By Melissa Francis
Let’s face it. Despite gearing up to be a high-tech display of Japanese culture and values, the Tokyo 2020 Games had plenty of obstacles standing in the way of greater success. Before it had even begun, the event was more of a political debate than sporting spectacle. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic played a huge part in that. It’s fair to say that no-one could have predicted that chaos.
But even before the pandemic hit, there was significant resistance from the Japanese public around holding these Games (as of June 2020, 80% of Japanese wanted it cancelled). In addition to concerns about COVID-19, many felt the increasing cost would outweigh the economic benefit.
Here, we analyse various aspects of how the Games played out, and what this means for Japan’s future.
What are the economic benefits of Tokyo 2020?
There’s no doubt that a boost in tourism would have accounted for a great deal of Japan’s post-Olympic economic vitality, and perhaps offset some of the estimated $23 billion USD loss that has been incurred. Without the positive impact of tourism, the Games was reliant upon domestic enthusiasm from fans looking to grab a slice of the Tokyo 2020 action. Even so, most of the benefit for Japan appears to come in the form of Olympic legacy—providing a solid foundation for future developments.
Here are a few of the positive outcomes associated with the Tokyo 2020 Games…
Increased awareness around disability
One of the main positives to come out of Tokyo 2020 was the emphasis on understanding people with disabilities. It gave the opportunity to align the riveting performances from the professional athletes with real-world issues that people with disabilities face every day. An initiative, called Wethe15, was launched by the International Paralympic Committee. The idea is to shed light on the 15% of the world’s population living with disabilities, and create more social inclusion and acceptance. Children from junior high schools in Japan were taken to watch the paralympic sports, giving them a new perspective on what can be achieved.
Success for Japan’s eco-certified seafood
Tokyo 2020 was mostly good news for Japan’s seafood industry. Because even though sales didn’t reach projected levels in the end, eco regulation and certification experienced a win. Japanese consumers are more and more willing to pay for fish and seafood products that are eco-certified, so the Games have really been a key facilitator for increasing awareness and participation in this sector.
Spearheading a more sustainable future
The Games was a key event to showcase Japan’s commitment to sustainability as a wider concept. The athletes’ medals were made using recycled metals and the winners podiums made from recycled plastics, therefore minimising required materials. The relay torches were also made using aluminium taken from temporary housing during 2011. Over the past year, many Japanese brands have adopted a more sustainable approach to how they do business, no doubt encouraged by the ethos of the Games.
And some of the negatives…
New infrastructure and displacement of locals
Building new venues and amending infrastructure for the Games has also taken its toll on local residents, as is often the case in host cities. Real estate prices skyrocketed, meaning that businesses were forced to close after years of trading. In Shinjuku, around 200 elderly tenants were evicted from their homes and relocated elsewhere. Dr. Mike Duignan and Dr. Judith Mair noted in their article for The Conversation that “unique local culture produced by vibrant local communities is what keeps visitors coming in the long term.” Tokyo may be a sprawling metropolis, but the colourful back alleys and quirky independent stores are all part of its charm.
No benefit for the disaster zone?
Tokyo 2020 was heralded as being great news for the 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake Disaster zone – namely Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate prefectures. The event was to be a beacon of hope for the reconstruction and economic empowerment of the area. According to a survey conducted by NHK in August 2020, 63% of respondents (all of whom live in the area) stated that they didn’t think there had been any economic benefit from the Games. The overarching feeling from residents is that the Tohoku region was simply used as a promotional stunt in order to win the Olympic bid.
Listening to the opinions of the Japanese public
We know that there was a split between citizens who saw Tokyo 2020 as a chance to rekindle the magic of Tokyo 1964 (as well as the subsequent Winter events in Sapporo and Nagano), and those who simply wanted the Games cancelled outright.
Despite the widely reported figure of 80% of Japanese not wanting the Games to run as planned, research conducted by NRI after the events had ended demonstrates that the picture turned out to be rather different.
They found that 56% were glad that the Games went ahead as planned. Here are the top 5 reasons why:
- ‘I could share in the athletes’ sense of achievement’ (64%)
- ‘The Japanese athletes’ got lots of gold medals’ (59%)
- ‘I got a bright and energetic feeling from it’ (58%)
- ‘I could watch types of sports I never knew about until now’ (42%)
- ‘It encouraged children to dream’ (32%)
Conversely, 44% were not happy about the Games being held, citing the following reasons:
- ‘It caused the Coronavirus to spread’ (86%)
- ‘The budget was exceeded’ (51%)
- ‘Before the event began, there was various controversy happening with the organisers’ (47%)
- ‘I felt sorry for the athletes competing in the heat’ (45%)
- ‘I didn’t feel a sense of excitement because there were no audiences’ (21%)
From this, we can see the COVID-19 had a massive impact on overall public sentiment, as expected. But equally, the organisational aspects were also largely responsible for the continuing sense of negativity – including the colossal budget increase and the various PR issues among the organising committee.
