Â By now it’s very obvious to everyone in the UK that there aren’t enough Olympics tickets. Two thirds of the nearly two million British ticket applicants didn’t get any of the tickets they wanted – in fact they didn’t get any tickets at all. At the same time, there are stacks of unsold tickets to sports such as football and volleyball. It seems that applicants realise that the Olympic experience can’t be exported to regional football stadia, or to Excel, or to Earl’s Court. No one wants to settle for second best, and why should they? I’d guess there’s a lot of bad feeling about this around the country; an unusually large amount of it, even. To make things worse, there’s a steady stream of stories about great thick wads of corporate sponsor tickets, local and national government tickets, tranches reserved for sale abroad, and so on, giving a sense that the whole process is characterised by unjust privilege and possibly minor corruption too. Luckily for the 2012 organisers, the resentment at all this will likely find no expression, and in any case the circus will be conveniently leaving town once all the medals have been handed out.
But what must the ticket furore look like from an entrepreneurial point of view? There’s an obvious market lesson here. Money – masses of it – has been left on the table. You might wonder if it’s enough for somebody – a television network, perhaps – to think it worthwhile to stage a competitor event to the Olympics. So what would stop a start up event – let’s call it the Spartan games – from getting off the ground?
Venues are not scarce: many cities bidding for the Olympics already have athletics stadia and parks. For example, Rome, which is bidding for the 2020 games, has Mussolini’s stadium and the Foro Olimpico. Say Rome loses its 2020 bid; well, there’ll be a discount to be had. And since in all likelihood the Spartan games will simply not offer things like dinghy sailing and ping pong but will instead offer more athletics – much more – the Spartan games organisers will likely not face problems of needing to find multiple venues, of connecting them, of giving them consistent branding, etc.
No, the main problem I see in getting the Spartan games going is the old problem of mind share: people have to believe that the Spartan games matter. They don’t much believe in the Commonwealth games, or in your regular international athletics. But what the Commonwealth games is missing is countries; whole regions of the globe are excluded. And what regular international athletics is missing – as far as I know – is a decent medals table. Now, the international medals table is surely the key innovation of the Olympics (even if its existence is not officially acknowledged by the Olympic management). The medals table makes the Olympic games matter (no, really, it does). Further, it seems to me that a well constructed medals table absolutely requires opportunities for certain countries to do better than might be expected. And this is where minor sports come in (for instance, rowing and track cycling are where Britain finds its Olympic medals) yet these are exactly the sports the Spartan games will do without. So, what to do?
The answer, I think, lies in recognizing that there is a network of nationally-based training organisations with an orientation towards the Olympics; the existence of these organisations give the Olympic contests the texture they in fact have. And these could be replicated, with strategic intent. Each American NFL team strategically locates its annual training camp so as to maximise fan appeal; likewise, the Spartan games could strategically emplace its own sports academies. Each such academy could have a narrow specialisation; narrower than what we currently see. For example, France might become the location of a pole vaulting centre of excellence. And while of course open to non-French nationals, the Spartan pole vaulting academy – given time – would indeed tend to produce mostly French pole vaulting champions. This solves the medal table problem: the Spartan games can reliably feature winners from many nations, not excluding the rich nations, in fair and open competition.
Step three: profit!
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