The various Olympic nations are all very different and the same can be said for their "Houses" that are dotted around London. After visiting the American, Russian and Dutch houses, it has been very interesting to see the stark contrasts among the three.
USA House (pictured) was classy and exclusive, with it being treated more as a safe haven for the athletes, their families and important guests. It was not advertized anywhere and there was no signage in the surrounding area. Their message felt like: If you need to know where it is, we'll tell you.
Inside it was sponsored by the various USOC sponsors and everything was totally free to guests. The only public part of the house was the merchandise shop which was selling high priced, premium Nike and Ralph Lauren Polo goods. It was a classy and friendly place to be and could easily be seen as a relaxing option for athletes to unwind.
The Russia House is designed to promote Sochi 2014 and is again free to enter. We were invited to attend the launch of RIOU, the Russian International Olympic University and there is a sizeable VIP area which was well done. The Hyde Park location is a totally custom made space, so while impressive, it did not seem like a place that anyone competing would want to spend much time.
There were many different interactive displays, such as the opportunity to try some various winter sports such as curling and ice skating but the main feature was an area with bean bags and a large TV, which seemed to be where the majority of visitors had positioned themselves. An impressive location but it was definitely more aimed at educating the public for Sochi than being an area for VIPs and athletes to relax.
The Dutch House, which is situated in Alexandra Palace on the outskirts of London, follows a different model all together. The public have to pay £10 to get in, with any food or drinks costing extra. Heineken is the main sponsor of the house with many huge bars throughout the facility. We were surprised not only that you had to pay for beer, but that it was expensive too - £2.75 for half a pint, but most people there did not seem too upset by this.
There was a grandstand for viewing the Dutch events on the big TV, as well as a restaurant and a 6,500-person capacity concert venue, which was opened each night. During the concerts, the Dutch medalists would come on stage and everyone would celebrate their success together. There was a VIP area which was well separated from the rest, which was very professionally done but seemed fairly emotionless - there was not much character to it. The two things that really stuck out for me was the fantastic Alexandra Palace was a great choice, with huge rooms and fantastic views over London. Everything was very orange as was to be expected, but the use of orange stage lights to achieve this meant it was incredibly warm inside. Our group ended up leaving due to the difficulty of buying anything (you had to get a pre-pay Dutch house card and use that to buy refreshments) and the heat inside. It's a shame because it had a lot of potential but felt over commercialized and frustratingly badly thought out.
All these Houses do provide an opportunity for the nationals of the countries to come together and celebrate together, which is invaluable -- their emergence during the past few Olympics is certainly a positive from my point of view, and there is no doubt there will be increased spending as they all try to out do each other.
-- HUGO SCHECKTER