OlyBLOG - strategies to help small & midsize
businesses (SMBs) profitably leverage Olympic momentum - we have no
Regional Business News
regarding the 2010 Olympics
in British Columbia, Canada
OlyBLOG is for businesses across Canada,
especially in Vancouver / Whistler and throughout B.C. We also
hope companies in Alberta and United States (i.e. Washington, Oregon,
Idaho, Montana and California) will find OlyBLOG interesting and informative.
AMERICANS DOING BUSINESS IN CANADA
Seattle & Portland Explore Olympic
Preparation for the Games:
What it Means to do Business in Canada - as seen through the eyes of our
American neighbors in the Pacific Northwest.
Lane Powell, Attorneys
& Counselors, founded over 125 years ago and with over 170 attorneys
throughout Washington, Oregon, Alaska and London, England, in partnership
* Consulate General of Canada,
* Associate General Contractors of Washington and
* Associated General Contractors, Oregon-Columbia Chapter
CO-HOSTED and SPONSORED two Olympic-related seminars in Seattle and Portland
on November 1 and 2, 2005 respectively.
Kudos to moderating attorney Diane Butler, and organizers Katie Hays and
Stacy Jensen from Lane Powell for their outstanding efforts. Both seminar
dates were well organized and hosted. In fact organizations in Canada
could take a lesson from Lane Powell and their co-hosts regarding how
to put on an event that isn't simply a money grab trading off of the word
"Olympic." Even if I had paid $70 (like I have for other events
in Vancouver) the volume of information presented would have been well
worth the time and money. I actually came away learning something, plus
I had an armful of reference material to keep me going for months.
In Vancouver / Whistler any seminar with the word Olympic in it commands
a high-ticket price and attracts a large crowd. The Seattle and Portland
events were not only free; they also provided an impressive "take-away"
package that included enough information for an attendee to "incorporate
and launch" a new international business. The events were hosted
in top-notch city centre hotels (Sheraton in Seattle and the Hilton in
Portland), and both were well stocked with food and drinks, plus a networking
reception avec libations and hor'dourves for everyone. Did I mention everything
was free -- drinks included.
If you missed this event you missed one of the most interesting business
information sessions in the entire northwest region regarding the Olympics.
Also, if you read OlyBLOG.com regularly you know that I attend most Olympic-related
functions in Vancouver / Whistler and that I report on the important ones.
The Seattle event was definitely one of the winners. Portland was well
organized and presented too, but unfortunately it wasn't as well attended
even though they have just as much opportunity as Canadian companies outside
of Vancouver. (Plus, Americans driving to and from the Games can be enticed
to drop into Portland if the city promotes itself properly.)
I always look at both sides of the gold medal, and when you flip this
one over there are a few things that could have been addressed differently.
For example, both events were described in Lane Powell advertising as;
". . . what it means to do business in Canada, as compared to doing
business in the United States. Attendees can expect to learn and gain
insight to the following:
Business opportunities for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Canada
Real estate development and construction
Licensing and distribution of goods and services
Key differences in cross-border legal issues between the United States
Business formation and tax implications
Protection of intellectual property
Employment and immigration issues
Labor and union issues
Sustainability and environmental issues"
For the most part speakers covered everything promised above, but regarding
the first heading, "Business opportunities for the Vancouver 2010
Olympics in Canada" it was a little thin. At the very least this
topic could have been topped up to increase the heart rate and get attendees
in the right frame of mind before they were reminded of the taxation challenges
peculiar to Canada. In all fairness to Lane Powell, Brian Krieger from
the 2010 Commerce Centre was there to pump up the room in Seattle (not
Portland though), but if you have ever sat through one of Krieger's presentations
you know he doesn't serve up meat and potatoes information. He rarely
explains in detail what specific opportunities are available in Olympic
regions. It's designed more for spectators and not business owners - a
bit too much hyperbole and light on relevant facts.
It is interesting to note too that some of the seminar panelists didn't
exactly cozy up to VANOC. They weren't impressed with how seminar organizers
were treated when they wanted to use the Olympic rings on the brochures
to help promote the seminars. In one sense it is surprising considering
that the seminars were co-hosted by the Canadian Consulate, which is a
sector of Canadian government, and an Olympic partner. But not so surprising
if you know how VANOC and the IOC monopolize Olympic Spirit. The most
vocal speakers asked if there were VANOC reps in the seminar rooms before
they began their presentations. They wanted to speak freely, but were
a bit cautious until they learned that no one from the VANOC organization
was present. As I said above, you missed a good seminar.
