USOC branding potential for city ‘largely untapped’

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Making sure the rest of the nation knows that Colorado Springs is home to the USOC hasn’t been a priority.  Is that about to change, and what might that do to the Springs’ image?

Making sure the rest of the nation knows that Colorado Springs is home to the USOC hasn’t been a priority. Is that about to change, and what might that do to the Springs’ image?

A recent Deloitte report on the economic impact of the U.S. Olympic Committee on the Pikes Peak region included some impressive and well-publicized figures.

According to the study, the USOC and 22 National Governing Bodies located in Colorado Springs account for 2,158 jobs, $215 million in yearly spending and earnings, brought 111,000 tourists to the area last year, and generated $4.9 million in city and local tax receipts.

Buried in the back of the report, and receiving far less attention, was the impact of the USOC on Colorado Springs’ image, or brand, as the marketing gurus refer to it.

According to Deloitte’s report, “The (USOC and NGB) impact is not just one of financial and economic outputs, but of cultural and social outputs in the form of additional economic development opportunities, quality of life, and a sense of community.”

In pointing out this unquantifiable asset, Deloitte levied one of its few criticisms: “The full potential of USOC branding for the region remains largely untapped as the area’s leaders have just now begun to use the Olympic marks in marketing and public relations.”

While there has not been a marketing blitz to brand the city as the home of the USOC, Colorado Springs director of public communications Sue Skiffington-Blumberg points out that “effective branding is more than just the placement of a logo or a slogan.”

To date, the USOC approach has been to build its presence from the ground up through grassroots partnerships with community organizations. USOC employees sit on more than a dozen community boards of directors including the Economic Development Corp., Chamber of Commerce, and Operation 6035, the initiative to form a long-range economic development strategy for the city.

USOC spokesman Mark Jones said the organization’s Commitment to the Community program includes giving staff extra paid time-off to volunteer at different initiatives around the city.

The city has taken this same ground up approach in leveraging the Olympic brand. Skiffington-Blumberg said that Colorado Springs is active in promoting Olympic Day in June, and acts as a public relations firm for such big-draw events as the U.S. Olympic Assembly.

Still, many in the community feel that the city and the USOC could do a better job getting the word out, and that starts with what is directly visible to residents and tourists.

“We should do a better job of leveraging the value and attendant opportunities that present themselves with a sponsor at this level,” said Operation 6035 managing partner Phil Lane. “Using the (Olympic) rings is a huge part of that. Going forward we need to use (the rings) when marketing this community.”

Colorado Springs is authorized to use the Olympic rings, and the logo is currently used on the masthead of www.SpringsGov.com, on banners in key corridors of the downtown, and on some street signage, letterhead and apparel. But there are a number of barriers that have prevented the rings from becoming a ubiquitous Colorado Springs touchstone.

When the U.S. Olympic Committee placed signage on its headquarters at 6 S. Tejon St., it opted to downplay the size of the iconic Olympic rings.

When the U.S. Olympic Committee placed signage on its headquarters at 6 S. Tejon St., it opted to downplay the size of the iconic Olympic rings.

The USOC is understandably protective of how the logo is applied, and each new use of the rings requires additional approval. Skiffington-Blumberg said the city and the USOC are working together to implement the logo in the most powerful manner possible.

“The use of the rings logo is being done in a deliberate and thoughtful manner,” she said. “As our partnership moves forward, we will implement plans that both the city and USOC are supportive of and benefit from.”

The poor economy has been another limiting factor. A taxpayer-funded marketing blitz in this environment could easily backlash into the wrong kind of publicity.

“These things cost money to implement,” Skiffington-Blumberg continued. “The budget crunch the city has been facing since we obtained approval for the rings use has limited our ability to implement some of the visible elements.”

In addition, the USOC does not want to be too strong-handed in imposing itself upon the city. Jones said that his organization has been careful not to assume that a majority of Springs residents are supportive of a unilateral branding of the city by one of its organizations.

“We love the community, it’s our hometown,” he said. “But those are not our signs; they’re the city’s signs. We’ve looked into it, but do the people of Colorado Springs want it? The city has the rights to our logo and they have the rights to the rings. We’re just trying to encourage the appropriate use of them.”

The diversity of Colorado Springs’ higher profile organizations presents another problem in committing to one face for the community.

“The USOC is one of our premier organizations,” EDC President and CEO Mike Kazmierski said. “But between the Space Foundation and the military, we have some really powerful brands. To have one of those stand alone doesn’t allow for much diversity, and we don’t want to be a one-trick pony.”

Still, the consensus among business and civic leaders is that it’s time to ramp-up the relationship between the city and the USOC.

“We’re in this with an eye for how we can positively impact the region, not just economically, but also intangibly,” Jones said. “The setting here is spectacular, and to the extent that we can enhance that, we’re excited to do so.”

Lane has some distinct notions about any branding effort. He said it has to be authentic to the city’s heritage, sustainable over the long term, offer a competitive advantage, and be deeply important to the residents. He believes that the USOC hits on all of these fronts.

“We’re in the first year of our relationship with the USOC,” Lane said of Operation 6035’s efforts. “We realize that we have a huge opportunity with them here, and (USOC) leadership is committed to getting their people involved in the community. There’s a general recognition amongst the business community that it’s time for this work to be done in a serious and deliberate manner.”

Now all that’s missing are some rings on the finger.

What you said …

The Business Journal asked readers what they felt the USOC should do to enhance the city’s brand as the organization’s home. A sampling:

“Colorado Springs’ overall brand as an ‘outdoors’ city can be improved and people will move here to be a part of it. The USOC can help by attracting businesses that employ members of the running, riding, hiking, climbing community. We buy a lot of product that keeps us running, riding and climbing, but we don’t make skis, tents, bike wheels, Clif Bars or other outdoor products. Perhaps we should.” — Tim Bergsten

“In the same way Colorado Springs City government touts itself as the ‘Home of the USOC’ on all of its stationary, the USOC could easily reciprocate by publicizing to the world that they chose Colorado Springs as their home on all of their materials, perhaps including the phone number and website address to the Convention and Visitors Bureau or the Economic Development Corporation.” — Thomas

“Lighted Olympic rings on the (USOC) building would add to the downtown skyline and be a huge presence at night.” — Eric Estrada

“We have to create an overall strategy where we should invite stakeholders, such as the USOC, to participate. Asking them to come up with a strategy on their own is not the right way to run a community or develop a more attractive place for investment.” — Gregor Huesgen