athletic competitions? Was there a unifying theme that worked for all constituents?
Deighton: We want the Games to be remembered for inspiring young people, for the transformation of east London, for some world-class, memorable sport, for showing the world how great London is, and for its people. All of our plans are looked at through these filters.