Its roots were more than 1,100 miles from Olympic City USA.
While returning from a Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance trip to Nashville, Tenn., in 2015, the city’s First Lady Janet Suthers and Convention & Visitors Bureau CEO Doug Price decided the Music City’s brand was so strong — from guitar pick-shaped street signs to the Johnny Cash Museum and Café — that Colorado Springs needed a brand to call its own.
Known once for its tech industry, more recently for its mega-churches and always for its majestic peak, the city was suffering from its most recent identity crisis.
“I was sitting at the airport with Doug Price,” Suthers said. “The plane was late and we were in a coffee shop waiting for our flight. I told Doug, ‘We really need to do something with Colorado Springs.’ I was frustrated by our inability to define ourselves while we let the rest of the country define us.”
‘DOWN THE FUNNEL’
Bernard Sandoval, president of SANDIA Advertising in Colorado Springs, has advocated for and been involved in city branding efforts for years, particularly surrounding its sports and fitness culture and Olympic connection.
Around 2008, Sandoval began having conversations “with anybody who would listen” regarding a brand created around Colorado Springs’ health and wellness identity.
Seven years later, the timing of the conversation in Nashville aligned with Sandoval’s work. His hand can be seen in the logo design that is today associated with Olympic City USA — a peak emblazoned with the colors of the Olympic rings.
“Branding a city is not unlike branding a corporation, but more complex because so many have a hand in shaping [it],” he said.
Sandoval’s research and discussions with sports and civic groups proved the city identified with a culture of health and fitness, as well as Olympic and Paralympic ideals.
“Our research pushed the Olympic concept down the funnel,” he said. “The wide end was sports and outdoors, and the market told us the most obvious choice was to connect to the Olympic movement.”
In May 2014, the city received permission from the United States Olympic Committee to use the designation “America’s Olympic City,” which has since morphed into Olympic City USA.
ROAD TO RIO
Katie Lally, special assistant to Mayor John Suthers, is representing the city’s interests during the branding campaign.
“Where we are now is a culmination of everything since last fall and leading up to Rio [summer Games] on Aug. 5,” she said.
Lally works as project manager for the Olympic City USA task force, made up of people from about two dozen organizations throughout town. She said there are teams generating ideas and committees who carry out those ideas.
The Olympic City USA movement has garnered about $90,000 in private funding, Lally said. No tax dollars have been used to promote the brand.
“We’re starting small — a little bit here and there,” she said. “We’ve put up new signage, to include some things at the airport that are really exciting. We’re branding all around the city, including the Northside.”
Flags and banners can be found downtown, in Briargate to the north and First & Main Town Center to the east.
“Flags we’ve just ordered will go up at Flying Horse,” Lally said. “We will partner with almost anyone who wants to be part of this, which is a lot of people.”
Lally said the Housing and Building Association’s Parade of Homes in August will use an Olympic City USA theme, organize a Brazilian carnival-like reception and all the parade homes will have Olympic City USA brochures to educate home-buyers about the city’s brand.
Branded T-shirts, ball caps and lapel pins have also been given to athletes heading to Brazil, she said.
“We’re hoping they’ll wear them on TV and spread the message,” she said.
While the brand has been riding a wave of momentum leading up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio, Lally said the effort is meant to last much longer.
“One big thing is we want to build an athlete-engagement program and get athletes into the community and schools so children can understand Olympic values,” she said. “We want substance behind this.”
There is also discussion of creating an athlete concierge program from local businesses for those training in Colorado Springs, to include discounts at local restaurants, Lally said.
“It would be cool to know what Michael Phelps’ favorite restaurant in the Springs is,” she said. “You might run into him.”
Creating a network of professional mentors for athletes is also in the works.
“We want to help athletes after their Olympic careers,” she said. “If they’re interested in broadcasting or finance or politics, we want to hook them up with a mentor locally.”
Some of the more lasting impacts of the branding effort, according to Lally, are creating civic pride and boosting the local economy.
“We have 24 [governing] bodies of sport here, and would be interested in attracting more, bringing more jobs and competitions to town that might not normally come,” she said. “Those would increase hotel stays and all the spending that goes with that.”
The CVB, says Price, will be among those greatly benefiting from the brand.
“As the organization that has a contract with city to really market Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region for visitors, we’ve been involved with the brand of Colorado Springs for a long time,” he said.
Price recalls his conversation with Suthers in Nashville.
“We got quite the education about how Nashville became Music City USA,” he said, adding one reason Nashville’s brand was so successful was because it came from “the inside out” and the community shaped it.
Price said Colorado Springs frequently is branded by those who don’t live here, and those (often negative) identities stick.
Music is Nashville’s sixth-largest industry, but “hands down it’s what they wanted to be known for. They just infused music everywhere, starting with the airport to you name it,” he said. “They’ve done a fabulous job with that brand and we, here in the Springs, need to take our time with ours.”
That meant creating goals and a strategic plan, Price said.
“We put together quite a committee, from the U.S. [Olympic Committee], the Olympic Training Center, the local national governing bodies, the CVB, the Regional Business Alliance — a number of people were around the table,” he said.
One goal, Price said, was to increase the local, national and global awareness of Colorado Springs and the Olympic assets already here.
“We felt there could be some sustainable economic growth around the brand and that it really could contribute,” he said.
“We know what sports can do [for an economy] and this is an important piece to leverage. We came up with a brand promise to inspire the Olympic ideals and national pride in every person who lives, works and plays in the Springs.”
The Summer Games Opening Ceremony celebration in downtown Colorado Springs, Price said, will highlight the civic pride the Olympic brand can generate.
“And by the time the [Olympic] museum opens, it will be the crown jewel for Olympic City USA,” he said.
According to Sandoval, becoming the brand means much more than printing bumper stickers and stamping coffee mugs. It means creating a positive identity from the inside out.
“Inspirational stories come out of every Olympics,” he said. “We should be proud to be a small part of that. [The U.S. Olympic Committee] is an amazing organization and we’re very lucky to have it as part of the fabric of this city.”