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Tokyo Games Present Opportunity to Reimagine Olympic Signage Rules

With the quest for Olympic glory finally underway in Japan, the competitions we are witnessing on various screens have a different look and feel thanks to coronavirus restrictions.

But one element remains the same from previous Games: no commercial signage in any of the venues, except for plenty of Olympic marks and symbols. (And if you don’t consider the Olympic movement a commercial venture, there are a few billion proof points that say otherwise.)

If there was ever a time to rethink the longstanding IOC policy mandating “clean” venues, it is these pandemic-postponed Games.

For starters, this would provide a “makegood” to the worldwide Olympic partners that have collectively provided billions of dollars in sponsorship but cannot execute any of the on-site activation, B2B hospitality and other business- and brand-building plans they had for Tokyo 2020.

Although signage is by no means an equivalent benefit that could accomplish the same objectives, we know from last year’s example of many pro sports properties in the U.S. and elsewhere that sponsors highly value the additional camera-visible assets they were provided in stadiums and arenas that were empty of fans.

More importantly, it would link sponsors, however passively, to the aspect of the Olympics that fans care about most—the athletes and the competition. As noted in our last post, Olympic partners currently must spend many additional dollars and resources on their own to try to forge such a connection.

To keep intact the well-intentioned desire to limit over-commercialization, the IOC could require that sponsor signage must be more than just a brand or corporate logo. It could insist that to be seen by the viewing audience, the signage must include a socially responsible message, lending the sponsors’ and Olympics’ powerful voices to important causes.

For inspiration, the IOC and its TOP partners could look to the well-received effort by luxury watchmaker Hublot when, as a UEFA European Championships partner, it converted all of its pitch-side sign boards to promote an anti-racism campaign.

Regardless of whether the IOC considers making a permanent change to its clean venue policy, a revision would be well worth implementing at least for the remainder of these Olympic and Paralympic Games.

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