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AdiZones: Rewriting the 2012 Olympic Legacy as Permanent Branding

By Alberto Duman

Right from the outset, the notion of “legacy” has been predominant in articulating the value of hosting the 2012 Olympic and Paralympics Games in East London, the argument being that the long-term regeneration benefits would ultimately prevail over the aggressive land restructuring, everyday disruption and unbalanced socio-economic shifts characteristic of the years leading up to the 2012 Games. Subsequent to the awarding of the 2012 Games, the emphasis placed on such explicit non-sporting benefits as added long-term values has been confirmed as one of the most decisive assets of the London bid, contributing a great deal to the final awarding decision by the IOC.[1] This legacy, we are told, is why the London 2012 Games will be “unique” and “different”, a pledge clearly spelled out through “five promises to set the scale of our ambition”:

  1. To make the UK a world-leading sporting nation
  2. To transform the heart of East London
  3. To inspire a generation of young people
  4. To make the Olympic Park a blueprint for sustainable living
  5. To demonstrate the UK is a creative, inclusive and welcoming
    place to live in, visit and for business.[2]

Although the national dimension of these ambitions is clearly emphasised, a more specific focus is placed on “transforming the heart of East London”, to “create a well-planned and well-managed environment in and around the Olympic Park which will attract business investment and promote recreational and cultural use for years to come”.[3]

Photos from Adizones: Rewriting the 2012 Olympic Legacy as Permanent Branding: photos: Alberto Duman from The Art of Dissentphotos: Alberto Duman from The Art of Dissent

But while these Olympic-driven strategies of urban regeneration and business market development have been produced in a contingent climate of lofty financial euphoria, the reality in which they are and will be developed is rather less jubilant. A phase of economic restraint and market uncertainties has now replaced it, with tougher control on banking and finance mechanisms, curtailed public spending and cuts in culture and education budgets as some of the most evident consequences. As the sudden moment of rupture in late 2008 has developed into a more prolonged condition with unclear long-term prognosis, doubts are cast over the resources and financial climate necessary for the legacy plans to be implemented.[4]

And although arguably the much publicised ArcelorMittal Orbit tower designed by Anish Kapoor will be a tangible legacy as much as a liability to contend with after the Games, another much less sizeable but equally controversial and remarkable inheritance of London 2012 has already been implemented in several sites within the five Olympic host boroughs of London:

    Constructed in the shape of the London 2012 logo, adiZones provide a highly visible and tangible legacy from the Games. These innovative multi-sport areas, designed and developed by Adidas, the Official Sportswear Partner of London 2012, aim to inspire the local community to get involved in sport. In this way they can help councils to achieve their physical activity targets.[5]

Quoting both the notion of zoning derived from the vocabulary of urban planning and the out-of-time state of mind reached through high-performance physical activities,[6] the adiZones are Adidas’ and LOCOG’s idea of a “free” sporting legacy for the London 2012 Games.

These dense, hypnotic and highly branded insertions on public parklands are standardised 25 m x 25 m areas, where cluttered symbolic opportunities to participate in sport, play, movement and fitness outdoors 24/7, 365 days a year, are rolled together with unique branding opportunities; over 15 Adidas logos are contained within the oversized 2012 logo of any adiZone.

When in September 2008 Adidas committed £1 million to “the development of a new sporting venue in each of the five London boroughs hosting London 2012”,[7] expectations might have been different, but given the strict IOC rules restricting forms of advertising in the Olympic stadia or other competition areas during the Games, Adidas heeded the call to maximise its marketing opportunities with a relatively small financial commitment.

Photos from Adizones: Rewriting the 2012 Olympic Legacy as Permanent Branding: photos: Alberto Duman from The Art of Dissentphotos: Alberto Duman from The Art of Dissent
Nobody sings “My Adidas”[8] any more, but surely the marketing visionaries responsible for these “zones” know very well the mechanism and advantages of endorsement and the currency of their brands; in every adiZone there is a “wall of fame” comprising only Adidas-endorsed athletes and singers, contemporary followers in the pioneering footsteps of Run-DMC back in the early 1980s.