Before the Games began, 33% believed it was the correct decision to have no audiences at venues. This rose to 44% following the event.
Tokyo 2020 Sponsorship Deals
Let’s start with corporate sponsorships. This represented a bittersweet challenge for the Games. On the one hand, Tokyo 2020 managed to bring in three times the number of deals usually seen, totalling more than $3.6 billion USD. But, as the Opening Ceremony drew closer and COVID cases rose, some of the big corporates chose to distance themselves from the event.
Key sponsor: Toyota
Owing to strong negative sentiment from the public, Toyota decided to pull their official sponsorship advertising in the lead up to the Games. This lasted throughout the duration of the event. Toyota’s President, Akio Toyoda, also announced that he would not be attending the Opening Ceremony. Each of these gestures demonstrated a strong desire on Toyota’s part to lessen their association with the event and align themselves more with the public view. Given that Toyota is one of Japan’s best-loved corporates, this was a major blow to the overall confidence of the Games.
As one of 68 domestic sponsors, and an official Worldwide Partner for the Olympics, Toyota had signed a ten-year $1.6 billion USD deal with the IOC to be associated with the Games until 2025, so pulling ads was far from ideal for them, and the host country.
Representatives from other major sponsors; Panasonic, NTT, NEC, and Fujitsu soon followed Akio Toyoda’s lead in not attending the Opening Ceremony. Many were also sceptical about airing related advertisements, but not to the extent that Toyota was.
Fewer crowds, diminished revenues
The decision to hold sporting events with no physical audience also had a major impact on how sponsors structured their association with the Games. Because this decision had come right before kick-off, there was a last-minute scramble for sponsors to secure at least some benefit.
Gold Partner Asahi was hoping to make significant revenue from beer sales across the venues, but with the Japanese government banning alcohol, this was a no-go. Sportswear giant Asics, also a Gold Partner, knew that their sales boomed when Japanese athletes wearing their logo won medals, so were disappointed when they were unable to achieve such visibility. Travel agency JTB was forced to issue refunds for its Premium Olympic packages, which had been sold in advance for between $1,710 to $40,949 USD per person.
NEC and NTT, as technology partners for Tokyo 2020, were determined not to pass up the opportunity to showcase what they could do. Initially, NEC had planned to use their facial recognition technology to conduct temperature checks on the audience. But since this was no longer possible within the context of the Games, they turned their efforts towards other solutions, including the official Olympic & Paralympic app—which gained criticism for being too expensive to implement.
Before the Games began, 33% believed it was the correct decision to have no audiences at venues. This rose to 44% following the event. Between July – August 2021, Asahi beer commercials were the most viewed of all the sponsors, followed by Samsung Japan and Coca-Cola Japan. The Coca-Cola ads generated the most impact, especially with their Olympic theme song ‘Colorful’ featuring a range of Japanese singers.
See the music video for ‘Colorful’ below.
Tokyo 2020 PR mishaps
Public perception is important to Japanese companies and anything that could tarnish their reputation is often rejected. For the organisers, presenting the Tokyo 2020 Games in the best possible light was a priority, not only because of COVID, but also because of how crucial the topics of diversity and inclusion have become in recent times. These are also some of the core values that keep the Olympic & Paralympic brand afloat.
A number of key names associated with Tokyo 2020 were axed from the team after unsavoury details surfaced from their past which compromised their public image. Musician for the Opening Ceremony Keigo Oyamada was forced to quit after it emerged that he had bullied peers with disabilities at high school. Show Director, Kentaro Kobayashi, was asked to leave following footage of him making a joke about the Holocaust. What’s more, the Tokyo 2020 Chief, Yoshiro Mori, resigned after making sexist comments. Each of these incidents happened in fairly quick succession, too. This was definitely not an ideal situation, but at the very least responsibility was taken which helped the organisational team to get back on track.
Conclusion: How has Tokyo 2020 pushed Japan forward?
Being chosen as an Olympic host city was always going to come with its challenges. But Japan has shown, at least behind the scenes, that it is dedicated to promoting real societal change. This isn’t just limited to change for Japan itself, but also setting an example for the rest of the world to follow.
Controversy aside, the areas of diversity, inclusion, and sustainability were big wins for Tokyo 2020. This represents a turning point which brands can use to align themselves with growing consumer concern around environmental impact, accessibility, and delivering fairness for all. Whatever opinions exist about how the Tokyo 2020 Games were managed, the intangible benefits are perhaps greater than the tangible, and we’re likely to see this positive impact for many years to come.
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