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A look at Michael Payne’s twenty year marketing legacy at the IOC, as he steps down following the Athens Olympic Games to join the Management team of F1, as special advisor to Bernie Ecclestone. 

Olympic salesman tries life in the fast lane


The most influential Briton in Olympic sporting circles was not Princess Anne, nor five-time gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave, not even Lord Sebastian Coe, the head of London's bid for the 2012 Games: it was, until he announced his intention to stand down last week, Michael Payne.

The announcement slipped out of a press office in Lausanne at the end of last week and generated barely a paragraph on the City section, sports pages or news.

Yet the decision of Michael Payne to stand down as the International Olympic Committee's director of marketing and global broadcast rights is possibly one of the most significant moves among the upper echelons of business to be announced in the last few months.

Put it this way: in his 15 years based at the IOC's headquarters in Lausanne, Mr Payne has grown the Olympic brand from what was essentially an amateur, Chariots of Fire-style operation, to become a business with a multi-billion annual turnover.

It has been Mr Payne who has co-ordinated the IOC's policy on purchasing seemingly every frame and clip ever broadcast at the Olympics, more than 50,000 hours' worth, to develop a massive archive that, in itself, is also worth billions. It was also Mr Payne who also oversaw its new policy on the internet, which potentially could be worth billions in media rights over the coming decades. And it was Mr Payne who spent $150 million in 1999-2000 on an advertising campaign that helped the Olympic movement emerge from one of the greatest of recent sporting scandals relatively unscathed.

Make no mistake, the most influential Briton in Olympic sporting circles was not Princess Anne, nor five-time gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave, not even Lord Sebastian Coe, the head of London's bid for the 2012 Games: it was, until he announced his intention to stand down last week, Michael Payne.

Little wonder, then, as Bernie Ecclestone, the man who controls Formula 1 motor racing, ponders a future in which his sport is banned in Europe from using tobacco sponsorship to pay for the vast budgets of Grand Prix race teams such as Ferrari and MacLaren, that he should turn to 46-year-old Mr Payne.

Watch the Athens Olympics in August, and you will see the result of Mr Payne's efforts. Stadiums "clean" of advertising hoardings, thus "preserving" the perceived purity of the Olympic arena. Yet the IOC will still rake in millions from the ten blue-chip multi-nationals, including McDonald's, Panasonic and Kodak, who have signed up to the Olympic sponsorship programme that Mr Payne has moulded and developed since he joined the IOC in 1989. Now, the ten TOPs partners each pay £30 million per Games.

All that is in addition to the $2.2 billion the IOC receives for US broadcasting rights for the present Olympic cycle; the rest of the world pays extra. One of Mr Payne's last major deals was to sign up the European Broadcasting Union to a record hike in its fee, up to almost £400 million, for the rights to the 2010 and 2012 Games - with the venue of the latter not even determined yet. It is a measure of the influence of Mr Payne that broadcasting fees paid to the IOC have increased 15-fold since 1980.

Mr Payne learned his craft at ISL, the Swiss-based agency, originally forged from a marketing idea developed by Adi Dassler, the founder of Germany's Adidas sportswear giant. Dassler's, then ISL's masterplan was clearly visible in the moves made by the IOC in the past decade. As well as a strategy, Mr Payne also had a reputation as a fine salesman - "He could sell sand to the Saudis," one senior executive once said of him - managing to maintain and increase the Olympics' worth even in the most difficult of times.

It was Mr Payne's handling of the IOC's damage-limitation exercise in 1999 and his ability to continue to drive huge revenues into Lausanne's coffers that will have marked him out as the right man for Mr Ecclestone's job.

To re-cap: the Salt Lake City scandal involved sumptuous gifts being given to members of the IOC by the organising committees of cities wanting to host the Olympics. These were, for want of a better word, bribes for votes. Ten members resigned or were dismissed, an ethics committee was set up, and the IOC began to issue audited annual results.

"No sponsor has withdrawn and no sponsor has asked to renegotiate its terms," Mr Payne was able to assert, while going out and securing the signatures for further four-year deals from the likes of Coca-Cola and Time Warner. "Eventually, and it won't be overnight, the Olympic movement should be able to come out of this much stronger," Mr Payne predicted long before the robust success of the Sydney Olympics proved his opinion.

Mr Payne's thoughts on crisis management are well worth considering: "With any crisis an organisation goes through, once it's started you might as well try to turn it to your advantage and use it as a catalyst for reform, changes which maybe under normal circumstances you might not be able to achieve," he said, before launching his department in possibly the widest purchase of archive film and TV material ever undertaken.

Having amassed the IOC's video archive - "We wanted to get there before anyone realised the enormous value of this material if it were available over the World Wide Web", Mr Payne said. "We want to have a complete moving picture history of the Games. It's going to be one of the world's great sporting video libraries" - it is not unreasonable to assume that one of his tasks at Formula 1 will be to assemble a similar archive, stretching back to Fangio.

As well as dealing with the past, Mr Payne's policy on the present, and the webcasting of the Olympics, will be something else that F1 chiefs will wish to control tightly. "Our policy is that for the 16 days of the Games there shall be no moving image or live sound transmitted via the Internet," Mr Payne said.

There is little doubt that Mr Payne will be a loss to the IOC. Very much one of the stars of Juan Antonio Samaranch's regime, Mr Payne is the biggest name yet to depart the Chateau Vidy since the arrival as IOC president of the quiet, dogged Belgian surgeon, Jacques Rogge.

While at the IOC, Mr Payne effectively turned the Olympics from a four-yearly sporting festival into what he described as a tightly-controlled "hands-on franchise". Now he is leaving Lausanne, it would be no a surprise if we were to see a similar approach on the race tracks of the world, too.

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