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People's Daily Online>>China Business

Olympic venues could be 'white elephants' without more revenue (2)

By Wang Wen  (China Daily)

10:34, January 16, 2012

Financial problems are not just pressing on the Water Cube. The number of visitors to the main Olympic arena, the Bird's Nest, also declined by almost 50 percent in the first six months of 2011 compared with the same period in 2010. The operating team has to aggressively look for commercial options to fill that gap, although ticket sales still account for half of the arena's revenue.

Lin Xianpeng, vice-dean of the College of Management at Beijing Sport University, said it is not surprising for main Olympic venues to see visitor numbers decline four years after the Olympic Games. The venues should search for multiple business models to support themselves, he said.

For the Water Cube, the sale of its branded bottled water, liquor and souvenirs has become a new growth industry, bringing in about 40 million yuan for the company in 2011. The management team also partnered with a private entertainment company to stage year-round shows at the venue to net profits, and plans to open the competition pool and training facilities for swimmers who would be charged admission.

But these humble sales may still fall short of the sum needed to keep the lights on at the eye-catching center.

Xiang Jun, deputy manager of the National Stadium Co Ltd, which runs the Bird's Nest, said it is changing its role from that of a venue provider to a content provider by organizing more programs.

The biggest channel through which it would maximize revenues is commercial operations, which would include naming rights, a type of sponsorship that was initially discouraged by the government for fear of over-commercialization.

Interest in naming the Water Cube and Bird's Nest stadium has been high since the end of the Beijing Olympics, but formal discussions have never started, because of the government's reluctance. "This is the 'national' stadium, so the venue should not be too commercialized," said Xiang.

But "non-tangible" business development is important if large sports venues are to succeed financially, experts said.

"Whether these business developments can be successful will determine the fate of Olympic venues both in China and elsewhere in the world," said Lin Xianpeng.

The main venue of the 2000 Sydney Olympics was under-performing in financial terms until Telstra Corp Ltd, Australia's major telecommunications group, purchased the naming rights, the expert added. The commercial revenue from sports venues also includes such things as parking fees and all manner of VIP services.

However, Beijing's Olympic venues are still far from finding the right business models, venue operators said.

The only Beijing Olympic venue that is commercially named is the Beijing Olympic Basketball Gymnasium, which has been the MasterCard Center since January 2011. The venue hosted about 70 commercial events in 2011, an increase of 60 percent on 2010.

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