Everything you need to know about Olympics advertising
With the Opening Ceremony marking the start of Olympiad XXXII on Friday, audiences, athletes and advertisers can all breathe a sigh of relief that the most turbulent and uncertain Olympic Games in recent memory have finally begun.
Delayed a year from its originally scheduled dates due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tokyo 2020 has not been an easy journey for anyone involved, with many crucial decisions that will determine the success of the historically reliable and brand-safe event coming at the eleventh hour. But despite some early trepidation, and a last-minute moratorium on allowing fans in the stands, this month’s Summer Games have not shaken the brands that sponsor them.
Below, Ad Age has compiled answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the sponsorships and ad spend surrounding this unprecedented Olympics.
Who are the sponsors of the Olympics?
The Olympics are always a major draw for sponsorship dollars, and despite some pandemic hiccups, the Tokyo Games are no exception. This year, the Olympics have netted more than 60 sponsor and partner brands at various levels of endorsement. Coca-Cola, Toyota, Visa, Airbnb, Samsung and Procter & Gamble are just a handful of Tokyo’s “worldwide partners”—the priciest and most coveted sponsorship tier—with several other well-known brands from Japan also getting in on this year’s sponsorship action, including athletic wear brand Asics, camera maker Canon and beer brewer Asahi. A complete list of Tokyo 2020 partners and details on their involvement in the international event can be found on the games’ official website here.
How much does it cost to sponsor the Olympics?
A lot of money. High-level Olympic sponsors typically sign multiyear deals to append their brand identity to the games, often throwing their investments behind the Olympics years before future host cities are even selected. (This is one of the reasons that some advertisers such as Visa, the “Official Payment Technology Partner of the Olympic and Paralympic Games through 2022,” might feel so familiar.) Basic, four-year sponsorship packages start in the neighborhood of $200 million but with two highly lucrative Western markets hosting the Olympics soon—Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028—the price of sponsorships is likely to go up, Bloomberg reports. And some companies pay even more; Japanese media suggested that Toyota committed $835 million for a sponsorship deal from 2017 through ‘24.
Can you use the word ‘Olympics’ in advertising?
It’s complicated. The International Olympic Committee and U.S. Olympic Committee both maintain expansive trademarks over their intellectual property, and there are a wide variety of things that are off-limits to advertisers, including but not limited to: the Olympic rings logo, trademarked hashtags such as “#TeamUSA,” any photograph taken at the games and words or phrases including “Olympics,” “Olympiad” and even “the Games” in certain contexts. The one major exception to this rule: if your brand is an official Olympic sponsor, which comes with the proper licensing agreements to advertise using Olympic IP. Non-sponsor advertisers would be wise to avoid any wink-wink connection with the games, lest they bring a lawsuit from a very image-conscious IOC.
Which are the first-time advertisers in the Olympics this year?
NBCUniversal, the Olympics’ perennial broadcaster in the U.S., announced recently that it is anticipating its largest-ever advertiser roster for the Tokyo Games, securing at least 120 different advertisers throughout the two-week event—a 20% increase from the number of brands who bought airtime on the network during the previous Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro five years ago. Of those 120, roughly 80 will be first-time Olympic advertisers, though NBCU has not yet divulged their names.
How much does an ad cost on NBC during the Olympics?
Unlike the Super Bowl, for which advertisers have been charged between $5-6 million per 30 seconds of airtime in recent years, brands looking to buy inventory from NBCUniversal during the Tokyo Games are not given a uniform price. This year, that’s largely due to the way NBCU—which over the next 18 months is also airing the Beijing Winter Olympics, Super Bowl LVI, Sunday Night Football and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar—packages ad inventory for blue-chip brands, often incentivizing advertisers to buy bundles of airtime across two or more of its highest-priced broadcasts. It is estimated that NBCU will have approximately 15,000 ad units available across the two-week Olympics. The company has previously confirmed that it expects Tokyo to exceed the record-setting $1.2 billion ad sales haul it saw during Rio 2016.
Does NBC always broadcast the Olympics?
NBCUniversal’s networks haven’t always aired the Olympics, but it’s hard to blame you for feeling that way. The entertainment giant has retained the U.S. broadcasting rights for the Summer Games since Seoul 1988, and the impending Tokyo Olympics will mark the 16th time NBC has aired the event—more than any other American media company. In 2011, NBCU’s parent company Comcast outbid competitors ESPN and Fox Sports for the Olympic broadcasting rights in the U.S., paying the International Olympic Committee more than $4 billion to air them from 2014 through 2020. A few years later, it extended its deal, forking over an additional $7.75 billion in exchange for exclusive rights to show the games until 2032.
How are advertisers reacting to a no-spectator Olympics?
Brands participating in the Tokyo Games have come to expect the unexpected amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Japanese government’s recent decision to ban spectators from Olympic venues—which were already off-limits to international fans and to be capped at 50% capacity for Japanese attendees—has been met with mixed reactions from advertisers. Companies have not pulled out of the games due to the spectator ban, but some may be questioning how events might come across on TV without a cheering crowd. In 2020, when the return of live sports meant near-silent games played in empty stadiums, brands persevered with new ways to engage audiences and, in some cases, even replicated the arena environment with prerecorded cheers and virtual spectators.
How much do Olympic athletes make to appear in advertisements?
Being an Olympian is far from a guaranteed path to riches, but there is a tried-and-true method to cashing in on the fame that comes with it: endorsing a brand or product. The value of such deals varies wildly depending on the profile of the athlete, the nature and depth of the sponsorship deal and the brand they’re representing. The specifics are almost always confidential, but brand partnerships can be lucrative: estimates put champion swimmer Michael Phelps’ net worth at approximately $60 million, much coming from deals with Subway, Under Armour, Visa, Wheaties and Speedo. Olympic athletes from the U.S. and several other countries can also take home “medal bonuses” for performing well in their events. At the most recent games in 2018, each gold medal earned the American winner $37,500, while silver and bronze medalists from the U.S. took home smaller five-figure sums.