My partner, Judy Cardinal and I attended both cities. We split up to cover
every presentation and then compared notes between both days. We also
made it a point to speak with as many attendees as possible before and
after each session to get a feel for their expectations, and in almost
every instance they indicated that they would have liked to hear more
about opportunities and not just the mechanics of cross border management,
taxation and operations even though it was billed as the central theme
of each seminar. Many of the people we spoke with had experience dealing
with companies in Canada and also with the Canadian government regarding
taxes, duties, etc. Needless to say they weren't impressed with their
tax experience, in fact one company found it so laborious and expensive
to post bonds for heavy machinery that they rarely do cross-border business
any more. They shared with us that they were hoping to hear from the panel
that these regulations would be relaxed a bit to accommodate the Olympics.
Instead, what we heard was that it was going to be business as usual.
Before I go further I should explain that Lane Powell attorneys shared
each podium with legal experts from prestigious Canadian law firms in
Vancouver and Ottawa. Lane Powell attorneys would introduce a subject
and briefly address the American perspective and then turn the podium
over to Canadian lawyers who would illuminate in greater detail (sometimes
too great) the Canadian issues. The information traded was mostly legalese
and it was dispensed as it is written in Canadian law books. Overall the
information wasn't as much Olympic-related as it was pure Canadian law
Regarding the "business as usual tax regulations" comment I
mentioned above, I explained to a number of American business people who
expressed frustration with the Canadian business tax system, that in almost
every region, when panic starts to set in and it looks like the region
hosting the Olympic event is struggling to meet deadlines, quite often
the host country will temporarily enact legislation to make it easier
to manage internal and cross-border trade. Smart countries will do it
well before they run into roadblocks. This is very important to know because
the window is narrow and it will slam shut as soon as the need passes
or Games are over. For example, it is no secret that we will have to import
skilled trades people from outside of Canada if we want to build Olympic
facilities on time. Currently, Canadian immigration regulations make it
difficult to move some types of skilled workers cross-border without special
consideration. It is not a coincidence that Olympic organizations partner
with all levels of government. It makes it easier to change rules midstream
when necessary. "When necessary" is usually dictated by impossible-to-meet
deadlines that are falling behind. Always keep in mind that the Games
start on schedule regardless of whether all the players are ready. The
show must go on. Most countries will change laws to avoid being embarrassed
on the international stage.
Considering that I heard a number of Canadians state during their presentations
that B.C. is booming and that the epicentre of economic strength is shifting
from central Canada to the west, and they implied that B.C. won't need
help from Toronto, it made me wonder what B.C. was going to do at the
eleventh hour when overruns made it impossible to raise the curtain on
time for the Olympic Opening Ceremonies. If B.C. isn't looking to Toronto
for help then Calgary is the next obvious choice. That's not a bad option
considering the incredible gas and oil wealth in Alberta, but I want to
be there when the construction industry speakers who were making jokes
at Toronto's expense have to get on their knees in 2009 looking for private
money in Ontario and federal money in Ottawa.
B.C. by the way, was regarded as a "have-not" province until
surprise, surprise, we won the Olympic Bid. Property values have always
been higher than most of Canada, but immediately upon winning the Bid
our real estate prices smashed through the roof and public confidence
soared. It is amazing what winning a Bid will do for a region, although
it is also surprising how tenaciously politicians claim it has nothing
to do with the Olympics and everything to do with how well they manage
the region. More telling though is that if B.C. isn't looking to Toronto
for help where will Vancouver / Whistler find capital to keep things on
track, especially considering that cement and steel prices are soaring
higher than Vancouver's Olympic frenzied real estate.
According to some Canadian construction lawyers at the seminar, B.C. and
Calgary will have everything covered (although I don't think anyone has
officially told Calgary yet). As a result of our independent research
we've seen indications that Alberta is interested, but I also have a message
for the American companies frustrated with Canadian taxation and cross-border
complexity - stay alert. I want the Olympics to be successful, and I am
a patriotic Canadian, but I seriously doubt that B.C. can do it without
help from the rest of Canada and also the United States Pacific Northwest.
In fact we would be foolish to try.
