Events / Venues


Olympic success

Author Austin Peletta, University of San Francisco

Posted: April 26, 2016

Tagged: Brand equity

Prior to the 1996 Summer Olympic Games the city of Atlanta’s brand identity was essentially nonexistent, at best it was a misnomer. The CEO of the Olympic Committee for the city, A.D. Frazier, said when he was engaged in guerilla marketing by handing out pins in his own time to flight crews they would respond, “Ah, Atlanta. The city on the East Coast with slot machines!” (Madkour, 2016, para. 4). Having to remind people your metropolis in Georgia is not a small beach town in New Jersey highlights the major brand issues the city was facing as an Olympic host. Based on a definition of brand knowledge as “brand awareness and brand image” Atlanta was demonstrably failing (Gladden, 2014, loc. 240).

The sheer number of obstacles facing a successful Olympic host campaign for the city of Atlanta makes the success they achieved that much more remarkable. Design issues diminished people’s attitudes of the city, and therefore the ensuing lack of awareness created an artificial similarity to another city hundreds of miles up the East Coast of the United States. Unfortunately for Atlanta, because “brand image is built in the minds of consumers” this association is not artificial unless consumers are made to acknowledge that uniqueness and agree (Gladden, 2014, loc. 248).

How can an Olympic committee communicate the brand benefits of sponsorship for the Atlanta games, or demonstrate loyalty that could be generated on a global scale, if they cannot distinguish Atlanta outside of their own state? As Jay Gladden writes, “when corporations align with a sports property, they are often seeking to modify or reinforce certain brand image-based elements the property possesses” (Gladden, 2014, loc 226). No corporation wants to align with a property that cannot establish any brand equity whatsoever for itself in the mind of consumers.

Frazier defines the problem saying, “You have to remember how sickly, how nasty, how ugly, how worthless downtown Atlanta was…people were streaming out” (Madkour, 2016, para. 5). It is impossible to sell sponsorships aligning corporations with the brand images of “sickly, nasty, ugly, and worthless”.

Atlanta’s host committee at least had the ability to identify the issues facing its brand, and was able to address it with a method that is now contractually prohibited by the IOC. By building new stadiums and an Olympic village in downtown Atlanta with money from the Olympics and private money raised they were able to re-brand the image of downtown from “sickly, ugly, nasty and worthless” to “a vibrant, central, core city” (Madkour, 2016, para. 4). This success follows Malkewitz and Bee’s (2014) assertion that design is used “to develop a successfully integrated brand identity” (loc. 688).

What is arguably most important is the city’s ability to sustain this brand equity after the Olympics’ closing ceremonies. Re-branding the image of Atlanta for the games is all well and good, but a temporary, short-lived fix is not the goal of any sport related sponsorship. The ideal goal is to “modify or reinforce” a brand in a way that will remain permanently in the mind of consumers. According to Frazier Atlanta did this successfully, “the Olympics changed our image around the world [and] we are now seen around the world as a world-class sports and corporate center” (Madkour, 2016, para. 8).

The change in perception from ‘worthless’ to ‘vibrant’ created by redesigning Atlanta’s downtown to host a major sporting event was enough to redefine the conceptual nature of the city as ‘world-class’ even to this day (Malkewitz & Bee, 2014, loc. 704-712). While this method cannot be replicated in the same way ever again, that is of no concern to the city of Atlanta. It actually is an even greater branding achievement as it makes the city unique and serves as a point of pride, distinguishing them from other host cities. Atlanta is not Atlantic City, and branding efforts surrounding the 1996 Summer Olympic Games has made the world recognize that reality.



Gladden, J., (2014). Brand Equity: Management and Measurement in Sport. In M. P. Pritchard, & J. L. Stinson (Eds.), Leveraging brands in sport business. (loc. 186-330). New York, NY: Routledge.

Madkour, A., (2016, April 4). ‘Olympics changed our image around the world’. SportsBusiness Journal, 18(49). Retrieved from:

Malkewitz, K. and Bee, C., (2014). Undertaking Successful Brand Design in Sport. In M. P. Pritchard, & J. L. Stinson (Eds.), Leveraging brands in sport business. (loc. 870-1006). New York, NY: Routledge.


About Austin Peletta, University of San Francisco

Austin Peletta is currently a Sport Management Graduate Student at The University of San Francisco and a Youth Athletic Development Professional. He works with Super Soccer Stars, The Golden State Warriors Basketball Camps, CAPED Specialists, and Royal Basketball School as a coach and Online/Social Media Marketing Manager. He is a San Fransisco Bay Area native and graduate of the University Of California Santa Barbara. This article is an edited version of a paper Austin prepared for Dr. Michael M. Goldman’s Sport Marketing class at the University of San Francisco.

IImage by Carissa Rogers, "Atlanta Centennial Olympic Park", Accessed via Creative Commons license.