By SARA GERMANO
1. "Bring your sleeping bag."
Headed to London this summer? You're not alone: During the 17 days of the 2012 Summer Olympics, 900,000 visitors are expected to descend on the city -- in addition to the 1.5 million who typically pack into London during that span each year. And many will be vying for a spot in one of the city's 130,000-plus guest facilities (ranging from five-star hotel rooms to $16 campsites), a large chunk of which were set aside for staff and media. The situation may not be as dire as it sounds, though: Insiders at Visit London, an official information source for occupancy rates in the Olympic city, say that an additional 75,000 rooms are available in nearby suburbs. To help travelers navigate around heavily trafficked roads and transit stations, meanwhile, government agency Transport for London has developed an interactive map, available online at getaheadofthegames.com.
2. "Enjoy the boonies!"
The swath of venues for the London Games stretches to the likes of Hadleigh Farm, where the mountain-biking competitions can be found -- after a 95-minute train ride from the city and a 40-minute walk from the nearest station. Indeed, it's not unusual for Olympic sites to be located outside the host city or in neighborhoods that tourists rarely see. But since revitalizing parts of the metropolitan area and even outlying towns is one of the intended benefits of hosting an Olympics, it's no wonder the sites aren't always chosen with visitor convenience in mind. After all, the promise of revitalization helps get local taxpayers and businesses on board for a project they'll ultimately be paying for. And while not all host cities historically have seen a post-Games uptick in tourism, some have: The 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, for one, successfully put the coastal Spanish city on the map, say industry observers. And with more than 60 percent of the organizing committee's investment spent outside of Barcelona itself, even peripheral areas got an economic boost.
3. "The ticket line formed two years ago."
Sara Germano discusses some things the Olympics won't tell you with The Wall Street Journal This Morning's Andrew Colton.
Because of high demand, ticket purchasing has become more of a headache in recent years. Since the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, Americans looking for tickets have had to purchase them through an authorized third-party retailer that estimates domestic demand and negotiates with the host organizing committee, which sets the number of tickets for sale. For the 2010 Winter Games, U.S. ticket demand surged 220 percent beyond what the Vancouver committee had allotted to the U.S., says Jet Set Sports/CoSport, the authorized U.S. ticket agent. Such fervor led the company to hold lotteries for the opportunity to purchase 2012 tickets, registration for which opened way back in 2010. Just how much should you expect to pay? The best seats for the 100-meter dash can set you back more than a grand, and admission to the opening ceremonies tops $3,000. If that's not in your price range, you can still catch every major event: In a change from previous years, the 2012 Games will be streamed live at nbcolympics.com.
4. "Come visit -- just not right now."
For those who've been longing to see London, 2012 might be the best year yet to visit -- just not during the Games. A night at the Best Western in central London during the height of the Olympics runs $366, though the same room is only $196 a month later, after the hoopla ends. The reason: Past host cities have seen tourism crash before and after the Olympics. Beijing, for instance, saw a 20 percent drop in year-over-year visitors in the six months surrounding the 2008 games. To prevent a reprise of that scenario, British tourism directors appealed to Olympic naysayers with deals for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in June. And some major tourist venues in London, including the London Eye and the Tower of London, have even signed a charter agreeing not to increase their rates during or after the games. A Visit London spokesperson says the charter helps make prices fair for visitors, while keeping businesses from overinflating prices.
5. "Funding is provided by viewers like you."
Just this spring, a long-running dispute was settled between the U.S. and International Olympic Committees regarding how revenue from media rights and sponsorships will be shared between them. (In 2011, NBC paid $4.4 billion for the U.S. rights through the 2020 games.) Terms of the new deal, which runs from that date through 2040, were not disclosed, but the renewed peace will allow the U.S. Olympic Committee to bid to host future Olympics. The U.S. Olympic team relies on such funding (along with sponsorships and private donors); most other nations' Olympic movements are government-funded. That's a problem for Britain, where the original budget for the London Olympics has nearly tripled, with local taxpayers expected to shoulder $14 billion of the cost. Not surprisingly, in a recent ComRes poll, 51 percent of Britons said they think the games won't be worth the financial burden.
