2010 FIFA World Cup™ & London 2012™ - Bad Press and Jubilation

The parade of champions from Mansion House in London took place on Monday 10th September, offering the last chance for the United Kingdom to share in the glory that kept the world entranced during London 2012.

I was particularly interested to experience the tone of reporting and media sentiment in the lead up to London 2012. I was surprised at how negative, and even brutal, the UK media were before and on the eve of Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony.

Akin to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the South African media were no less brutal.  Negative headlines seemed to dominate the media in the weeks leading up to the tournament.

An example is the prominent left-wing blogger who wrote last year that the Olympics were ‘bread and circuses’, which were ‘scheduled to keep the British public happy and obedient’. Dismissing the Olympics as ‘men throwing sticks’, one Guardian writer said: ‘The only sensible course is to treat the Games as a fascinating anthropological experiment, as people who would normally avoid London arrive to participate in the “Stupid Olympics”.’ The “stupid” public was portrayed by Olympic critics as being swindled, subjected to the ‘scam of scams’ and fooled into embracing a ‘17-day corporate extravaganza’. The Olympics, one critic wrote, is ‘a Mexican wave, and if a wave feels like unity, then so does any act that everyone can engage in, including death’.

We’re not talking about isolated comments here; The Guardian has 9 million readers and yet most of the media are citing the event as ‘giving birth to a new national mood’ today.

As a PR person I’m interested in reputations, perceptions and the telling of stories.  Almost like a light switch, the sentiment transformed in a very short period and it’s not surprising when you throw in Queen Elizabeth II, sunny days and more gold medals than one could shake a stick at!

However, understanding the nuances of reputation management and the effect of negative sentiment is part of my job.

I have to wonder what percentage of the 900 million people who watched the Games will actually visit the UK and boost its economy.  Most interestingly would be to understand the effect of the media’s negative reporting in real terms.

The economic impact will not be known for another few months after the Games, although a survey released in July, commissioned by BBC News, showed that two-thirds of Brits did not expect the Games to benefit their local areas.

Contrary to this, Visit Britain has revealed it hopes the event will attract 4 million extra visitors, spending £2.3bn over the next four years. It also expects its £125 million GREAT campaign to generate 50,000 jobs across the UK.

Visit Britain Chairman, Christopher Rodrigues, said “The GREAT Britain campaign is a four year overseas programme. We can’t just stop all activity after 2012 and expect tourists to come to Britain.”

Time will tell and I will definitely be watching!