For many people, the Olympic torch relay tends to be a yawner. Not this year. Protesters in London, Paris and San Francisco are helping to turn this year’s 85,000-mile PR blitz into the world’s longest exercise in crisis management (assuming it’s not cut short, as officials now threaten).
While the Beijing Olympics may be notable for spawning a broader and more intense public reaction than usual, the games have long been a focal point for protests—whether through boycotts (as in the Los Angeles and Moscow games) or terrorist activity (Munich and Atlanta).
I wonder if the attention might turn out to be a boon for companies associated with the games. Nobody wants to have their banner flying in the background, obviously, as police pummel protesters. But I think that’s an unlikely scenario once the Olympics actually take place. Chinese officials may not be able to control who gets onto the streets of Paris, but they have a knack for keeping a lid on tensions in Beijing.
Instead, the political tensions surrounding the games may prompt more people to tune into the Olympics this year. Toronto, which also bid for the 2008 games, simply doesn’t elicit the same level of emotion. All those Coca Cola signs, Nike shoes and NBC logos will get a lot more display as journalists sniff around Beijing for good stories. Chinese consumers will be watching in record numbers. In the absence of a widespread boycott (which will — and should be — avoided), the games could turn out a boon for the companies involved.
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