Gerhard Heiberg - Chair of the Marketing Commission, IOC Share PDF Print E-mail
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When Gerhard Heiberg became Chair of the Marketing Commission for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) there were many challenges ahead. Corruption and scandal had blighted the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games and sponsors were not happy.

However, Heiberg has since improved the commercial revenue of the IOC and attracted more top sponsors for the Olympic Movement. In his time Heiberg has navigated his way through the challenges of ambush marketing, the fallout from the anti-gay law in Russia and China's controversy with Tibet.

Now, the Norwegian is planning on stepping down as soon as a successor is found. iSportconnect spoke to Heiberg about his time as Chairman of the Marketing Commission and what his plans are after the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

By Steve Moorhouse

Tell me a little bit about yourself and your role in the IOC

After a successful Games in Lillehammer in 1994 where I was the President and CEO I was elected a member of the IOC. I have been Chairman of Evaluation Commissions and I have been Chairman of the Marketing Commission since 2001. I have been involved in many different parts of the IOC and I have spent nearly 50% of my time with the Olympic Movement since 1994.

How did you become involved in sport?

I was a CEO of industrial companies in Norway. I was also Chairman of the biggest bank in Norway.  I had different qualities and they needed a new person. I came in in 1989 and it was so interesting that I decided to stay on. The Games in 1994 were very successful so after I joined the IOC.

You have mentioned Lillehammer 1994. What is your proudest moment within the IOC? Is Lillehammer that moment?

No I think my proudest moment was the closing ceremony in 1994 when Mr. Samaranch (IOC President 1980-2001) said they had been the best Winter Olympics ever. That is my proudest moment involved in sports.

You step down as Chair of the Marketing Commission after Sochi 2014. Is this still the case?

I have been Chairman of the Commission since 2001 which was before the Salt Lake City Games. I have promised the new President Mr. Bach that I will stay on until a new Chairman is elected. I think that will be after the Paralympic Games.

Do you have a recommendation to Bach?

I have not been asked yet but I know that he wants to discuss this with me. I am open for a discussion and I have my thoughts for people who are suitable in the IOC. I need to let Bach know first though!

You talk about coming in after Salt Lake City which had its controversies. What has been your biggest challenge though?

At that moment we had some difficulties where there was corruption. Some of the sponsors were not very happy that the IOC had their Olympic charter that they were not following. We had to clean up with a new charter and new faces. I think we have been able to keep the sponsors. Yes some have left and some are new, but in total we wanted between 10 and 12 top sponsors all the time. We have been able to do that.

There was also a problem of ambush marketing around the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. We had a lot of companies doing this. But we are doing well. Revenues have increased year on year and I think I can leave being proud of what we have achieved together on the marketing side.

How have you kept sponsors happy during troubling times such as Beijing with the Tibet problem and Sochi with the anti-gay law?

We need to be in very close contact with all of them. I think we have had a good dialogue with our partners and listened to them. We have talked and adjusted our policies to help them. My impression is that they have all been happy. It has not been easy for them and nor for us but through good communication and being willing to listen, we have kept them happy. They all seem to be interested in prolonging their contract with the IOC so there has been a lot of good marriages along the way.

Rob Prazmark said you had this way of “navigating very difficult circumstances.” How do you do this and keep sponsors on side? Is it just through strong communication as you mentioned?

Yes and also being in close contact with the companies that have done ambush marketing. I have met with many of the CEOs of these companies and tried to explain why it is not acceptable and hopefully make them understand and accept that this is not the way to do things. That has worked so we have been able to keep peace. Different companies have said ‘wonderful, thank you very much and let us keep this work going.’ When you reason with people, sit down and listen to them, I think you can make things work.

Do you think ambush marketing around Olympic events will ever go away?

I think it will always be a challenge because a lot of companies in different markets do not know what it is about or the rules. The smaller they are the more difficult it becomes. When we were in Beijing, a lot of Chinese companies had not heard about ambush marketing. That is when the time comes to sit down and talk about it. It will never disappear completely but it is a challenge that has so far worked without a court case.

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