The Tokyo Olympics will probably take place in a few months, a year late. It will be – because of Corona – a different Games than we have had in the past. The peaceful coexistence of nations, the colourful mix of spectators from all over the world and the almost tangible Olympic spirit – all this will only be felt in a rudimentary way. Tokyo will make the best of this special situation and present itself as a worthy host. We will see exactly how it feels when the XXXII Summer Olympic Games start on 23 July and the media coverage will once again be tremendous.
Tokyo 2021 is so close, Beijing 2022 so far away
Often forgotten about Corona and the postponement of Tokyo 2020 is that just 6.5 months after the opening ceremony in Tokyo, the next opening ceremony is already upon us: that of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Something I look at with mixed feelings – and this despite the fact that Olympic Games are THE highlight in sport for me. But first things first:
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided in July 2015 that Beijing would host the 2022 Winter Olympics. The Chinese capital narrowly prevailed over Almaty in Kazakhstan by 44 votes to 40. This makes Beijing the first city in the history of the Olympic Games to host the Winter Games after the Summer Games. And the Olympic Games will be held three times in a row in Asia after Pyeongchang 2018 and Tokyo 2020 (or 2021, if it actually takes place) – another first. If one believes the IOC, Beijing could score points above all with the organisational experience of the 2008 Summer Games. This is by no means to be dismissed – Beijing put on a phenomenal show in 2008.
Winter sports resort Beijing?
But Beijing is not exactly known as a winter sports resort. At first glance, the Winter Games in Beijing seem just as surreal as an ice hockey world championship in Brazil. Or a football World Cup in Qatar. Okay, that was a saudoof example. But maybe not: the Qatar example shows that in the end the fuller bank account can be the decisive factor. At the end of the day, is Beijing perhaps a hitherto unrecognised winter sports venue and is the IOC’s choice therefore totally logical? If you ask the Chinese national OC, the answer is without a doubt: YES. However, winter sports traditionally play virtually no role in China. But with the bid for 2022, a lot has happened: especially in the north of the country, extensive ski resorts have been built to attract the middle classes to winter sports. The fact that in China’s warmer and more densely populated south, winter sports are still completely under the radar in 2021 is completely ignored in the state-orchestrated reporting.
Infrastructure provides access to snow
Apart from that, Beijing undoubtedly has many attractions to offer, but one thing is missing – in contrast to past hosts like Calgary, Lillehammer or Vancouver – snow. The Chinese winter sports concept therefore relies on a lot of artificial snow and long distances: half of the approximately 100 Olympic victories will be awarded in the mountains in Zhangjiakou, about 170 kilometres away. The alpine skiing competitions, bobsleigh, luge and skeleton are to take place in Yanqing, which is located between Beijing and Zhangjiakou. A high-speed train will cut the journey time to Zhangjiakou to 70 minutes; that to Yanqing to around 20 minutes. The new railway line will cost the same billion euros as the expansion of the Yanqing ski resort. As ‚compensation‘, numerous sports venues from the 2008 Summer Games will be used in Beijing itself (after appropriate reconstruction): the Water Cube, once the Olympic swimming arena, is to become the Ice Cube for ice hockey. In addition, the opening and closing ceremonies will be celebrated in the famous 2008 Olympic Stadium, the Bird’s Nest.
National Stadium in Beijing / 2008 Olympic Stadium (Source: Shutterstock)
Everything that the IOC was committed to years ago (sustainability, environmental protection and turning away from gigantism) looks different. Even if the political situation in Kazakhstan looks anything but rosy: Almaty would have been the better choice in view of this philosophy. The Kazakh city with millions of inhabitants had advertised low-budget games and short distances. By 2017, 80 per cent of all sports facilities were to be ready, regardless of the Winter Games, and all competition venues would have been only 30 kilometres away from the Olympic Village. Moreover, Almaty could boast a very special asset: Snow. Lots of snow.
Why Beijing 2022?
For that we have to look at the economic parameters. Basically, the IOC owns the sole marketing rights for the Olympic Games and the symbol of the five rings. And the financial value of these rights has grown disproportionately in the past 15-20 years. Not only TV, but increasingly also major global sponsors have recognised the power of the Olympic myth for themselves. No other event has a comparable (communicative) ace up its sleeve with its associated values such as peace, fairness and international understanding. All this led to the IOC’s revenues almost doubling from 2.6 billion USD to 5.4 billion USD from the 1993 to 1996 Olympic period, which included the Games in Lillehammer and Atlanta, to the 2005 to 2008 period (Turin and Beijing). The fact that the Olympic Games in Vancouver, London, Sotchi, Rio de Janeiro and Pyeongchang have once again significantly increased these figures comes as no surprise to anyone.
Aerial view of the winter sports ‚metropolis‘ Beijing (Source: Shutterstock)
While on the one hand almost 50% of the revenue comes from the sale of media rights, on the other hand the volume of sponsorships is also growing permanently. In order to generate maximum sponsorship revenue, the IOC has launched a two-tier sponsorship programme.
The Olympic Partner – the symbol for premium sponsorships
The first group of sponsors belongs to the so-called TOP programme (TOP is an abbreviation for The Olympic Partners). The twelve TOP sponsors each receive the worldwide marketing rights for the specific product category in return for payments of millions. TOYOTA is one of these TOP sponsors for the mobility category. The contractual start of the sponsorship was set for January 2016 – initially only for the Japanese market and then globally from 2017. Neither TOYOTA nor the IOC gave any details on the financial scale of the contract. Japanese media, however, mentioned the sum of approx. 820 million USD for the period until 2024, which would then be one of the best-funded sponsorship contracts of all time. In view of the ‚Asian era‘ of the Olympic Games, it is not surprising that the Alibaba Group, for example, is also a TOP sponsor. The other members of this elite circle are: airbnb, Allianz, Atos, Bridgestone, Coca-Cola, DOW, GE, intel, OMEGA, Panasonic, P&G, Samsung and Visa.
National sponsors: big market = high revenues
The international TOP sponsors are joined in the second group by additional national sponsors. The group ‚only‘ receives comprehensive marketing rights in the host country for their investment. But even for this, the companies are willing to pay a lot – especially if the Olympic Games take place in a growing market like China. However, these revenues do not go to the IOC but to the respective organising committee.
How powerful are the sponsors in the awarding process?
One thing can be quickly deduced from this whole sponsor construct: The bigger and more interesting the markets of the host countries are, the more the Olympic Games can benefit from financially strong national sponsors. And the TOP sponsors will also care whether they are allowed to present themselves to the Chinese population or ‚only‘ to the Kazakh population. Can we really deduce a causal connection with the awarding of the 2022 Winter Games to Beijing? It is conceivable. But it is just as possible that the IOC representatives would simply rather spend a few weeks in China than in Kazakhstan. Or, or, or … I don’t believe in blanket bashing of the evil sponsors or fundamental criticism of the IOC. Of course, I would be very interested to know how such awards are actually made – but it is probably unrealistic to find out.
My plea: sustainability instead of gigantism
I say: it is about time that the IOC awards the Olympic Games to a city that not only proclaims economic and ecological sustainability but also implements it with passion. Whether the subsequent Olympic Games in Paris (Summer Games 2024) and Milan / Cortina d’Ampezzo (Winter Games 2026) will fulfil this claim? I can’t say. But the chances are much better than in Beijing.