Capitalising on the rich symbolic exchanges between the brand Adidas and its most-prolific youth market established in the early 1980s with the emergence of the “BBoys” phenomena in New York’s Bronx, and further strengthened by its evolution into the Hip-Hop scene in the 1990s, the cultural currency traded between the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and Adidas through its first-tier sponsorship association with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympics Games is rather self-evident. The ODA provides Adidas with privileged access to its urban strategies and processes on the territory under its “transformative” legacy agenda, and Adidas provides through its branding association an immediate sheen of “cool” and “bling” to what is essentially an Olympic driven top-down urban restructuring and social re-engineering project in the heart of areas where the legibility and value of such branding is maximised - read Beckton for Bronx.

But more importantly, it is the unique presence of the 2012 legacy agenda and its redemptive, quasi-humanitarian drive for a sweeping and radical change that legitimises the explicit and outlandish branding operation of the “adi-Zones” and their characterisation as “multi-sport” areas. When encountered in the flesh, the adiZones appear incongruent with such expectations, resembling a montage of sampled suggestions for a variety of physical activities rather than proper sporting or fitness venues; such quotations of full-scale facilities only highlight the doubts over their future provision within the 2012 legacy, a matter of concern and contestation in years to come.

Initially conceived only for the five host boroughs, the adiZones were then rolled out all over the UK. Costing £150,000 each and delivered in UK by the Great Outdoor Gym Company, the adiZones - as stated by the marketing material distributed by Adidas - are “a perfect solution to the Government’s target of the 5 hour offer”,[9] since “with rising obesity levels it is obviously in the Local Authority’s interest to invest in activities that can get people more active”.[10]

Photos from Adizones: Rewriting the 2012 Olympic Legacy as Permanent Branding: photos: Alberto Duman from The Art of Dissentphotos: Alberto Duman from The Art of Dissent
Given that in many cases the fitting of an adiZone constitutes a renovation of existing public playgrounds they don’t even need to get through the planning process. In 2011 there were adiZones in Thurrock, Yarmouth, Swansea, Sandwell, Southampton, Littleport, Derby, Colchester, Preston, Scunthorpe and St Albans - with more to come.

But despite the unique penetration in otherwise brand-free public spaces that each adiZone represents for Adidas, their costs are only partly borne by the company, with the remaining 50% matching funds distributed between government agencies and local authorities, which are also in charge of the £5,000 yearly administration and maintenance costs included in the package. The adi-Zones equipment life expectancy is 20 years, and any possible removal from its current sites must be negotiated beforehand with Adidas.

Pushing further the hybrid proximity between public authorities’ target obligations and private companies’ demands for deeper branding integration in everyday life, the adiZones appear as a symptomatic confirmation of the established trend towards the corporatisation of contemporary cultural life in the UK and beyond. Branding as marketing stretches freely between the macro and micro scale collapsing the illusory private-public divide; if the adiZones are small and localised interventions of private interests in public spaces rewritten as “public service”, public authorities are constantly branding themselves and the opportunities their territory offers to global investors.

At the Singapore 2010 World Fair, the London Borough of Newham presented its investment prospectus and produced a short film to promote its land portfolio to the world of property and business. Its opening statement reads: “A Regeneration Supernova is currently exploding across Newham London.”[11] For once, the bombastic and hypocritical promotional language of regeneration has caught up with its reality; whoever conceived such memorable semantic embodiment of creative destruction on a mass scale has set its aspiration on a cosmic level, a Grand Plan to pale even the most radical urban development agenda. In this document, vast areas of the borough are outlined in shocking pink on oversimplified maps, promoting the “abundance of land for development” of which the Olympic Village is the most high-profile good on sale.

