Athens Rebrands Itself Via Olympic Games Ceremonies
It was, by just about any measure, the biggest event of the year. The ceremony that kicked off the Summer Olympics in Athens unfolded in front of 72,000 attendees and four billion TV viewers. Pulling it off took 20 months of planning, 850 full-time workers, and 8,500 volunteers. (And then, 16 days later, there was that other happening—the Olympic closing ceremony—which would draw a similarly massive audience. More about that later.)
For the opener, the objectives were threefold: Send the world a positive message about the host nation; correct negative Greek stereotypes; and prove that Athens was ready for the games, even after all the well-publicized delays. “Opening ceremonies have traditionally been used to start a sporting event,” says David Zolkwer, director of Jack Morton Public Events. “But it’s also an opportunity for the host city or country to reintroduce themsleves in front of the world.”
As the ceremony opened, the Olympic stadium floor was covered with 600,000 gallons of water. As 400 percussionists and 50 bouzouki players welcomed the world, video screens around the stadium showed a drummer, 350 miles away in Olympia. Next, a pyrotechnic “comet” that appeared to have been launched from Olympia triggered the reveal of the Olympic rings, blazing on the surface of the water. From there, a series of spectacular vignettes traced key elements of Greek history and culture, from mythology to artistic achievement to scientific and mathematic discovery, through the parade of nations, the torch-lighting and a massive fireworks display.
Two weeks later, the closing ceremony gave the crowd a chance to celebrate the Greek spirit before passing the torch—literally and figuratively—to Beijing for 2008.
Objectives accomplished. The opening ceremony was hailed by Time as “a classic spectacle,” and NBC reported that it was the most-watched non-U.S. Olympic opener ever. The events resonated among the citizens of the host country, too: In a post-Olympic survey conducted by ATHOC, respondents ranked the opening ceremony (named by 43 percent) and closing ceremony (22 percent) as their most lasting memories of the games.