The Olympic stadium in Amsterdam has special significance for Coca-Cola. It was here that the company sponsored its first Olympic Games in 1928 and where it introduced the refreshing taste of Coca-Cola to Dutch consumers. So it's fitting that the iconic stadium is now housing the "1928 Room," a new long-term exhibition celebrating Coca-Cola's Olympic legacy and the role the Netherlands plays in this most special and enduring partnership.
It's a well-known fact that Coca-Cola is the longest-running sponsor of the Olympic Games. The newly opened 1928 Room not only reflects the historic roots of this relationship – which started with a boatload of 1,000 crates of Coca-Cola that accompanied the U.S. athletes to Amsterdam – but also the enormous social and cultural impact of the Olympic Games throughout its history.
From allowing women to compete in athletics and gymnastics, to the introduction of the universally understood "P" sign for parking, the 1928 Games were influential in many ways. And it was in Amsterdam, not Greece as most people assume, where the Olympic flame was first lit. This is the heritage that the "1928 Room" pays tribute to.
"The Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam is a historical place in the shared history of The Coca-Cola Company and the Olympics," says Coca-Cola Archivist Ted Ryan, who was instrumental in creating the exhibition and flew in from Atlanta for its opening on Sept. 6. "We're very fortunate to have a great collection from the 1928 Olympic Games in our archives, and we're very proud of what we have achieved here. I hope these historical items and magnificent stories will inspire all Coca-Cola and sports fans in the Netherlands."
The 1928 Room is a collaboration between Coca-Cola Netherlands and the Amsterdam Olympic Stadium. It was jointly curated by Ryan and Dutch sports historian Jurryt van de Vooren. Former Dutch hockey player and 2008 Olympic gold medalist Miek van Geenhuizen, who now works for Coca-Cola Netherlands, also was closely involved in setting up the exhibition and officially opened it with the stadium's director, Carla de Groot. Instead of a traditional key, Miek opened two Coca-Cola bottles, taken from a crate dating back to 1928 that also contained some of the original bottles from that time.
Situated inside the stadium, the 1928 Room has transformed an anonymous and character-less room within the stadium into a bright and stimulating venue for meetings, presentations and press conferences. Lining the walls are interesting facts and figures documenting Coca-Cola's Olympic story and illustrated with original material from the Coca-Cola archives. This includes recreated advertisements from the period, many of which had been painted directly onto the stadium walls by art students in a competition to develop a visual identify for Coca-Cola in the Netherlands, and a wooden clog signed by the U.S. athletes who participated in the 1928 Games.
Taking pride of place is an exact replica of the kiosk from which Coca-Cola was sold during the 1928 Olympics. As photos from that time are all black and white, it was quite a feat to recreate the kiosk in its original technicolor. Surprisingly, the kiosk is red, green and yellow, which were the official Coke colors until 1969, when the familiar red square and white wave were introduced.
"History is made at every Olympic Games, but there are few places that pay tribute to those moments," adds Therese Noorlander, director of public affairs and communications, Coca-Cola Netherlands. "The Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam is the living legacy of the 1928 Games and all the developments around it. It marks the beginning of Coca-Cola's loyal sponsorship of the Olympic Games and the introduction of the world's most well-known soft drink in the Netherlands."
Until 1928, France and Belgium were the only other European countries where Coca-Cola was available. When the Olympics came to Amsterdam, it created an opportunity to introduce Coca-Cola to Dutch consumers, as well as to the athletes and spectators attending the Games from across Europe. Even then, Coca-Cola was affiliated with sport. Coke adverts from 1905 show golfers, tennis players and cyclists enjoying a Coke.
"This rich historic exhibition encapsulates our bond with the Olympic Games and the many social developments and innovations it has inspired over the years," says Therese.
Q&A with Ted Ryan
I caught up with Ted Ryan at the opening of the 1928 Room in Amsterdam and asked him about this one-of-a-kind exhibition.
What is the secret of Coca-Cola's longstanding relationship with the Olympic Games?
Coca-Cola advertising has always been based on four touchstones: music, food, family and sport. The spirit of our brand is very close to the spirit of the Games. We share the same values: hope, optimism and a sense of pride. And of course, people get thirsty and we're there to help make their Olympic experience better.
What is the most precious item of Coca-Cola memorabilia in the 1928 Room?
The three period posters in the recreated kiosk. Of all the memorabilia in our archives, my personal favorite is the original 1915 design sketch of the Coca-Cola contour bottle.
Why choose Amsterdam for this exhibition?
"Coca-Cola has a special bond with the Olympic stadium in Amsterdam. Since my first visit here, it has been clear it is the home of Coca-Cola's Olympic partnership. It's important that we document our connection and celebrate it.
Although we have a traveling exhibit we take to each Olympic venue, this is the only one of its kind. It's co-curated with the Olympic Stadium and contains contributions from both our archives. The 1928 Room is not only the story of Coca-Cola, but of the spirit of the Olympics and how it's influenced sport, culture and society. We've toned down the Coke branding, with only splashes of red, and white circles that represent the bubbles in our beverages and the Olympic rings.
How has Coca-Cola's Olympic connection created a special bond with the Netherlands?
Coke always advertises locally. Recently, we found a Dutch advert from the 1968 Grenoble Olympics. It features a speed skater, which is obviously something the Dutch care about passionately, but we're not sure yet whether he's a well-known athlete or a model. What's interesting about the ad is that it is the first one to feature all our brands from the time (Coke, Sprite and Fanta).
It's surprising how much impact the 1928 Olympics still continues to have on society today. This year, for example, the Dutch Olympic team had more women than men – and they won more medals. Yet before 1928, there were no female athletes or gymnasts.
On a more practical level, Coca-Cola Netherlands works closely with the Amsterdam Olympic Stadium on initiatives such as Olympic Moves, the biggest national school sports competition.