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Blog: Blog2
  • Writer's pictureDebbie Goldfarb

Tokyo 2020 Olympics from a Marketer’s perspective: Boon or Boondoggle

“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” — Special Olympics athlete oath

The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics was a memorable event and a proud moment for Angelenos, like me. I was fortunate enough to attend three different sports: baseball, basketball, and archery. It was at the baseball game at the Dodgers Stadium that I experienced “the wave” for the very first time. It was exhilarating!

Remarkably, it was the only Olympics to ever turn a profit. It being a “budget-conscious Olympics” and how the city used the games to rebrand itself.

The upcoming Summer Olympics, scheduled to begin on the 23rd of July, in Tokyo is once again the big event people are talking about. But this time for a whole lot of different reasons. For one, it has been postponed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And, even with the addition of 4 new sports (skating, surfing, climbing & softball/baseball) the locals are not exactly thrilled. As a matter of fact, according to a recent poll — 83% of the Japanese public want the Olympics canceled.

Why? Only 16% of the population has been vaccinated and COVID is still raging… resulting in a shortage of hospital space, medical personnel and needed security for the athletes. But the show must go on — Right?

Initially, Japan was thrilled to be awarded the Summer Olympics. What a better way to “rebrand” a country recovering from a sluggish economy and the Fukushima nuclear disaster embarrassment, as they had done successfully before with the 1964 Summer Olympics. However, what has started out as a PR bonanza has turned into a national disaster.

Of course, there will be the usual “glitz and glamor” for the world to see, with over 215 countries represented and 11,500 athletes in attendance. But, can this extravagant event, without “live venue spectators” & additional $10.5b in pandemic postponement costs, truly enable Japan to recoup upwards of the $16.5 billion spent? Will the pandemic still largely uncontrolled turn these games into a “super spreader” event?

Such tough choices…Unfortunately, Tokyo’s predicament is only the latest and most extreme example of billions and billions lost by many host countries since 1960. Is the prestige, attention & possible loss of life worth the trouble or cost?

Hmmmm…great question…

But for marketers like me, the Games are always inspiring. It has all the components of great brands, such as…

  • The core values of the brand. Behind the literal meaning of the logo — five multi-colored rings representing the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from around the world — are the core values of national pride, the triumph of the human spirit, and bringing the world together in peaceful competition.

  • The unique selling proposition. It’s the only multi-sporting event that brings athletes from all over the world together in one venue as they compete against each other, under one set of rules proving that with cooperation, peace is attainable.

  • The social orientation. The International Olympics Organization (IOC) have aligned strategies on sustainability, gender equality and inclusion with human rights standards. They are carbon-neutral and committed to becoming climate-positive by 2024. For the Olympic games 2020, we will witness gender balance for the first time in history, with almost 49 per cent women participating.

  • The great stories. With over 7,000 hours of broadcasting over multiple platforms…we can’t help but get drawn into great narratives — of heroes and underdogs, of triumph and tragedy, great feats of strength and stamina, alongside graceful dance moves and tears of joy. That is reality TV at its best!

So, unless you’re the IOC standing to make over $4.75B on these games, or the key Olympics sponsors, each spending over $200million to reach their 18–32 primary target market ….will the Summer Olympics be a boon or boondoggle ? You decide!

For more business tips, check out my other blogs on Medium. And email us for help with marketing and branding for your small business.

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