IF DISNEY BUILT THE OLYMPIC PARK…

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Like many Brits, I proudly reminisce on how well London hosted the 2012 Olympic Games. All the seats sold out months in advance, venues were packed and the host city epitomised the spirit of the games. It was a truly memorable experience shared by many international visitors.

For Rio the feeling is not yet the same. Construction issues, hygiene and health concerns, doping, safety, security queues and poor attendance are all conspiring to undermine what should be a global celebration of the world’s sporting elite.

While the troubles of Rio are too late to avoid, how could Tokyo and the Games beyond reinvigorate the Olympic experience to its expected level of quality?

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We are sailing through an era of rapidly evolving technology designed to enhance our daily experiences. The connected generation seeks speed and accurately curated information to help make choices that lead to great experiences. Friction points or unwanted interruption are a turn-off.

So where might the IOC get inspiration to future-proof its Olympic experience?

Perhaps Disney could provide some answers. With more than 150 million guests entering its parks every year, Disney knows about delivering lasting memories experienced inside its unique ‘ecosystem’. And, if we can set aside our mental images of costume parades and fairy castles, Disney’s park ecosystems and how they are managed offer valuable insight.

The 11 globally located Disney parks are ticket/attraction-led spaces of sizable real estate, each designed to deliver memorable experiences to thousands every day – not just for two weeks every two years (including Winter Olympics). Disney knows about queue management in extreme weather conditions and how to build anticipation for the main event through queue-based infotainment – ideal for an Olympic venue dealing with impatient visitors eager not to miss their sporting heroes.

Of course, the quality of a Disney experience has a commercial motive at its core, but buying gifts, dining and generally splashing out are all a positive part of the experience visitors want. Disney provides a service that is in demand, and they do it very well. Eating and buying souvenirs are also part of an Olympic experience, so the logistical management of retail and catering to thousands –second nature to Disney – might certainly be of interest to Olympic hosts.

But it is not simply their experience of infrastructure that gives Disney its winning position. It is how they work with technology and data to continue to improve what is offered to guests.

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On a recent family trip to Disney World in Florida, I was reacquainted with Disney’s Magic Band, which are available to every Disney World visitor. Magic Band is a wrist-worn piece of wearable tech that transmits long-range radio frequencies to a vast system of sensors within the park. The park becomes a giant computer streaming real-time data about where guests are and what they are doing. Magic Band is designed to operate in tandem with the MyMagic+ app, so guests can manage their park itinerary, hotel, transport, dining and purchasing without paper, cash or tickets getting in the way of experience.

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Ordinarily, people might not welcome such an invasion of privacy. Yet Disney World visitors opt in to Magic Band and give permission to have their behaviour tracked. And why not – it’s in their interests to do so. In Disney World’s ecosystem, one which covers over 110 km2, guests benefit from having many of the irritating holiday hassles engineered out, and it starts the moment guests land in Orlando.

Disney figure the less time their guests spend queuing, navigating, problem-solving etc., the more they are enjoying themselves and getting the most from their visit, and that means positive memories.

Technology has a purpose well beyond Disney cute.

Any Olympic Park, fragmented or consolidated, has the characteristics of a Disney park. It is an ecosystem of friction points conspiring to dilute the impact of the Olympic experience.

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In Rio, competition venues are spread across the city and foreign travellers must rely on a difficult transport infrastructure. Little attention seems to have been given to curtail friction. Attempts have been made to bring in new tech. Visa offers a wristband through a partnership with Brazilian bank Bradesco for people to make purchases without cash. But it doesn’t connect with tickets and transport, or link to other Olympic services. You still need several pieces of documentation and, arguably, the wristband just becomes another piece of friction – with the added irritation that you can only use Visa to make Olympic purchases if you choose not to carry cash – not very helpful for those who worry about robbery, and given recent reports of some Olympic competitors being held up in Rio, robbery is a real concern in the city.

Tokyo and Beyond

Looking four years ahead to the Tokyo Games, things could be different. For a start, the Olympic venues are in relatively compact areas with 28 of the 33 competition venues within 8 kilometres (5 miles) of the Olympic Village. That presents an opportunity to ensure transportation is as fluid as possible. It’s also a great opportunity for Japan to engineer the Internet of Things to good purpose.

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A future Games using connected technology like Magic Band could facilitate a seamless experience within its ecosystem, from ticket-ordering to itinerary management. In Rio, one among many reasons postulated for empty seats was that visitors who had event tickets discovered their competition times clashed, so they had to make a choice of which to go and see. Connected technology could solve that issue.

But the connected Games could go much further. Apart from all the valuable behavioural data the IOC could use to better plan future Games, the use of transport, official hotels and in-park purchasing could all be simplified by presenting a Magic Band-type wearable device that joins everything up. With an associated app, Olympic visitors can quickly navigate to other Olympic buildings, get an idea of queue lengths and times, and even receive notifications of ticket opportunities where seats have gone unsold.

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Disney are already using guest data to personalise experiences for individuals. Imagine seeing your face on a giant billboard with a welcome message, or a welcome message from your favourite athlete – all opted-into, of course.

Four years is a long time in the technology world, and, in spite of Magic Band’s customisable popularity, Disney execs don’t actually plan on rolling it out at other parks – the smart phone is ubiquitous and can replicate much of Magic Band’s functionality. But, arguably, getting a phone out regularly to tap a sensor could become a friction point itself. So, even these will be better designed to work more seamlessly – maybe the earables revolution will take care of that (see my blog from July here).

Whatever the solution, the drive towards a friction-free experience within contained ecosystems has to be the way not only for the Olympics but for all sports and entertainment experiences. If it means we can spend more time enjoying unique experiences and not wasting it solving unnecessary problems, then the memories will be ever the sweeter. And there’s nothing Mickey Mouse about that.

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Simon Woollard
Global Creative Director at PRISM

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