A couple minutes' walk from the Olympic soccer stadium in Beijing, U.S. athletes will find a piece of America – with a Bank of America flair.
As the U.S. Olympic team takes to the world stage over the next three weeks, the Charlotte-based bank is hosting the athletes and their families at its Hometown Hopefuls Family Center in the heart of Beijing.
The goal is to provide the nearly 630 U.S. athletes with a supportive environment and to cut costs for athletes' families who have made the trip. The bank expects more than 25,500 guests to visit the center over the 17 days of the Olympics – from athletes checking e-mail or making phone calls to family and friends meeting up for lunch or celebrating an athlete's medals.
Members of the bank's Olympic delegation have spent the past couple of weeks transforming the three-floor China Lounge – a Western-style restaurant – into the family center, adding Olympic rings, Bank of America emblems, and statues and photos of athletes.
The center opens today, but will be officially dedicated Saturday so as not to compete with the Olympics' opening ceremony.
Former President George Bush will be present to help dedicate the center. Anne Saunders, the bank's brand and advertising executive, will present him with a miniature replica of one of the building's bronze statutes – an Olympic athlete diving through a ring into Bank of America's flag.
The bank estimates that the center will save an athlete's family nearly $1,700 a week by providing complimentary meals, access to Internet and phones, and tickets to the Olympic events. That could mean the difference in family members and friends being able to make the trip, said Joe Goode, a spokesman for Bank of America. Support from family and friends was the No. 2 factor for an Olympian's success, behind dedication and persistence, according to a 2003 study by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
“They are really excited about having a place where they can kick back and relax away from the hustle and bustle associated with the games,” said Craig Auerbach, the bank's Olympic Sponsorship Executive. “For the athletes themselves, it's really terrific for them to know that their families have a place away from home and they don't have to worry.”
The center will incorporate the bank's America's Cheer campaign, launched this spring, which allows people to log on to its Web site to post videos and photos supporting the U.S. Olympic team. More than 5,300 cheers have already been posted. North Carolina leads with 1,500 posts.
At the center in Beijing, TVs play footage from the Web site, while photos and letters from fans hang around the center. The bank has also put up a “Wall of Cheer” – portable wall panels that were signed by bank customers across the country.
“When athletes come here, they are reminded and they feel the tremendous support they are getting back home,” Goode said in a phone interview from China.
Athletes have access to the center's 36 computers donated by Raleigh-based Lenovo, which is a top-tier international sponsor of the Olympics and the sole provider of computers to the games.
The family center is part of Bank of America's multi-million dollar multimedia advertising campaign for the Olympics.
“We know through our own research that our support for Team USA really resonates with our customers and helps us build favorable consideration for our products and services,” Goode said.
This year the bank is one of several partner companies for the U.S. Olympic team – the highest level of domestic sponsorship. Others include General Motors, Anheuser-Busch and AT&T.
While the bank would not disclose how much it spent on the center, Goode said it was one of the bank's largest advertising campaigns for the year. The bank, which has been a sponsor of the U.S. Olympic team since 1992, also operated family centers during the 2004 summer Olympics in Athens and the 2006 winter games in Torino.