Several years ago I went to downtown Manhattan to meet with a group interested in bringing the World Fire and Police Games to New York. The economy was doing well, Manhattan was thriving, brands had dollars and were looking to spend, the Games had been seen by thousands in other cities, and the timing would coincide with the 10th anniversary of 9/11. It seemed like a great idea…over 17,000 of those who spend their careers protecting others would come to New York from around the world, and battle each other in games ranging from Paintball to basketball. Furthermore, police and fire, like those in the military, are usually ultra supportive of those brands who take an interest in their work, giving added value to those looking to support such a core and dedicated group of public servants, most of whom would come to compete on their own dime.
Alas, the support from the business community was not what was hoped by the organizers. Now the Games are still going on, starting this weekend (Hurricane Irene permitting) and hundreds of venues around the New York area. As predicted, over 17,000 fire and police men and women have sacrificed their time and dollars to both compete and then honor those who fell on 9/11. The events will draw some crowds and some media attention, but because of the challenged economy, the lack of major television, and such a crowded marketplace the dollars never rode in to make the event the mega-event it could be in the United States. The loyalty, the great stories, the ability to use social media, the sampling opportunities, the ability to honor these men and women could have drawn large brands looking to mix marketing and philanthropic dollars together, and still probably could. The ability to have a brand stick to the families of those who came to compete, maybe some rising brands that did not have large dollars but had a chance to grow with product sampling, could have also worked. However we still are in an economically challenged situation where brands are still hesitant to test the waters with new properties unless there is big media exposure or on site activation. Will there be several thousand attending and participating in the event? Yes. Is it spread out all over the area, Olympic-style? Yes. Are the central gathering points to address large groups? Yes. The problem was that the significant buzz around the event was lost amidst a cash-strapped marketing plan, the clutter of New York and the crazed events this week between earthquakes and hurricanes.
The idea of the World Fire and Police Games is a grand one, definitely worth supporting for brands and media. As the games play out and the hurricane madness dissipates, hopefully those messages emerge and some brands join in last minute and help realize the potential of exposure. Like the Military, the public servant is often neglected in the brand mix and is fiercely loyal. Maybe not sexy, but loyal enough to help some savvy brands hit their numbers, gain access and build over the long term. Maybe not for these games, but for the future ones at least.