The Beijing Olympics will be a hard act to follow. In recent weeks, that oft-heard refrain has been directed at London, host of the 2012 games. But it can also apply to Shanghai, home of the World Expo in 2010.
City officials predict 70 million visitors – about 90% domestic – will visit the expo site on both sides of the Huangpu River during the six months from May 1 through October 31. By comparison, Beijing recorded 6.52 million arrivals, including 382,000 from abroad, during its 16-day event.
“Overall, Expo is the single largest people exchange event on the planet,” said David Zhao, managing director of PR firm Hill & Knowlton in Shanghai. “The impact of the expo on human beings is bigger than the Olympic movement in terms of the contributions to the world’s social and economic development.”
Deprived of the headline-generating abilities of a Michael Phelps or a Usain Bolt, these words would be music to an expo sponsor’s ears.
Out of the spotlight
The global media eye will certainly stare less intensely at Shanghai in 2010 than it did at Beijing in August. But according to Nick Winslow, who has participated in several expos and will help develop the US pavilion for 2010, the World Expo is not a media event: The Olympics were China’s opportunity to promote itself to the world; the expo is the world’s opportunity to showcase itself in China.
A similar view was expressed by Nick Griffith, director of Olympic consulting for Octagon, a sports marketing company.
“The different countries will have their pavilions – it’s a huge opportunity for companies from those countries to use the pavilions as platforms to engage local businesses in China,” said Griffith. “That certainly is the major draw of the event.”
Griffith added that the expo appears to be doing quite well on sponsorship. Under a structure not unlike that used for the Olympics, expo sponsors are divided into three categories: global partners, senior sponsors and project sponsors. So far, 12 foreign and domestic companies have become Expo’s global partners. Seven senior sponsors and five project sponsors have also been selected.
“The expo is expected to bring them tremendous business profits,” an expo spokesperson told CHINA ECONOMIC REVIEW.
Expo officials wouldn’t disclose how much these sponsors are paying for the privilege. The 11 global-level Olympics sponsors are believed to have paid upwards of US$60 million, although their agreements cover multiple summer and winter Olympics.
Expo global partners who were also Olympic sponsors include Coca-Cola, China Mobile, State Grid Corp and PICC.
In terms of leveraging sponsorship to secure business deals, Griffith singles out General Electric (GE) as a particular success story. The company earned US$1.7 billion in revenue through the Olympics, including US$700 million in infrastructure deals.
“They attribute that in part to being a sponsor of these games,” said Griffith. “I would imagine that certain expo sponsors, thanks to their ties to the local government, can do similar deals.”
Sponsors will approach the expo with both a different agenda and strategy than the Olympics.
“The expo is more focused on innovation than the Olympics, but there is no central activity at the Expo – the sponsors are the event. So the interaction with the audience is much deeper,” said Jonathan Chajet, managing director for China at Interbrand, a branding consultancy.
Interbrand is encouraging clients to vary their presentations over the course of the expo, as the largest single group of attendees are likely to be locals who visit the expo several times.
Although the major sponsorship contracts have been signed, expo officials stressed that are still business opportunities for companies in more than 20 areas, including food and beverage services, retail, household appliances and audio and video equipment.
“There’s going to be a huge amount spent to stage the event,” said Winslow. “The expo is, if anything, more commercial as an enterprise than the Olympic Games because there are a lot more components to it.”