London Log-In - August 6, 2012
UCLA athletes, coaches, alumni and staff share their experiences at the 2012 Olympics. UCLA Men's Volleyball head coach John Speraw takes readers through the various sponsor gifting areas for the teams, and UCLA Associate AD Mike Sondheimer details how the indoor volleyball events are run from a fan perspective.
Aug. 6, 2012
Athletes and coaches sacrifice much to become an Olympian. The commitment, focus, training and travel needed to reach this level takes one away from family and friends and country. What do we get for this sacrifice? The opportunity to test our abilities against the world's best, the chance to represent our country, to experience the Olympic cultural diversity, and to hopefully achieve our goals and win Olympic championship glory ... oh, and tons and tons of free gear.
It starts at processing on the day we arrived. Athletes received 96 pieces of Nike and Ralph Lauren gear. T-shirts, hats, shoes, jackets ... you name it. Coaches do pretty well, too. We got about 30 items, and all of it was great.
Yesterday after training, a rumor was spreading that Dr. Dre was giving his Beat's headphones to all the athletes. I wasn't sure I believed it. The headsets run about $400, and no one seemed to know the location of the Beat's House (Lots of companies involved in the Olympics operate "houses" to entertain employees, athletes and families. There is the Nike House, the Oakley House, the USA House, among others). We eventually found the location and took the Tube over. We signed in and were given a tour of the house. The attendant checked our credentials and said, "I am sorry guys, but only players get the headsets. And the ear buds we give staff are out." Her boss was down the hall but saw us, walked over and asked, "How many are in your group?" There were five of us - two players and three staff. He came back with five headsets. Guess it wasn't too good to be true after all.
Upon departing, I made my way over to the most talked-about house at the Olympics - The P&G House (Proctor and Gamble). Every athlete and staff is allowed entrance, as well as two guests for the duration of the Olympics. It is designed as a support house for all the families who have traveled to the games. It provides free food, drinks, lounges with huge TVs, laundry services, ticket give-aways and a "man cave" where you can get a haircut and a shave. I checked in and was promptly given more free stuff -- a huge bag of toiletries. I made my way down to the man cave to check it out and was taking a look at some of their products that line the walls. An employee spotted me, eyed my bald head and made the astute observation that I could be an excellent future consumer of their shaving line. After telling me about some of the items, she asked me to wait and came back with another armful of their newest razors, shaving gel, aftershave cream and trimmers.
So why do we get all of this gear? Are we coddled athletes? Are we receiving unwarranted special treatment? Well, in some cases, maybe. But there is no question the marketing received by the sponsorships pay off for the companies. The Nike store located in the USA House was sold out of many of the most popular gear including sweatshirts that go for $250 (ok, ok ... I bought one ... but it was sweet!). Dr. Dre wants everyone to see athletes wearing his headphones when they return to their countries. At the Oakley House, their enrollment questionnaire even goes so far as to ask how many Twitter followers you have. The assumption being, if you have enough followers, we'll give you a free pair of sunglasses so you can tweet about it. Even more so, the companies are looking for people to talk about their products in blogs such as this. Either way, I am appreciative of the generosity. And as soon as I get home, I'll be looking into that Twitter handle so I can maybe score some free shades in Rio.
Aug. 6, 2012
UCLA takes a lot of pride in the way it manages tickets, the events themselves and how we market the event to the general public. It has been a unique lesson for me to watch how things work at Earl's Court in comparion to the events we are used to in Pauley Pavilion or the Wooden Center, for example.
Security - It is all about getting into the venue. It resembles going through airport security to get into the facility, but that is the end of security. There are escalators and stairways to go up and down, and anyone can use them whether you have a ticket for upstairs or downstairs. The most important security is for the Olympic Family section to make sure you can't get into the seats unless you belong, and that is usually where you see open seats on television. There are no filled plastic water or soda bottles allowed inside, which I will get to in concessions.
Ticketing - All of the events are sold out, but there have been massive articles here on people not being able to get tickets with so many open seats. Olympic Federations and the athletes have a group of tickets at each venue, and if they are not being used, there is no plan to sell those seats, so they remain empty. Wimbledon has a plan for its tennis tournament where if seats weren't filled 30 minutes in advance, then someone else can come in and take your seat. There are no provisions at the Olympics to fill empty seats. Kobe Bryant came over last week to watch the USA women's volleyball team, but most of the seats around him were empty. The sold out signs are at the ticket office daily, but we always have open seats at volleyball.
Concessions - They have water stations in the middle of the arena for people to fill out empty water bottles that are brought into Earl's Court. Those lines are longer than the concession lines. Also, immediately after the match, instead of everyone exiting, the water lines get long again, as most people use the Tube trains or buses to go home, and they want a full water bottle for the ride home. Potatoes are very big in concessions, along with fish and chips, and it will cost you 8 to 10 pounds ($12 to $16 dollars) to eat well. The fish is a huge piece compared to what we think fish and chips are in the states.
Marketing - They have a public address personality and not one that calls the server and score. He/she announces interesting things for the fans and are in charge of entertainment between sets but are nothing traditional compared to what you will hear at a UCLA event. They have karaoke songs between sets to be voiced by people in the audience with the words on the scoreboard. They also have a fake pair of drums on the scoreboard that people act like they are beating to between sets. There are cheerleaders that perform to name songs between big points for either team. There a 15-second clips they react to and do routines twice a match showing gymnastics skills to keep people entertained. The cameras in the arena are used throughout the match to get fan reaction on the scoreboard around match play. The whole atmosphere is very festive, and they want fan involvement in everything that is happening, regardless of which country you are supporting. Brazil and Poland have, by far, the best men's fans, with the women's leaning towards the Japanese over the Brazilians.
P.S. They do have unlimited alcohol purchases, which maybe adds to the crowd support. Can't believe how many people were drinking for the 9:45am match. Also, when you come out, cigarettes are lit in droves, which makes it tough on fans getting back to the Tube across the street without breathing in the fumes of smoke.
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