TOKYO -- Becoming a Gold Partner for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics is thought to cost around 15 billion yen ($119 million) or so. But there are plenty of Japanese companies willing to shell out for that coveted status, believing it a good return on their marketing investment.
The hope among these elite Olympic sponsors is to create a festive mood that catches the eye of people around the world by helping make the Tokyo Olympiad a safe, flawless event.
Buying a halo
The 2020 Tokyo Olympic committee faces a tough challenge, as plans to build a new national stadium and other facilities using public money draw scrutiny due to cost overruns. Despite these difficulties, the committee has already selected 13 companies as Gold Partners -- the highest tier of local sponsor.
Being an Olympic sponsor is unlike supporting any other sporting event. Under the International Olympic Committee's "clean venue" policy, no commercial advertising is allowed at the venues.
Instead, Gold Partners are authorized to identify themselves as supporters of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and the Japanese Olympic team. They are also granted the right to supply their products and services to athletes and spectators. In other words, they can use this event as a showcase for their products and services by associating their companies with a global event that has the power to touch people's hearts.
For makers of sporting goods it is a straightforward proposition. Although they are prohibited from advertising at the venues, they can place one company identifier, such as a logo, on each piece of equipment. Japanese sportswear maker Asics, for example, will provide jerseys for the estimated 80,000 volunteers and clothing for Japan's Olympic team.
Asics enjoys solid sales abroad, but has lost ground to global competitors that have created attention-grabbing advertisements in Japan. Motoi Oyama, the company's president and CEO, said Asics plans to make structural reforms to its domestic operations. The most eye-caching item for the Olympics is clothing, he said. The company sees the quadrennial event as the perfect opportunity to get a step ahead of its rivals.
The IOC's principle of product-category exclusivity has shaken up existing partnerships and increased the number of sponsors. The IOC's worldwide Olympic partners include Japanese electronics maker Panasonic in the audio visual category and French company Atos in the information technology category. But the Tokyo committee chose another Japanese electronics company, NEC, in the categories of "specialist public safety equipment and software" and "network equipment." A third company, Fujitsu, is the official provider in the "data-center hardware" category. Telecom company NTT is in the "telecommunications services" category.
Panasonic and Atos have already begun working together on the 2020 games. They are developing security systems that combine the Japanese company's audio-visual technology with the French concern's skills in cybersecurity. Other Olympic partners will also team up. Their efforts to coordinate a wide range of technologies to ensure a successful Olympics may lead to unexpected innovations.
"Sponsors provide support for the staging of the Olympic Games and the operations of the Olympic Movement in the form of products, services, technology, expertise and staff deployment," according to the IOC. That is, they are partly responsible for making the Olympics a success.
For companies deploying advanced technologies at the event, the 2020 games have a special importance. With its biometrics and video analytics technologies, NEC will provide security solutions. NTT and Fujitsu are tasked with preventing cyberterrorists from causing havoc. "With the world's most powerful experts working together, we will hold a safe Olympics," vowed Tokyo Organising Committee President Yoshiro Mori.
The event also gives companies opportunities to develop and demonstrate new technologies. The previous Tokyo Olympics, held about half a century ago, featured many world's-first technologies. "We brought our parabolic antenna to the event free of charge and broadcast images of the games to the world," said NEC President Nobuhiro Endo.
For 2020, potential high-tech newcomers include multilingual translation services, monitoring systems that use image analytics and big data technologies, next-generation cars and alternative energies to power them. The Olympics can serve as a test bed for groundbreaking technologies that will give sponsors a leg up on their competitors in their own quest for gold.