By Sam Green, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Mike Lee, one of the world’s leading communications experts in sports business, has chosen Rio as the location for his company’s first international office. Lee, who played a crucial role in helping London and Rio win the rights to host the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, has opened MLA True Communications in a bid to capitalize on Brazil’s booming economy.
“I fell in love with Brazil when I was working there on the Rio 2016 project,” said Lee. “As someone who loves football and is passionate about sport it was easy and natural to do so. I feel passionately about the country and its potential.”
Lee, who was awarded an OBE for his work for London 2012 and was also a key player in Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 football World Cup, said he “studied” Brazil’s economy when working on the Rio 2016 bid and “totally believes” in the positive forecast for the country.
“I would not call Brazil a developing country,” he said. “It’s far too advanced economically and politically and they have sat at the top table for some time. Being given the World Cup and the Olympics is a sign of this maturity and trust.”
Lee acknowledged that there were concerns over Brazil’s ability to deliver the necessary infrastructure and stadium developments in time for the events, but said such issues were “not unusual in the build up to mega-events and are usually overcome”.
“There is work to be done in Brazil,” he said, “but there is also work to be in London. They key is to deliver, and I have learned about Brazil and believe it will deliver.”
While Lee says delivering successful sports events is important for Brazil’s “brand image” he stresses problems would “not stop the development of Brazil or the dynamism of its economy”.
Lee was not able to use the name of his London-based company, VERO, in Brazil because of naming rights, so they chose the new name. MLA True Communications will aim to deliver expertise to a variety of organizations in the Brazilian marketplace – sports federations, rights holders and sponsors, cities and countries seeking to host events, businesses who want to utilize sports to enhance their brand and sports personalities.
The Rio office will be run by Hettie Paul, who said: “Brazil is an amazing place to be right now and I’m looking forward to maximizing the opportunities with organizations and companies who want to develop their presence here.”
Lee, who also worked for English football’s Premier League and UEFA, European football’s governing body, played down the difficulties of setting up business in Brazil, saying it was important to learn and understand how processes worked in other countries and to “go through everything in a thorough, proper and transparent manner”.
However, Lee emphasized that expansion in Brazil should not be all about hard work. “It’s also important to have fun and enjoy it, which is very much the spirit of the country,” he said.
The election of Rio de Janeiro as host city for the 2016 Olympic Games has led to a sharp increase in foreign investment in the country. A 2009 Olympic Games Committee survey carried out by Credit Suisse estimated a R$30 billion financial input, while the Brazilian Ministry of Sport foresaw an overall fund injection of around R$90 billion, taking into account indirect investments and their long-term effects.