Don’t throw in the towel just yet

A survey conducted before and after the high-profile Torch protests shows opinion against, but also for, Beijing as host has increased, and brands that are sponsoring London 2012 are held in high regard

Who’d want to be associated with the Olympics? After all, TV images of protesters disrupting the recent torch relays are not the ideal way to beef up the Olympic brand.

But for those sponsors that have nailed their colours to the Olympic mast the latest research from MPG’s Fabric panel shows there is cause for optimism.

A week before the Torch Relay came to London, the survey asked families across Britain: “Do you think it’s OK for Beijing to host the Olympics?”. The same panel of families were then asked the same question a week after the London and Paris legs of the relay. The results were surprising.

Before the relay, public opinion was split: 28% believed it “was OK” for Beijing to host the Games; 27% believed it “was not OK” and 46% were “not sure”.

A week later, after everyone had digested the media images of the protests in London and again in Paris, public opinion against Beijing hosting the games had, not surprisingly, increased to 35%. But, unexpectedly, so had opinion backing China as host of the Games, up almost as much to 33%. Interestingly, the number of people who were “not sure” dropped dramatically from 46% to 33%.

It seems media coverage of the protests surrounding the Torch Relay had crystallised public sentiment one way or the other – the nation was no longer sitting on the fence on the issue and, no doubt feeling better informed, were more willing to declare an opinion on Beijing’s suitability to host the Games. Those against cited human rights, Tibet and poor air quality as negative factors; those for were of the opinion that sport should not be affected by politics.

In the same before and after survey, MPG polled opinion on support for London hosting the 2012 Games. Before the torch protests, the British public largely supported London hosting the Games (74%). This held firm the week after, slipping only 1% to 73%. The surprising change was that people’s opposition to London staging the Olympics dramatically dried up in the wake of the torch protests, down from 15% to 7%. Perhaps the media coverage and debate surrounding the Games reminded people of the global standing of the Games and the passion they can evoke.

Brands involved with the Beijing Olympics can also take heart from the British public’s expected involvement with the event. The Fabric study shows that 71% of us are planning to watch the Games on TV this summer, though most of those (49%) are planning to watch just “a little”. Only 11% said they would not watch it at all.

But football still rules. Advertisers and broadcasters know that the Olympics rarely grips the nation to the extent the FIFA World Cup does. However, as a result of all the British home nations failing to qualify for the Euro 2008 championships this year, the survey shows that more families are looking forward to the Beijing Olympics (43%) than were looking forward to the Euros (34%). But take women out of the equation, and men had been looking forward to the football championships more despite the absence of their national team.

Looking to the Olympics in 2012, already 39% of families across the UK are saying they would like to go to at least one event. In addition, London as a host city should play better with sponsors, and 20% of respondents in the survey said they will think more positively about brands sponsoring the London 2012 Olympics. This is far higher than those who think positively about brands sponsoring the Beijing Olympics (6%) and higher than those who said they think positively about sponsors of the Olympics in general (18%).

While the price tag for hosting the Games is reportedly increasing, Brits also recognise there will be advantages: 38% think London hosting the Olympics is a good use of public money; 23% think it isn’t. They believe the top three benefits the London Games will bring are: increased tourism, more interest in sport and increased employment. However, only 72% are confident that London will be ready for the Games in 2012.

As a nation, we draw our Olympics heroes from the past rather than the present. When asked to name their favourite Olympic competitor of all time, the panel drew on history and chose Daley Thompson (22%). More contemporary names came in second place (Steve Redgrave, 16%) and third place (Kelly Holmes, 9%), but the next places were filled by stars that have long since retired: Mark Spitz, Seb Coe and Torvill & Dean.

Denise Turner, head of insight and effectiveness at MPG, contributed to this week’s Trends Insight

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