Michael Payne - Strategic Advisor Share PDF Print E-mail
Profile of the week


by Martin Laurence

Michael Payne is a Strategic Adviser to Broadcast and Media, Governments and International Sports Events, Companies and Corporations around the world. He has been at the forefront of the sports marketing industry for over thirty years. He led the global marketing effort for the Olympic Movement for more than two decades, from 1983 to 2004, as the IOC's first ever Marketing and Broadcast Rights Director.

Nominated as one of the world's most influential marketeers by Advertising Age, Michael oversaw the development and implementation of the marketing programmes for fifteen Olympic Summer and Winter Games. Throughout his career at the IOC, Michael pioneered various industry programmes including several unique marketing initiatives such as the creation of the global sponsorship programme TOP.

In September 2004, following the Athens Olympic Games, Michael resigned from the IOC to establish his own boutique strategic advisory consultancy. He joined the management team of F1, as special adviser to the Chairman - and CEO, Mr Bernie Ecclestone, most recently initiating the effort to bring F1 to Russia for the very first time. In addition he took on a number of other senior strategic advisory roles, including that of the successful London 2012 Olympic Bid and Rio 2016 Olympic bids.

His business book, Olympic Turnaround, details the business story of how the Olympic Games stepped back from the brink of bankruptcy to become the world's best known brand - and a multi-billion dollar global franchise. It has earned critical acclaim in the industry and been translated into more than 12 languages.

How did your own time as an elite athlete shape your subsequent career?

When I was competing on the international ski circuit in the mid-70s, the sports marketing industry was really just starting out. In order to stay on the ski circuit I needed to find personal sponsors to pay for the hotel and even my next meal. It soon became apparent that I was lot better at finding sponsors than winning any of the races! Therefore, I made a career change and started representing some of the other skiers and helping them with their sponsorship and it grew from there.

How has the sports industry developed over your time in the field?

Dramatically. Over the last 40 years or so you’ve seen the industry really evolve and gear up and have to compete with other forms of entertainment and media in order to attract people’s attention and loyalty. The level of choice that everybody has today in terms of media outlets, TV channels, entertainment options and how they spend their leisure time, is dramatically different from how it was in the 70s and 80s where you would only have one or two TV channels to watch. Today it’s a far more competitive market for how you spend your time and how you spend your disposable income. The sports world has had to evolve in order to compete.

How have the Olympic Movement and the IOC been at the forefront of that?

When you look at the Olympics today, you talk of multi-billion dollar deals and the nature of the way cities and countries are competing for the privilege to host the Games. That’s a far cry from the late 70s and early 80s, when frankly there were a number of people writing the Olympic movement’s obituary. The IOC decided that if it didn’t develop its own funding sources, the Games would not survive.

Back in the late 70’s the basic model of sponsorship centered around board advertising or the name on the bib of an athlete. It was purely about exposure. There was no real appreciation or concept of how to take the brand value asset of a sports property and integrate it into your marketing programme.   As the Olympics had no advertising in the venue or on the athlete, we had to create a fundamental shift in the appreciation and understanding of sponsorship. Companies had to realize that real value could be driven beyond just the exposure game, which I think opened everybody’s eyes to a much broader potential and the power of sponsorship.

Similarly it was important for the hosting nations to understand how to use the big event as a vehicle for transformational change. We started working with Barcelona in the mid 80s for their games in ’92 and Barcelona is still held up as the poster child of what a major event can do to transform a city and region after 30 or 40 years of neglect.

Your book, Olympic Turnaround, tells the story of your time at the IOC and the developments made - is there anything you left out that you would include if you rewrote it now?

I tried to cover as much of the Olympic story that would be of interest to the reader over the 20-30 years. The one area that I didn’t get into was the role of the agency and the history and relationship the IOC had with ISL. Long before ISL faced its problems with FIFA and eventual bankruptcy, we saw some of the writing on the wall and decided it was time to change. We felt that the ISL leadership no longer understood the business they were in, though at the time it was a fairly radical decision that was questioned by many when we broke with them. That story isn’t told in the book as I couldn’t find a reasonable way for it to fit the narrative. It’s a side issue compared to the bigger issue of the stakeholders and the host countries, the broadcasters and the sponsors.

I was very privileged to be a first hand witness to such a unique period of Olympic history and the sports marketing industry’s history. It was a story that needed to be told, and few people were truly at the heart of the action to be able to tell exactly how it was. If someone did not write the book, the true story was going to get lost. It’s hopefully proved a valuable reference book to future host cities and sponsors as to how to get it right. Even today when I go to London or Rio to meet with government leaders they often say ‘don’t worry Michael we’ve read the book, we’re not going to make the same mistakes as Atlanta!’

Some people have criticised me for being so aggressive towards Atlanta, but Atlanta dropped the ball, more the city and the politicians than the actual local Olympic organisers. I think that it is very important not to let anybody forget that it’s very easy to lose the plot and bring the whole pack of cards down. And so to that extent the book, as a hopefully balanced history lesson, is able to still be used as an aide memoir as what to do and what not to do and the risks of getting it wrong.

Since its introduction the TOP programme has redefined Olympic sponsorship. Can the programme continue indefinitely in the same mould or will it, sooner or later, need a major overhaul?

There probably hasn’t been a sponsorship programme that has run for so long which obviously means that the fundamentals are pretty solid. I think a couple of years ago some people were starting to question whether the TOP programme had served its time. The IOC was struggling to bring on new sponsors a little and it went very quiet for a while. However, in the last year the IOC has succeeded in bringing on two new partners; Proctor & Gamble, one of the toughest marketeers in the world, and then Dow Chemical. The addition of those two new players really acted as a big boost and validation that the programme is still going very strong.

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