GW Students Get All-Access Look at 2012 Olympics

London is serving as a classroom for 28 business students in course led by Lisa Delpy Neirotti.

August 6, 2012

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More than 30 million people are tuning in nightly to the London Olympics, but 28 GW School of Business students are getting a real-life look at the world’s biggest multi-sport event during an 11-day class trip.

The graduate and undergraduate students are traveling as part of the class “International Experience: Behind the Scenes at the Summer Olympic Games,” led by Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor of sport management. This is Dr. Delpy Neirotti’s 16th consecutive Olympic Games and 11th Olympics with a group of students.

While at the games, students met with Olympic sponsors and organizers—including Ken Wright, a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency doping control officer, and Alexis Gros-Piron, head of spectator experience and ticketing at the International Olympic Committee (IOC)—and visited Team USA’s private training facility and house. The students are recording their experiences and observations on their blog, “A Blog of Olympic Proportions,” featured on GW’s School of Business website.

GW President Steven Knapp joined the students on a few of their visits with Olympic sponsors, including for a tour of the architecturally unique Coca-Cola Olympic Pavilion. He also joined the students and Director of Athletics and Recreation Patrick Nero to watch GW alumnus and former Colonials basketball star Pops Mensah-Bonsu play for Great Britain during a game against Australia.

Graduate student Matthew Reitzfeld’s favorite tour was of the USA House, led by Lisa Reliford, director of meeting and events services at the United States Olympic Committee. Each country has a hospitality house — some public, some private—where its athletes, officials and other visitors stay.

“We got to see where all the athletes hang out and the innovative ways the sponsors were incorporated into the space,” he said. “It was extraordinary to see how complex the process of transforming the building was.”

The group also visited Russia Park— an attraction that previews the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi—to hear panelists speak about the Russian International Olympic University, a university being built in Sochi that will provide students with opportunities to receive hands-on experience running and organizing games.

“The hope is that these same students will go on to coordinate future games and be on future Olympic Committees,” said Mr. Reitzfeld. “I enjoyed Russia Park, and the panel was very interesting.”

The class is also collecting data from spectators to gauge consumer motivation, behavior, satisfaction and overall economic impact, as well as information for their term papers, which will focus on different aspects of the business of the games, including hospitality, global media rights and transportation.

To gather information for his term paper on Olympic ticketing, Mr. Reitzfeld handed out questionnaires to spectators to collect data on their ticket choices and purchasing and also interviewed class speakers about the Olympic ticketing system.

“So far, I have found very little surprising information about ticketing; most of the things I have heard I expected to hear, for example, about high prices, and long ticket lines,” he said. “The only surprise I have really found is how many complaints there are about transportation. Personally I have never seen a train system that runs so frequently, but people seem to only focus on the lack of air conditioning.”

Mr. Reitzfeld said the private tours, “world-class” lecturers and networking opportunities are all benefits of being on site.

“It is one thing to sit in a classroom and learn the process of bidding for the Olympics from a book or a PowerPoint presentation, but it is another thing all together to talk to someone from the IOC and get a firsthand account of his experience with the process,” said Mr. Reitzfeld. “We also gained access to venues that are otherwise off limits to the public. During class time, you hear about the different strategies organizations use to transform a room for the Olympics, but seeing it for yourself gives it much more substance.”

“Last but not least, we are getting experience networking with important groups of people,” he added. “Networking is a necessary skill in today’s business world, so I am happy to get the chance to practice.”

Graduate student Amanda Lewis and classmate Melissa Spitz arrived ahead of the group to do some site seeing, which included Hyde Park and a tour of St. Paul’s Cathedral, where they could see the Olympic Park from the top of the cathedral’s dome.

“Another early highlight was finding a cozy local pub outside Hyde Park to watch the opening ceremonies,” she said. “It was filled with fans from around the globe, and we were able to meet and chat with several people. It was a really unique experience to share at the start of the Olympics with so many people and end the evening by singing ‘Hey Jude’ with the entire pub before getting kicked out!”

To collect data for her term paper on the National Olympic Committee (NOC) houses and corporate hospitality spaces, Ms. Lewis is recording observations during tours and notes from conversations with key sponsors and NOC representatives.

“In the case of the USOC House, we had a phenomenal tour on July 28 as part of the course that answered many of our research questions and provided us with a lot of great information on their operations,” she said. “One thing that surprises me is that there is little communication or coordination between the NOC houses and very little advertising from the IOC or London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games about the houses as a spectator experience.”

Ms. Lewis said this Olympics course, her last in GW’s Accelerated Master of Tourism Administration Program, feels like a culmination of all her studies.

“I’ve been able to observe many key topics highlighted in all of my classes in almost every aspect we’ve observed,” she said. “Being immersed in the execution of the event and being able to speak with so many people who have had a hand in bringing it to fruition is an invaluable lesson I hope to apply to my future career.”