June 16, 2021

The Japanese are scolding, the sponsors are shaking

The Tokyo Olympics put Japanese sponsors under pressure. Faced with a mostly reluctant local public opinion because of the pandemic and the risk of a closed door, they still hope to benefit from a mondovision exhibition during the event.

The Tokyo Olympics put Japanese sponsors under pressure.


About sixty local sponsors (including Asics, Canon, Fujitsu …) have injected 3.3 billion dollars (2.7 billion euros), an unprecedented amount for the Olympics. And among the major partners of the TOP program, involved in several Olympics, are the Japanese giants Toyota, Panasonic and Bridgestone. All are anxiously scrutinizing the development of the situation and the vast majority of them are waiting.

“Part of the frustration of the population is directed against the athletes, which saddens us as a sponsor (…). Honestly, we wonder every day what should be done ”, confessed Jun Nagata, director of communications at Toyota last month.

For the first time, an official partner of the Olympics, the Japanese daily Asahi, called last week for the event to be canceled due to the persistent threat of covid in Japan, where the vaccination rate is still very low. The big left-wing Japanese newspaper also denounced the “selfish nature” of the IOC, seeming eager to organize the Olympics at any cost, despite the fears of the local population.

“Very complicated”

Some bosses of large Japanese companies not associated with the event have already fired red balls: maintaining the Olympics would be a “suicide mission”, launched the CEO and founder of Rakuten, Hiroshi Mikitani.

Openly supporting the Games is “very complicated” at the moment for Japanese sponsors, says Norm O’Reilly, director of the International Institute for Sport Business & Leadership at the University of Guelph. “I would advise them to stay focused on supporting the athletes,” he said.

Having already given up in March to the public coming from abroad, the organizers of the Tokyo Olympics (July 23-August 8) have yet to vote this month on spectators residing in Japan. A very small gauge, or even a camera, are likely options.

If this were to further widen the budget deficit of the Games, the impact should however be “very limited” for the main sponsors, who rely more on their exposure during the event to billions of people via television and streaming, according to Mr. O’Reilly.

“In most countries, people are desperately waiting for the end of the pandemic and a return to a certain normal life, so seen from this angle, I think that the interest (for the Olympics) will be very high, and that is what the sponsors want, ”he said.

Find the right dosage

For Taisuke Matsumoto, a business lawyer specializing in sports and a teacher at Waseda University in Tokyo, the smaller Japanese sponsors would be “the most affected” by a closed door or close conditions. Because in Japan, “the distribution of free tickets is a very effective tool for sponsors in their public relations” with their customers and professional partners, he explains.

The companies, whose Olympic sponsorship is limited to Tokyo 2020, were almost “unable to carry out their promotional activities” related to the event last year due to its postponement, nor so far due to lingering concerns. , adds Matsumoto.

However, a turnaround by local sponsors against the Olympics is unlikely, according to him: “I think the case of Asahi is an exception. He published his editorial as a press organ, and not as an official partner ”of the Olympics.

Japanese cultural traits, such as concern for “harmony” and restraint, also mean that local sponsors should not individually oppose the Olympics, according to Matsumoto.

“I think sponsors are still wondering how to understand covid, while communicating on inspiring sports stories,” says John Davis, consultant in branding and sport. “It is not an easy formula to find. But that does not mean that we must avoid “looking for it.