A BRIEF LOOK at a map of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea demonstrates the proximity of Athens, the site of the upcoming Summer Olympics, to the Middle East hot spots. So, will security concerns affect the number and size of corporate hospitality events that always accompany a high-profile sporting event such as the summer games?

There has been plenty of talk about companies staying away from the quadrennial event, says Rana Kardestuncer, director of event and sponsorship marketing for the Carlson Marketing Group, Minneapolis. Carlson will manage the guest hospitality program for Eastman Kodak Co., one of the major sponsors for the Athens games.

Kardestuncer believes, however, that few companies have decided against bringing clients and employees to the games, particularly if the company has invested in a sponsorship. “If you are a sponsor and you've invested in the games, then you are going,” she says. In the case of Kodak, Carlson is managing a program that will include hundreds of attendees.

Mixed Messages

Steve Woodward, who covers the Olympics beat for Sports Business Journal, says there appears to be a mixed message from the corporate world regarding the upcoming games. During a recent sponsor luncheon that Woodward attended, one high-profile sponsor indicated that it was looking for more room availability in Athens because there has been more demand than the sponsor can accommodate. But another reported that 5 percent of its corporate guest list, after having initially accepted invitations to Athens, has since decided against going.

There does seem to be anecdotal evidence that security concerns might have a tangible effect on corporate events at the Athens Olympics.

In April, Sports Business Journal published a poll taken by Turnkey Sports in which 30 percent of the more than 400 senior-level sports industry executives polled said that even if they had the opportunity, they would not take clients and guests to the Olympic games because of security concerns.

The Logistics Factor

Woodward, who has been covering the Olympics since 1986, believes that while there is some concern among corporate executives about security, there may be another factor to consider: logistics. “At the end of the day, they [companies] may be more concerned about whether their people will be inconvenienced,” he observes. “There could be organizational flaws that cause a lot of frustration and aggravation.”

Kardestuncer acknowledges that while the Athens Organizing Committee “has been extremely capable, Athens from a logistics standpoint has been difficult.” She says that Carlson has been preparing contingency plans for a variety of logistical nightmares. “For example, transportation is a big issue,” she says. “There's a lot we can't control.

“But what we can do is educate our drivers on the layout of the city … on the several different routes you can take to venues. We are trying to control as much as we can.”

Kardestuncer and Woodward agree that Athens in many ways is a more difficult sell than previous venues such as Sydney.

“There was a lot of appeal in Sydney,” Kardestuncer says. “American companies choose Australia as a destination anyway because of its sheer beauty and the language.” Athens, on the other hand, suggests Woodward, has more limited appeal for corporate hospitality planners. “I think you may see a lot of companies bring waves of hospitality guests in but spend a limited amount of time,” he says. “My own theory is you may see them hit an [Olympic] event or two, head off to an island of their choice, and then head home.”