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Whisper it, there's a problem with the Olympic brand

A group of people I’ve christened Millennials™ are determined to disrupt Big Sport with a strategy that’s breathtaking in its audacity: they’re not going to watch it.

This type of thinking should concern all of us. If millennials don’t fall in line and buy the Olympic story, many jobs will be put at risk, most importantly my own.

Luckily, the task of understanding and then commercially exploiting them is made easier by the fact that every millennial is the same. The term can be used with absolute confidence to describe every person under the age of 35 regardless of nationality, ethnic and social background, or any other behavioural or psychographic marker.

Stereotypes can be a real time-saver.

The received wisdom is that young people have used the internet to find better things to do than watch posh people riding horses and sailing.

So, what to do?

Firstly, we should take all the sports that they don’t like and shorten them, removing any complexity or nuance to the extent they no longer resemble themselves. The proof point for this theory is Test cricket, a previous target for their whiny apathy.

The message is a powerful one: they won’t like it, but the struggle to understand the modern pentathlon will make them better people, like eating muesli.

Then we need to stress the bigger picture: the Olympics are about being part of something bigger than ourselves, specifically defined as big enough that McDonald’s will buy the global rights.

Olympism is famously a metaphor for the good stuff, like international harmony, peace and goodwill, just the type of words that should appeal to those pesky millennials.

A post-Brexit poll suggested that the majority of British voters under 40, a huge Remain constituency, agree that globalisation, immigration, technology, environmentalism, feminism, and multiculturalism were

all forces for good.

Compare this to the over-50s who voted for the UK to Leave the EU in large numbers, a majority of whom described all of the above issues as a force for ill.

In the US, only 37 per cent of millennials are in favour of Donald Trump’s Mexican border wall, compared to 58 per cent of Americans over 50 who are for it.

By smashing these findings together we get to a beguilingly simple solution to a complex problem: the millennials are cool and enlightened and the Olympics are one big inclusive party, so their future is safe in the hipsters’ hands.

So the IOC only needs to get skateboarding in to the programme and we’re good to go. The guys at NBC can sleep well from here to 2032, the end of their US$7.75billion deal.


But since the Games’ commercial rebirth at LA in 1984, there’s been a duality to the Olympic brand, the resonance of which varies depending upon not just how old you are but how much money you have.

These are the fault lines exploited for political gain by the recent Brexit and Trump campaigns in the UK and US, which blamed the world’s ills on immigrants and political and corporate elites.

Against this backdrop, the ‘Olympic Family’ can look a lot like the marketing arm of a global economic system which has favoured educated, rich people and ruined the lives of the poor and disadvantaged for whom globalisation means the Uberisation of their jobs, fat-cat tax avoidance, zero-hour contracts and the loss of workplace rights.

Young v old, rich v poor: this is the fractured landscape facing the IOC and its commercial partners in every major market, making the job of selling the Olympics every bit as much about wealth and education as it is about age.

Put another way, wakeboarding is not the answer.

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