Photos from Adizones: Rewriting the 2012 Olympic Legacy as Permanent Branding: photos: Alberto Duman from The Art of Dissentphotos: Alberto Duman from The Art of Dissent
The emergence of the adiZones as a typology of urban landscape of sport, fitness and leisure appears both as a departure and a point of arrival, an innovation and a regression. Their permanency ushers more durable sponsorship opportunities usually limited to the specificity of “world-class” events and their timeline, a marketing legacy extending momentary instrumental alliances into strategic partnerships, with the result of imprinting at a capillary level the passage of such events into the urban built environment.

But at the same time, the character of such intervention revisits a whole history of branding legacies that belong to the pavilions of world fairs and world expositions of the 1930s and 1950s, a model that has clearly influenced the overall sponsorship strategy of the London 2012 Olympics Games, eager to offer to its sponsors available avenues to circumvent the IOC restrictions on branding during the Games.

The London 2012 legacy has been insistently promoted as a progressive, socially beneficial approach to the value of hosting the Olympic Games, a kind of bona fide pre-emptive statement of intent sold as an antidote to the reoccurring evidences of monumentally redundant structures in previous Olympic host cities. However, by consciously deflecting the attention from the Games itself towards the added long-term benefits of the legacy, the Games’ organisers have raised the expectations for the effective delivery of such a long-term benefit. Whether or not the Stratford Westfield Shopping Centre can be considered a “long-term” benefit, the much vaunted “transformation of the heart of East London” holds its own secret promises within the use of such generic and unspecific turn of phrase, but - like any heart operation - the responses will continue to be emotionally charged.

As a prologue to future acts of tangible urban transformations, the adi-Zones appear as frightening forecasts of the effective value of the legacy and its branded inheritance. Like an Olympic “Groundhog Day” in 3D, their protracted presence, eternally returning within previously unbranded public spaces, might in time become one of the most effective ways of measuring the actual impact of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympics Games in its most immediate surroundings and beyond.

Notes

  1. Francis Keogh and Andrew Fraser, “Why London Won the Olympics”, BBC Sport, 6 July 2005.
  2. DCMS, Before, During and After: Making the Most of the London 2012 Games (London: Department for Media, Culture and Sport, 2008), 5.
  3. DCMS, Before, During and After, 8.
  4. “London 2012 Olympic Games Budget Cut by £27m”, BBC News, 24 May 2010.
  5. “40 Adizones Across England”, The Great Outdoor Gym Company, 14 January 2010, http://www.tgogc.com/home/news-and-updates/40adizones-across-england.html (accessed 27 March 2012).
  6. Donald R. Liggett, “Just Let Yourself Play, Enjoying All of the Feelings and Sensations that Come When You Are IN The Zone”, in Sport Hypnosis (Champaign: Human Kinetics Publishers, 2000), 15.
  7. Joe Fernandez, “Adidas to Build London Olympic Venues”, Marketing Week, 11 September 2008.
  8. See Wikipedia, “My Adidas”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Adidas (accessed 15
    September 2011).

  9. “Brown Backs Child Sport Campaign”, BBC News, 13 July 2007.
  10. “AdiZones FAQs”, http://www.tynewearsport.org/files/faqs.pdf (accessed 15 September 2011).
  11. London Borough of Newham, “Investment Portfolio”, May 2010, http://www.newham.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/8AF0D6BC-7A8E-462585D1-2083502CB3D5/0/InvestmentProspectus.pdf (accessed 15 September 2011).

This piece is published with the permission of the author, Alberto Duman.
It is from the book The Art of Dissent theartofdissent.net editors Hilary Powell & Isaac Marrero-Guillamón
The Art of Dissent: Adventures in London’s Olympic State brings together a body of work that has emerged in response to the arrival of the Olympics in East London.

Free download PDF of AdiZones: Rewriting the 2012 Olympic Legacy as Permanent Branding as laid out in The Art of Dissent


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