How this year's Olympic Games could break new advertiser and consumer records

We investigate sentiment around this year's Olympic Games and how it's shaping up for brands and the official media broadcaster

Against all odds, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games are on. To many, this will be thrilling, surprising or even shocking.

Because while athletes are coming together, spectators from around the world will not because of risk of Covid-19 infection. It’s one of many Olympic traditions that can’t be upheld this year. 

There are Covid cases in the Olympic Village and, unsurprisingly, mainstream Japanese press reports two-thirds of Japanese people doubt the safety of the Games. Off the back of this, long-time Tokyo 2020 sponsor, Toyota, announced this week it will not air Olympics-related commercials in Japan. Toyota is still supporting teams as the Games’ mobility partner, which will see accessible, safe and convenient ‘mobility for all’.

Yet even as marketing in the host country looks shaky, it seems to be business as usual in Australia - almost.

Spirit of the Games

The Olympics and Paralympics have always been about a can-do attitude and pursuit of excellence. Sports history, culture and Olympics expert, emeritus Professor Richard Waterhouse, notes the Games only ever stopped for world wars.

“While the Games were not held in 1916, 1940 or 1944 due to war, they were held in Antwerp in 1920 after the Spanish flue pandemic, although many potential competitors had died and spectator numbers were low because of fears about another outbreak,” he says. “It’s less amazing that the Tokyo Games are going ahead than that they were postponed.”

Professor Waterhouse also points to the 1968 Mexico Games, which went ahead after government forces opened fire, killing many in a crowd of student protesters. The Munich Games, too, continued in 1972 after terrorists killed two Israeli team members and another nine hostages were later killed in a botched attempt to free them.

To leading Olympics marketers at SportFive, the odds against Tokyo 2020 have helped make these Olympics the most successful ever both commercially and in showcasing Olympics values. SportFive markets exclusive sponsorships for the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC).

“Tokyo 2020 has been the most successful commercial partnership program campaign we’ve run and, importantly, in how brands have embraced supporting our Olympic team,” SportFive MD A/NZ, Damien Moston, tells CMO. He’s worked with the AOC and marketers for seven Games. 

Damien MostonCredit: SportFive
Damien Moston


“This truly reflects Olympic athletes are the number one team Australians feel most passionate about.”

Yet many would wonder how this commercial success is possible given the incredible difficulties faced by everyone involved. Havas Media Australia chief marketing officer, Francis Coady, who has specialised in the sport and entertainment arena, thinks it’s a tragedy Japan can’t host this event in its full glory. And he’s in two minds about how audiences will react.

“It’s sad for Tokyo, it doesn’t matter what anyone says. Imagine being an athlete there without a crowd, no physical connection with an audience to urge them on,” he comments. “The importance of sport is its positive energy and effect as a universal, multinational binding agent. But that has to be balanced with the fact people can’t go there. For viewers, there will be little atmosphere to enjoy.

“I still think the narrative of human endeavour will come through. And we’ll be like ‘wow, they’re actually doing it’.”

Brand commitment

Sport Five has run many partnership programs for the AOC, marketing the rare chance for brands to create relationships with the Australian Olympic team and leverage athletes, mascots and logos. Teams’ participation in various games is not supported by government so brands funds the AOC to safely get Australian teams where they need to be and safely back again.

To say this year’s logistics have been more difficult than ever would be an understatement. SportFive has 35 partners and 18 suppliers supporting AOC teams and marketing their relationships with the Olympics. Remarkably, all stayed firm while the Games were postponed.

“We’re hugely appreciative of corporate Australia, how they’ve stood by the Australian team. When the Games were postponed, we went to our partners and everyone, bar none, continued to support the team,” Moston says. He adds some ‘paused’ their plans but did not have to change content. SportFive even recruited new partners in the extra lead-up time.

“That says Australians care about Australian Olympians. They care greatly and they’re passionate about making sure our Olympic team is represented on the world stage,” Moston says.  

“[Covid difficulties] have enhanced the values of bringing humanity together and that's what the Olympics has always been about. We know this is a challenging time for everyone. Our Olympians represent the best of us. Particularly so because these athletes have had to do this campaign now in very, very different circumstances than normal. It’s still about having a go against the odds and doing your best despite the circumstances.”

Participation and the massive achievement of pulling this event together is well reflected in the campaign SportFive is running for the AOC and the catchcry, ‘Have a go’ across all media partners.

Like Moston, Seven West Media director of Olympics and chief revenue officer, Kurt Burnette, believes the Games are on in defiance of Covid; athletes continue to train and organisers planned in fiendishly trying times. This has reinforced traditional Olympics values because the public understands what all these participants and organisers are up against. Seven is one of the AOC’s important Olympic Partners.

Kurt BurnetteCredit: Seven West Media
Kurt Burnette


Burnette, who is a veteran of 12 Olympics, says he and the Seven team believe the Games represent hope at a time when everything, including the greatest show on earth, has been in doubt. Yet he also acknowledges the risks to all including Seven’s travelling production team. At times, he’s also asked himself: ‘What are the athletes thinking? And what are their parents thinking?’.

Burnette says he was warmly enlightened by one response to an Olympics update email Burnette sent to all Seven staff.

“The father of one of the young swimmers on our team, Ariarne Titmus, is a Seven cameraman in Brisbane. He sent an email back saying ‘this is fantastic, I love this positivity, my kid is so focused on this, and we as a family have been driving towards this moment’,” Burnette explains. “It gave me great insight into the passion of athletes and their parents.  

“We think most Australians will think when they see that flame lit that it’s amazing this event can happen in the environment we’re in, and that Covid didn’t win.”

Up next: How viewer demographics and engagement are transforming this year's Olympic engagement, plus the rise of new platforms and VOZ

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