THE BLOG
11/07/2012 12:48 BST | Updated 10/09/2012 06:12 BST

The Great Olympic Con Trick

Well there is no beating around the bush now I have started with that headline. How did we end up here?

Well there is no beating around the bush now I have started with that headline. How did we end up here?

From when we heard that London had won the right to stage the Olympic games to today, Londoner's views fit within four categories: enthusiastic about the Olympics coming to London and remain so, enthusiastic at the start and now disillusioned, never wanted them and still don't and did not want them but now keen.

I started out keen. The Olympics is something I have always enjoyed, from the great battles on the track years ago, like Coe versus Ovett, to watching sports that I would never normally make time for, like canoe slalom, made exciting by the fact that for every competitor outside the sports that always have a high profile, like football and tennis, an Olympic medal is the pinnacle of their career.

Not only did I start out keen, I want to remain illusioned. It is becoming increasingly difficult though and that is not just a problem for us as individuals but for the brands that have chosen to become official sponsors and devote a significant part of their marketing budget to sponsorship and on advertising to support it.

Where did it go wrong? Bullying of small traders and kowtowing to sponsors at the expense of the public are repulsive and the advice dispensed to Londoners irritating.

The 75,000 companies (mainly British) who have worked on the Olympics are banned from mentioning the fact for 12 years. They are even obliged to prevent their employees from mentioning they have done so on social network sites.

If those companies had been able to reference their work on the Olympics, it would have helped them during these tough economic times and enabled the government spending on the games to translate into a benefit for the UK economy.

Small traders are being picked upon too, either by Locog or trading standards officials enforcing rules on their behalf. Dennis Spurr, a butcher in Dorset, was threatened with action for displaying a sign showing the Olympic rings made out of sausages. Joy Tompkins, the 81 year old who embroided "GB2012" and the Olympic rings on to a doll she had knitted and planned to sell for £1 at a charity fund raiser was warned that she was breaking the law. Lisa's La Rose Florists shop in Hanley was threatened with prosecution unless they removed an Olympic ring paper tissue decoration in their shop window.

The justification for all of this is two fold. First, these business might grow into bigger businesses which compete with sponsors.

Alex Kelham, a brand protection lawyer at Locog (London Organising Committee Olympic Games) says "The main risk is that McDonald's [an official sponsor] was once a sole trader . . . you don't want one of these [small] businesses to grow and become a major competitor in the marketplace, which certainly would strongly undermine the rights of our sponsors".

So Locog were concerned that the Olympic Café (now Cafe Lympic, having changed its name to avoid legal issues) in Stratford might become a global hamburger chain in time for the Olympics and threaten the dominance of McDonalds.

The second reason given is that sponsorship is critical to the funding of the Olympics, so the rights of sponsors must be protected.

Locog say: "In order to stage the games we had to raise at least ($1.1 billion) in sponsorship, and we cannot do that if we do not offer our partners protection."

Ah but did we really rely on that income from sponsors?

We put in £9.3 billion- that was the total public sector spending on the Olympics. That came from central government, £6.2 billion, the National Lottery £2.2 billion and London (GLA and LDA) £0.9 billion.

So we are paying around 90% of the cost, for the privilege of seeing British companies and knitting grandmothers bullied.

That takes us on to the next issue, the distribution of tickets. Tickets for the Olympics, particularly what we think of as the big traditional Olympic events, such as track and field and swimming, were always going to be in a demand exceeds supply situation but that shortage has been made much worse by sponsors getting so many tickets.

If sponsors are paying 10% of the cost, then the most they should get is 10% of the tickets but in fact they are getting significantly more, particularly for the most popular events such as the 100 meters final.

For that event, a combination of sponsors tickets, tickets for the "Olympic Family" and tickets at prices that are beyond what any ordinary person would be willing or able to pay, mean that something like 15,000 tickets in the 80,000 capacity Olympic stadium are available to the public at less than £250.

Getting precise figures on ticket distribution is impossible though. Locog are keeping those to themselves. Seb Coe says releasing them now would be "dangerously misleading" but, despite their refusal to release them, asserts "we are being entirely transparent here". Who would have guessed he was once an MP?

We would have been much better of, in fact, telling the Olympic organisers that we did not want any sponsorship, that the UK would pay for the Olympics in their entirety and that all or nearly all the tickets should be available to the public for less than £100. That would recognise the fact that we have already paid for the Games.

And there is more! The Olympic park, which again we have largely paid for, won't belong to the British public after the games end but to the Qatari Government.

Some London roads will have special lanes exclusively for the Olympic Family and companies that have bought the most expensive tickets. The Olympic park is to have the world's biggest McDonalds, prompting questions about the role of the Olympics in promoting health and fitness.

On top of all this, we have the patronising Government advice on posters around the capital. You know the sort of thing "Tubes may be crowded during the Olympics", "Try travelling a different route to work" or "Can you work from home". Like most people, I imagine, I try to travel the shortest route to work. Would a longer route really help? And how about working from home? Would people who could work at home really not have thought of that for themselves?

If Locog had set out to alienate the British public from the Olympics and create ill will toward the sponsors, they could scarcely have done a better job. "Their maniacal focus on logo fascism has ensured that LOCOG has completely missed the bigger branding picture" is the view of Professor Mark Ritson Melbourne Business School. A.A.Gill put it even more simply, telling the New York Times "the British people have collectively, osmotically, decided that we hate the Olympics".

Despite all that, I am determined to enjoy them when they happen. I think we should have a rebellion in the meantime though and to do that we should take our lead from a small town in New Zealand called Otorohanga. In 1986 Harrods's threatened the owner of a shop in Otorochanga who was called Harrod with legal action unless he changed the name of his shop. In response, other shop owners in the town changed the names of their shops to Harrod's and the town decided to change its name to Harrodsville.

So granny's get knitting, butchers create rings from sausages and florists put up rings made from tissue. They can't sue everyone and we can communicate our message to the Olympics- the Olympics belong to everyone, not just some companies Locog have decided to sell it to.

This article appears in the www.beakstreetbugle.com