With the Olympics dominating TV, “proud sponsor …” and “official sponsor …” ads abound. Every time I hear those words, I’m reminded of my own experience as a “proud sponsor of the Olympic Festival.” I have a framed photo and a framed poster hanging on my office wall as souvenirs.
If you’ve read this blog for even a short while, you probably know I’m not a sports fan. You’re likely surprised that I would have any Olympic experience and may not even know what Olympic Festival was.
I had never heard of Olympic Festival until one day in 1991 when a representative of the Olympic Festival ’93 called on me to ask my interior landscape company to be a sponsor. For several years ending in 1995, the Olympic Festival was held between Olympics, a sort of mini-Olympics for US athletes competing to be on the US Olympic team.
We were asked to provide plants to decorate the festival venues. Business was good, I liked to support the community, and we had two years to prepare. So I said “yes” and became an “Official Sponsor of the Olympic Festival”—based on the value of our contribution, LIllie’s Plantscapes was a “Key Supplier.”
By 1993, circumstances had changed. I still wanted to support the community, but business had suffered from my absence while recovering from a stroke. We were short on preparation time since planning for this event had dropped to the bottom of the priority list when my staff focused on business survival during my absence. I was still in a wheelchair and easily fatigued, making it more difficult to manage large projects. Then we discovered that not only did the Festival organizers want green plants (which we could use later) for decorations, they wanted hundreds of blooming plants (which would have to be discarded after the event), increasing our out-of-pocket costs tremendously.
Nevertheless, we had made a commitment and were determined to honor it. The Olympic Festival treated it sponsors very well. We were given a great deal of publicity, invited to breakfasts and other events where we were given gifts (such a leather-bound diary/calendar featuring all the Festival events), and given private tours of the venues. That VIP treatment made participating in the Festival fun and exciting, but it didn’t alleviate the financial and labor strains we incurred.
Fortunately, I had a wonderful workforce. Often we had to break down one venue at midnight, move the plants to another location across town, and set up by 6:00 AM. We were given several VIP passes—identification as a Key Supplier that hung from a chain and allowed us anywhere in the venues. Workers could deliver the plants to a venue, wander around behind the scenes and see the athletes preparing to compete, watch the event, then go back to work.
We created a schedule that covered all the indoor events—the outdoor events used nature rather than our plants for decoration—and asked staff to volunteer for specific venues so they would have a chance to see their favorite sports. We even allowed office personnel to work as laborers so they could participate in the Festival as well. Although some events were more popular than others, we managed to schedule all the workers for events they wanted to see and cover all the events. Sometimes we had crews setting up plants in a number of venues around town at the same time … and we were still taking care of hundreds of clients’ plants on a regular schedule.
Everyone in the company spent an intense, stressful ten days ensuring that plants were in place to decorate the venues on time—even when events ran late and caused a rush to get the plants to the next venue. Every staff member was proud of the company and thrilled to participate in the Olympic Festival, which was a huge event for San Antonio. The thousands of dollars and hundreds of manhours of labor it cost us were well-spent.
Even though I’m not a sports fan, I couldn’t miss this opportunity to see performances by athletes who might become Olympic champions so I attended some of the gymnastics events. I found this video on YouTube of some of these events. Shannon Miller, performing here, went on to win a number of gold medals in the next Olympics and is the most decorated American gymnast in history.
You can even see some of our plants in the background early in the video!