The Modern Olympic Games

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Photo courtesy of the Associated Press
Photo courtesy of the Associated Press

When thinking about “Tokyo 2020” being played in the summer of 2021, comparing viewership of the Olympics to broadcasted sports during 2020 seems to be the right place to start.  The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games are being played a year late and without fans.  The question is how will television fans react.

Having no fans present will make profitability impossible, but that was already likely since costs of the Summer 2020 Olympic Games have gone beyond budget and of course a year delay in anything will create cost overruns.  NBCUniversal will be looking for ways to make back dollars spent on purchasing licensing to the copyrighted Olympic broadcast.  Technology, social media, data analytics, and encouraging fan engagement will help NBC and Tokyo accomplish that. 

With a year delay, Olympic and sports fans in general have waited an extra year to watch the games.  Athletes and trainers have spent an extra year, well, training.  There is indeed a desire for athletes to compete and fans to watch the Games. 

NBC, the official network broadcaster for the Games, is set to utilize its Peacock streaming service to reach more consumers.  That is a smart idea because an increasing amount of fans are cutting the cable cord and choosing a streaming platform to consume content.  The streaming innovation use will be the first of its kind on a widespread basis.  With no fans in attendance, NBC should do what it takes to increase streaming availability. 

The Olympic organizers, NBC, the city of Tokyo, advertisers, and the athletes would be wise to follow what professional sports leagues did during the worldwide shutdown to reach fans.  Athlete performance data is always interesting, but it is expanded and more important during the Olympics because the entire point of the Olympics is comparing and measuring athletic performance.  Professional sports played in leagues like the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, MLS, Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, etc. no doubt measure performance, but everything is in the content of points, runs, team wins, and winning a championship at the end of the season.  With the Olympics, everything is on the line immediately and usually in a solo act performance (plus athletes are competing and fans are rooting for their country).  Technology, the collection of privacy data of the health performance of Olympic athletes, and the analysis of that data by expert announcers and analysts will be essential to the success of the Games this Summer as an added benefit to fans watching the Games from a screen.

Content is still king, and distribution is still queen, so enhancing consumption through different camera angels, mic’d up athletes, and coaches should provide for interesting, fun, and dare we say the right amount of controversial dialogue.  Content distribution is also important as mentioned through NBC’s Peacock streaming platform, but so is social media sharing by NBC and the athletes.  NBC and the Olympics easing up their rules on sharing content (and use of the word #Olympics) might be helpful to increase engagement at home through the screen(s).   

Speaking of content and fan engagement, there are some new sports being added to Olympic Games this year.  According to the USA Today, the following new sports have been added: “karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing.  The other two sports, baseball and softball, are returning to the Olympic program after previously being cut.”  Those new sports will alone attract the action sports and traditional television audience that have been missing from the Games.  For example, action sports are mostly seen in the Winter Olympic Games (e.g., snowboarding). 

Tokyo will certainly miss the in-person fans and revenue that sports events bring to a local areas’ economic activity, but international sports and consumption (or recognition of those sports) has grown so much since the last Olympics and only continues to grow.  American and international fans will be listening in and watching for the next record to be broken.  Whether television and streaming viewership records will be broken is yet to be seen. 

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