The Olympics is a special brand that boasts a bottomless marketing potential. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) admits that it has to be careful in positioning the Games’ name online. Even so, it’s clear that, because of its social nature and enormous global outreach, the Olympics have terrific potential to develop on the web. I decided to look at what the IOC is doing to promote the Games today.

In the early fall 2007, IOC announced the start of the Virtual Olympic Congress with an attractive tagline: “Taking the Pulse. Make your Move. Join the debate. Voice Your Opinion.” Generally, the IOC convenes Olympic Congresses at irregular intervals to discuss various topics of concern to the Games; participants are usually limited to IOC representatives. This was the first time in the history of Olympic Congresses that ordinary people could voice their opinions on the subjects of discussion.

In promoting the Virtual Olympic Congress, the IOC also turned to social media marketing and created the 2009 Virtual Olympic Congress Facebook Page. The general public — excluding employees of the IOC and the National Organizing Committees and the members of the Olympics Family — were encouraged to submit papers and thoughts on the following suggested main themes, each one having subthemes.

Suggested Themes

Theme 1: The Athletes

1.1 Relationship between the athletes, the clubs, federations and the NOCs
1.2 Health protection in training and competition
1.3 The social and professional life of athletes during and after elite competition

Theme 2: Olympic Games

2.1 How to keep the Games as a premier event?
2.2 Olympic values
2.3 Universality and developing countries

Theme 3: The Structure of the Olympic Movement

3.1 The autonomy of the Olympic Movement
3.2 Good governance and ethics
3.3 The relationships between the Olympic Movement and its stakeholders

Theme 4: Olympism and Youth

4.1 Moving towards an active society
4.2 Is competitive sport still appealing?
4.3 Youth sport events

Theme 5: The Digital Revolution

5.1 A new management of sports rights
5.2 How to increase the size of the sports audience
5.3 Communication with stakeholders in the digital age

And this is how the IOC explains the project at its official website:

Taking the pulse of the Olympic Movement, analyzing its strengths and weaknesses, evaluating the opportunities and the risks it faces: these are the challenges which IOC President Jacques Rogge laid down by convening the next Olympic Congress, which will be held in Copenhagen in October 2009. Since the previous Congress, the Centennial Olympic Congress held in Paris in 1994, the world has changed. While the main concern at the previous Congress was to ensure the integration of all the constituents of the Olympic Movement, the challenge will be quite different in 2009. A guiding concept links all five themes chosen for this Olympic gathering: the role of the Olympic Movement in society and in all regions of the world.

To get a sense of what previous Olympic Congresses have discussed, here are the topics of past meetings (the information comes from the IOC website):

Varna 1973:

Rethinking the idea of amateurism was at the centre of discussion. The new eligibility rule for the Olympic Games authorized the financial and material assistance which had in the meantime become indispensable to elite level training, while only personal profit derived from a sports activity remained prohibited.

Baden-Baden 1981:

Unprecedented attention was devoted to the concerns of the athletes. For the first time, the athletes themselves played a leading role in a Congress. Their accounts rang with an authenticity that nobody dared contradict. The Congress in Baden-Baden thus paved the way for the creation of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year.

Paris 1994:

The Congress in Paris proved trend-setting in an area of great interest today: protection of the environment, with the environment declared to be an essential component of Olympism. A survey was conducted, and measures to optimize the Olympic Movement’s contribution to preserving the environment were defined.

The Virtual Olympic Congress 2009

The Grand Jury, assembled by the IOC, has been analyzing the citizen contributions and out of over 1,000 submissions, 100 will be selected and used in the Congress proceedings and print materials.

I expect that this will be useful in determining the future of the Olympics. Depending on the outcome, we may see future experiments in democratizing the Games as the IOC adjusts the Olympic brand to a post-Internet world.