6. "Olympian power! Itty-bitty paycheck."
Each time swimmer Michael Phelps stepped to the top of the winner's podium at the Beijing Olympics, he earned not only gold medals but also endorsements worth millions of dollars. And some athletes even have sponsorship deals from companies like Citibank that aren't tied to endorsing an athletic product. The chance to shine comes once every four years, but with the exception of marquee performers like Phelps, few Olympians earn very much. According to a survey conducted by the fund-raising nonprofit USA Track & Field Foundation, of the track athletes ranked in the top 10 in their event in the U.S., 80 percent earn less than $50,000 each year -- if they even have contracts. Jack Wickens, senior vice chairman of the foundation, says many endorsement contracts come with "reductions," which means as much as 25 percent of an athlete's salary could be cut if she underperforms her ranking in a competition. "It's not unusual for Olympic finalists in key events to not get re-signed by their company," he says.
7. "No medal? The whole team will suffer."
Adding to the pressure to perform is a recent decision by the U.S. Olympic Committee to reconsider how it distributes funds to U.S. teams. Starting this year, the committee will work with each sport's national governing body to determine medal-earning potential -- and will allocate its financial support according to how much a sport can add to the medal haul. In other words, multi-event sports like track and field, which currently receives the most annual funding from the committee, will probably continue to earn support, while smaller sports are already facing cuts. Team handball, for example, saw a 20 percent funding reduction and nearly faced bankruptcy last year but is working with the committee to relaunch the sport, says general manager David Gascon. A committee spokesperson says it has been in touch with the national governing bodies for each sport for the past two years about the switch: "It's a plan that hasn't caught anybody by surprise."
8. "We make our athletes pee on command."
After several high-profile scandals in the past 15 years, executives in global athletics began a movement toward more strict and regulated antidoping campaigns. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, an independent nonprofit organization entrusted with the difficult task of keeping athletes clean for Olympic competition, opened in 2000 to regulate drug testing. Each Olympic sport's national governing body gives the antidoping agency criteria to use in determining which athletes to include in the registered testing pool, from which they're eligible to be tested anytime anywhere, with or without notice. That means providing blood and urine samples in full view of assigned antidoping officials. Travis Tygart, the agency's CEO, says the strict codes are in place to combat not just doping but a deeper cultural problem. "We live in a society that commands us to win at all costs, and doping is just a symptom of that," he says. Many athletes who are in the drug-testing pool, however, say unannounced tests are humiliating.
9. "The road to the White House starts here."
Bidding for an Olympics is a gargantuan task involving years of planning, lobbying and fund-raising. "Think of it as a presidential campaign," says Mark Mitten, the chief brand officer of the failed Chicago 2016 Olympic bid. "You want your candidate city elected, and there aren't enough hours in the day to do everything." It's perhaps no wonder, then, that an Olympic architect of yesteryear is now a hot ticket on the political circuit. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gained national recognition for his role in running the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, an experience he touted in his bid for governor of Massachusetts. If potential political aspirants can promote a host city -- by wooing International Olympic Committee delegates, overseas businesses and city constituents -- building their own brand should be a snap.
10. "Europe and the U.S.? Ho hum."
The U.S. has hosted eight Olympic Games -- more than any other nation. And until recently, the games rarely strayed from Europe and North America. But when they came to Beijing in 2008, the Communist country "opened up its doors in ways it previously hadn't," says Mitten. Rio de Janeiro will be the first South American host of the Olympics in 2016, and the Middle Eastern city of Istanbul is under consideration for the 2020 Games, after having already hosted the World Indoor Championships in track and field this winter. Experts familiar with the bid process believe that the International Olympic Committee, whose delegates decide the host city in a closed vote seven years before each Olympiad, is enticed by opportunities to bring global sports to emerging markets like Brazil.