The Marketing of Reno-Tahoe for a 2022 Olympic Bid

This week I attended the November Reno-Tahoe American Marketing Association luncheon featuring Jon Killoran, CEO of the Reno-Tahoe Winter Games Coalition whose mission is to promote the Olympic movement within our region, and to also promote our area as a future host of the Olympic games.

Because the bid process has not yet been named, it’s a little early for the coalition to begin a full-fledged, traditional marketing effort. Moreover, an aggressive campaign could cause issues relating to the negotiation process between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and United States Olympic Committee (USOC). Therefore, the primary goal at this point for “marketing Reno-Tahoe to the world” is to exclusively focus on a two-part marketing strategy that centers on education and relationship-building:

  1. Education: This entails educating regional, national, and international players about what Reno-Tahoe has to offer, while at the same time educating locally about what positive outcomes could ensue as a result of hosting such an event.  For example, when Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics, awareness of Salt Lake City among Europeans jumped from 10% prior to the Olympics, to 70% following the event. This boost in image resulted in converting the city from a lesser known ski resort area to an international tourist destination with long-term appeal. In terms of physical changes and benefits to the local economy, in preparation for the Olympics the SLC airport underwent a major expansion, area highways experienced extensive improvements, public transportation was upgraded, and the technology infrastructure was built up.
  2. Relationship-Building: As for the relationship building effort, the coalition has this angle covered. From the standpoint of social media, there is a web site detailing their vision that not only features Olympics facts and history, but includes ways for individuals to get involved and support the cause. The coalition has an active Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Flickr presence. They have built up a solid board of directors made up of such champions as area Olympians, ski resort owners, tourism professionals, attorneys, consultants, state departments, lenders, architects, energy companies, and the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. This month they will be hosting an International Sports Hall of Fame Gala to induct seven of the regions finest in the competitive sport industry.  In short, they are on the right track for a solid relationship-building plan as the foundation for this first major phase of their marketing strategy.

The logistics of planning for an Olympic event are formidable, but the payoff in the end is well worth the effort. In a Nevada Magazine article covering the history of the 1960 Olympic Games that were held in North Lake Tahoe at Squaw Valley ski resort, the author discusses some of the tactics that were used to market the little known region back in 1955, including the construction of a 3,000-pound model of Squaw Valley. He writes:

In 1954, after reading that Anchorage, Alaska and the City of Reno had submitted bids to host the ’60 Games, Cushing decided that it would be in Squaw’s best interest to do the same—if nothing else as a marketing ploy.

In January 1955, the U.S. Olympic Committee in New York became increasingly enthralled with the idea of a little-known California valley that “had never been schussed (a term for creating a fast and straight downhill run) successfully.” Ultimately Squaw Valley was chosen by the USOC to go before the International Olympic Committee, which decides the Olympic host.

The IOC met Cushing with resistance immediately, but he was undeterred and managed to organize a strong campaign. If there was ever a symbol of Cushing’s never-give-up attitude, it was the 3,000-pound model of Squaw Valley he had built to persuade the IOC. The model was so large a special plane had to fly it from the U.S. to Paris. It didn’t fit in the IOC Exhibit Hall, so Cushing had it placed in the U.S. Embassy. The 15-minute walk from the IOC headquarters to the Embassy allotted Cushing that much more time to make his case.

Despite Cushing’s creative and persistent efforts to market his resort as a location to host the 1960 Winter Olympics, the article points out that today’s marketing effort will require much more than the support of a single individual, but rather the support and buy in of the entire community. Because the Olympics have grown into such a large-scacle event, a single resort is no longer capable of hosting the entire event – rather, the ability of a community to collectively organize its resources will have a direct impact on the viability of such an event coming to life.

With 18 world class ski resorts, 30,000 hotel rooms in Reno-Tahoe, and 40,000 available hotel rooms within a two-hour drive, as well as an airport located directly in the middle of Reno, the Reno-Tahoe area certainly stands as a strong possibility for a 2022 bid. Mobilizing the community to rise to the occasion and fill in the needed gaps in the meantime (such as building an indoor ice facility and working with ski resorts to help meet downhill ski competition course requirements) will be directly tied to the overall, long-term success of this massive marketing effort.

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