It's been my experience as a special events director that the least informed
you are, the more you struggle as the big event approaches. I'm predicting
the Canadian government will considerably relax a wide range of cross-border
issues. To begin with, in 2004 John Les, the Minister of Economic Development
didn't remove 143,000 regulations from the B.C. books for nothing. He
characterized it simply as cleaning house, but in many Olympic regions
old regulations are excised so it is easier to write and enact new laws
as quickly as possible when needed. Some of those new regulations will
inevitably deal with cross-border trade issues and many of them will be
temporary. If there was ever a reason to establish a relationship with
good trade and tax lawyers on either side of the border it is now. They
are the only group capable of keeping up with the revolving door of regulations
that will make it possible to responsibly manage cross-border trade as
it relates to the Olympics. Surely I can't be the only person in the Northwest
who knows this, but apparently I am because I never heard even a blush
of it during any of the seminars. Then again lawyers are infamous for
I would also implore Americans in the Pacific Northwest to talk to their
congress and convince them to work diligently towards more amicable trade
relations over our borders. Canadians will meet you half way. It is in
everyone's interest on both sides of the border to make 2010 work. Many
people don't realize it because they still regard the Olympics the way
they did when they were kids, but the Games have not only shifted from
being sports centric to a profit centric enterprise, they are also primarily
controlled economically by the United States. International sport competition
takes a back seat to selling television advertising. When NBC wants Olympic
sporting events to be aired during prime time in America, sporting events
are time shifted and broadcast when advertisers know they will reach the
largest sector of the American television viewing public.
It was absolutely foolish for the IOC to let Greece fall into a $12 billion
deficit over the Games, and it is even more irresponsible to sit by as
Italy threatens to economically implode in Turin in February of 2006.
Considering that the United States controls a major portion of the Olympic
market, I am also surprised that Americans haven't managed international
issues more aggressively. After all, it will be American shareholders
who will lose the most when it eventually becomes difficult to sell the
Games because countries are fearful of having Standard & Poor's devalue
their debt-rating outlook like they did in Greece shortly after the 2004
Here's an overview of how Olympic funds have been divvied up in the recent
past. In 2004 Olympic TOP sponsorship revenue was more than $700 million.
First, the proceeds were split right down the middle, fifty/fifty. Half
of it ended up with the Games organizing committees where it was divided
approximately two-thirds to the Summer Games, and one-third to the Winter
Games. The National Olympic Committees (NOCs are the organizations that
manage each country's seat, i.e. COC - Canadian Olympic Committee) received
about eighty percent of the other half and the IOC ended up with the remaining
Regarding the NOC shares, half went to the United States Olympic Committee
(USOC). This should give you an idea of how important and powerful the
United States market is regarding the Olympics. All the other NOCs shared
the other fifty percent. Their shares were based on their respective importance
in the market.
The IOC literally feels that anything they toss to smaller NOCs is found
money and that they should not complain. The IOC also has little regard
for the reality that the Olympics makes it very difficult and consequently
expensive for SMBs to operate in their own region. Sydney was so incensed
with their situation they decided to create independent sponsorships with
Australian companies. It was a bold move, and one the IOC criticized extensively
as "ambush marketing." Ambush or survival -- it depends on the
side of the fence you're on. I like to refer to it as "momentum marketing."
According to WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) president and IOC executive
Dick Pound, in the 80's a wide chasm formed between the IOC, NOCs and
local Olympic committees. All parties still feel they are getting a raw
deal. The IOC feels that NOCs and local Olympic committees have little
regard for the traditional spirit of the Games and the NOCs and local
Olympic committees feel they should share in more revenue often believing
they can negotiate more lucrative deals independently. Unfortunately a
large part of the blame lies with the IOC. Is it any wonder NOCs and local
Olympic committees feel this way? The IOC continuously mismanaged affairs
and in doing so lost credibility. They are constantly vigilant about local
Olympic committees undermining international contracts negotiated with
TOP sponsors and long ago stopped considering their "partners"
as partners. In some respects it has turned into a free-for-all. Fortunately
the chaos is forcing much needed change regarding how the Games are managed.
It is why national and cross-border trade is so important regarding 2010.
* We invested two years and a six-figure budget researching Olympic
organization relationships with sponsors, contractors, suppliers, partners,
etc. The results surprised us too -- mouseover below
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Olympic organizations are
BIG BUSINESS MACHINES that attract corporations like CocaCola,
McDonald's, Wal*Mart, etc. Consequently, VANOC (Vancouver Organizing
Committee) will be stretched thin trying to also develop ways to assist
small and midsize businesses leverage Olympic momentum. Surprisingly,
many people don't realize the event can also be lucrative for smaller
businesses including agriculture, manufacturers, entertainment, technology,
retail & obviously tourism, even when they don't have products
or services that appeal to Olympic fans or serve a direct Olympic need.
The information we share here is invaluable in helping
small and midsize businesses leverage Olympic momentum.
Interested in booking a speaking engagement? Advertise on OlyBLOG?