The 2020 Tokyo Games—as they will still be called next year—will now be held July 23 to August 8, 2021. This gives Olympic marketers a leg up in their planning, with even the most conservative estimates indicating society and culture should be relatively back to normal within a year’s time. While other sports marketers are in limbo, Olympic marketers can proceed with their plans with a level of confidence that is uncommon at this time.
The Olympics also provides a unique opportunity for marketers to create alternative content to run in the summer of 2020 that is focused on the athletes themselves, as well as other games-related creative when, come July, fans and consumers will still be craving Olympics-tied content.
There are three directional pivots that brands should be thinking about:
Leaning in to personal stories and personalities
Olympic athletes are uniquely differentiated from their professional peers in that many of them, particularly in the less-popular sports, are amateurs in the truest sense. They plan entire four-year cycles toward being at their best in the Olympic year, and often put other potentially more profitable endeavors on hold in order to accomplish this, working retail or administrative jobs to support themselves and their training, simultaneously. As a result of the postponement of the Games, many are now scrambling to set themselves up for the next few months.
While the focus of most cause-marketing campaigns in the next few months will be COVID-19-related, and for good reason, brands should also be considering opportunities to support and lift up athletes who may have lost out on the significant exposure and financial opportunities they were planning for, and counting on, for the past four years. If done with the right touch, highlighting these stories in a personal, sensitive and authentic lens will provide both a platform for these notable athletes during the Olympic gap and give consumers a form of the Olympic content they will likely be yearning for, come July and August.
Leveraging bonus access to active athletes
Additionally, the postponement of the games opens up an opportunity for brands that are not official Olympic sponsors to engage with Olympic talent. Traditionally, the IOC’s Rule 40 prohibited non-Olympic sponsors from working with current Olympic athletes during the Games. While the IOC significantly relaxed Rule 40 stipulations in 2020, measures such as a registration and separate contracting process, and limits on branded partnerships between active athletes and non-sponsors, remain in place during Olympic timeframes.
While these regulations will still be upheld in 2021, with the games no longer happening this year, brands will now have access to “active” Olympic athletes during that July-August timeframe for which they would otherwise have been restricted (or severely regulated). This means brands now have the ability to work with active athletes in more meaningful ways throughout summer 2020.
Many of these athletes have strong reach and powerful stories that brands would have been unable to access, had the Olympics gone ahead as planned. Leaning into current technology, brands should be looking at virtual panels or fireside chats, connecting athlete stories to relevant industry topics, and hosted on platforms like Instagram Live to leverage talent followings (complying with social-distancing measures) and maximize their reach and exposure.
Tapping into history and nostalgia
Finally, Olympic marketers should also look to leverage a phenomenon that has been proven in other sports during the early stages of this crisis, to which the Olympics has greater access than any sports league or property—historic moments.
Classic replays of old sporting events are generating massive interest among sports fans who are missing the current incantations. Later this summer as we begin to hit historic Olympic anniversaries, marketers could take advantage by partnering with the retired athletes at the center of these moments, or rising stars who have been inspired by them.
As we approach the period on our calendars when the Olympics would have been held, fans who had been looking forward to this edition of the games for years will be seeking relevant content to fill the void. By leveraging fan cravings, Olympic nostalgia and the ever-growing consumption of digital content, brands can seize this moment to pivot and fill the gap.
Contributing: Brian Wedl, director of influencer & celebrity strategy, ITB Worldwide; and Timothy Lay, account manager, ITB Worldwide.