The London Olympics opens in eight months time and, it's safe to say, the prospect is not being greeted with universal joy. It's a waste of taxpayers' money, we can't get tickets anyway and the whole thing is about big corporations making money – that's the flavour of much debate. But, according to one man who knows more than most about London and the Olympics, the real picture is very different – and very positive.
Matt Rogan is a director at performance development consultancy Lane4 and a man with some considerable experience in the marketing and sports fields. With his father Martin, he wrote a fascinating study of London and the Olympics which takes in the history and impact of the two modern Olympiads the city has already hosted, and makes a compelling the case for next year's event.
Olympic StadiumIn the aftermath of the collapse of the Olympic Park Legacy Company's bid to award the Olympic Stadium in Stratford to West Ham, I contacted Rogan – who I'd helped to edit the book – to see if his enthusiasm had been tempered. It had not, and over the course of our conversation Rogan once again provided a grasp of detail and a capacity for lateral thinking that's been missing from much of the coverage.
We started with the stadium, and I asked if we really did need another big stadium in London, and if football and athletics had been set up in false opposition over its future. Rogan said: "A football versus athletics debate creates tempting headlines, but it over-simplifies the debate. We need to see the big picture."
That big picture, believes Rogan, was hinted at by Hugh Robertson, the Minister for Sport and the Olympics, after the collapse of the West Ham United bid for the stadium. "He talked about interest from sport and other fields of entertainment," says Rogan. "Football is a 25-event per annum sport. It couldn't ever balance a reported £5m a year cost on its own. But it was never intended to."
So what's his vision? "I think the future for the stadium includes music concerts. We have no suitable venue with this kind of capacity and are currently butchering Hyde Park through the Summer. And alongside football and music, my prediction is that we'll see a semi-residency from an NFL team come 2016, with 25% of the regular fans for that sport coming direct from France on Eurostar into Stratford International.
"I couldn't see more than 40% of the revenue coming from football...so a £2m contribution towards a £5m annual rent from football makes total sense to me. Athletics legacy was our commitment to the IOC and the country. The practical reality is that a track creates sufficient space for more people to watch live music and enough room for an NFL team entourage. Not only that, it's politically easier, too."
West HamHis view that the running track would work with a football club in situ is a controversial one, a point I made to him. Rogan responded: "Of course, with poorer sight lines West Ham fans will be losing something. But any serious look at their balance sheet suggests unless they restructure, they'll lose more than some sight lines. Renting could work for them, too. I'm a Chelsea fan, and I'd take the old Stamford Bridge which had a track around it over the new one any day.
"Nobody is claiming the stadium process has been ideal," says Rogan. But, he says, "We are running the risk of making judgment calls on the progress of this discussion based on having (at best) half the knowledge. Private / public / political negotiations are always complex and our track record in Britain is poor. Look at Crossrail!"
I referred him to an opinion piece by The Telegraph's Paul Kelso which called the stadium process "an ill-considered mess" and slammed the lack of clear information emanating from the OPLC. Rogan thinks such comments are "a bit naïve", pointing out "they are in the middle of a negotiation and legal minefield, and the last thing they're going to do is prejudice the best long term result for the public purse that in order to provide some easy column inches."
But that feeling of a lack of clarity, that perhaps the public are not being given the information we may expect when the level of taxpayer funding is borne in mind, is something around which nervousness over staging such a large project in times of austerity is focusing. As we'll see in the second part of this series tomorrow morning, it's not the first time austerity has cast a shadow over a London games.