LONDON (AFP) – The decision to postpone the Tokyo Olympics until 2021 will be welcomed by the sponsors who pay hundreds of millions to be associated with the event, British advertising veteran Martin Sorrell has told AFP.
Faced with growing international pressure, the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday delayed the July 24-Aug 9 Games, a move never before seen in peacetime in the Olympics’ 124-year history.
Sorrell – who founded advertising giant WPP and sits on the IOC’s communications commission – said delaying the Games was logical given the coronavirus pandemic and a resulting recession he compares only to that created by war.
“The (local and international) sponsors would prefer next year in any case given the chaos that is going on at the moment,” he said in a phone interview.
“So this works out for both sets of sponsors.”
Sorrell, who left WPP in 2018, concedes that there are hurdles to be overcome such as the availability of the venues and the timetable – the IOC has left the door open to a spring Olympics – but believes the “extremely competent” Japanese organisers would deal with those changes.
But he foresaw the Games taking place in more propitious financial times.
“People ask me if this recession is different to others. I say there has been nothing like it before – the only comparison is wartime,” he said.
“I have experienced several in my life, such as the oil slump of the 80s, the dot.com crisis in 2001 and (the global financial crisis in) 2008.
“Nothing has been as quick as this. There will be a fallout for some but there will be a recovery.
“Q2 (the second quarter) will be very difficult this year, Q3 less so and Q4 better, so there will be some signs of recovery by the time the Games come round.”
‘Optimism and hope’
The IOC’s former head of marketing, Michael Payne, dismisses the belief in some quarters that IOC chief Thomas Bach and the organisers’ ultimate decision was beholden to the wishes of their respective commercial partners.
“Nothing could be further from the truth that the IOC decision-making process is driven by commercial partners,” the 62-year-old Irishman told AFP.
“They would have been informed but not consulted.
“However, the decision would have been 100 per cent driven by sporting concerns.”
Payne, who in nearly two decades at the IOC was widely credited with transforming its brand and finances by attracting vast sponsorship, said the IOC was less commercial than other sporting bodies.
“The football leagues and Formula One are much more commercial entities even if the sums of money are much smaller,” he said.
“(American broadcaster) NBC do not have a seat at the table when host cities are decided.”
Becoming a so-called TOP (The Olympic Partner Programme established by the IOC in 1985), does not come cheap.
The dozen current members, including Coca-Cola and General Electric, will have invested well over US$100 million (S$143.4 million) each to become one of the main providers for the Tokyo Games.
Terrence Burns was an IOC marketing executive and is now executive vice-president of Global Sport for marketing and brand company Engine Shop, advising one of the TOP sponsors, insurance firm Allianz, on the strategic aspects of their IOC partnership.
Burns, who since leaving the IOC has played a key role in five successful Olympic bid city campaigns, told AFP the postponement has caused little fuss because they will retain the 2020 Tokyo Games name despite being moved to next year.
“This is unprecedented for all sponsors whose rights either end, begin, or extend at the end of this quadrennial (2020) and into the next,” he said.
“The key concepts to make this unique situation work are flexibility and fairness.
“Fortunately, Olympic sponsorship agreements are precise and succinct as to the use of which Olympic intellectual property can be used where, how, and when… and by whom.”
Burns said the IOC provided clarity and thereby reassurance to those whose contracts were due to come to an end in 2020.
“The IOC has already stated that sponsors of the Tokyo Games whose rights were set to expire this year will be extended through the Games next year,” he said.
“Accommodations will need to be made in certain categories, but I personally do not see any issues that will prove difficult, let alone insurmountable.”
Burns said he believed the Games next year would be unique in the emotional punch they could deliver as the world recovers from the pandemic.
“The Olympics, at least to me, are as much about optimism and hope as they are about sport,” he said.
“If the global crisis is contained and or is over by next year, I think the Games will provide for a unique and amazing celebration of humanity and triumph.”