The Consequences of No Spectators in Tokyo on the Olympic Movement

(ATR) The ramifications of empty venues will be painful. To Tokyo 2020, Japan, the IOC, sponsors, broadcasters. and Beijing 2022.

(ATR)While viewed as a necessary pandemic precaution for the safety of the Japanese people, the ramifications of empty venues will be painful. To Tokyo 2020. To the IOC. To sponsors and broadcasters. To Japan. To Beijing 2022.

It’s historic. Never have spectators been blocked from the modern Olympics. And at the peak of the ancient Games nearly 3,000 years ago spectators were part of the scene. Thousands of travelers from all the city-states flocked to Olympia. Men, women and children would set up camp for a few weeks in the Peloponnese to celebrate the ancient world’s best athletes – probably without tickets.

More than eight million ticketed spectators were expected for Tokyo before the coronavirus pandemic struck. Foreign spectators were told months ago they were not welcome. This week came the ultimate blow with the decision to bar even reduced capacity seating for domestic spectators.

From ticket revenue that was expected to approach $1 billion, Tokyo can now put a zero for that line item in the ledger.

The year-long delay has already cost Tokyo hundreds of millions, although a good portion will be covered by the IOC. Whether the IOC would cover the lost ticket revenue has not been announced. But even paying a fraction of the forfeited ticket income will add to the budget woes the IOC is suffering as a result of Tokyo.

The IOC’s rainy day fund of $600 million is already in peril as a result of the postponement. If the IOC needs to cover all – or some – of the ticketing deficit, funding for NOCs, athletes and international federations could be affected.

On the Tokyo 2020 side, billions have been spent to make the Olympics and Paralympics safe and comfortable for spectators. There’s $900 million for security. Billions more have been spent to build venues with seats by the thousands that now will be empty.

Far fewer than 70,000 volunteers will be needed without crowds of spectators trying to find their way or their seats in a venue. So far there’s been no announcement on whether there will be volunteer or staffing cuts as a result. Uniforms, accreditation and training are among the expenses that may go to waste.

The Tokyo decision on spectators will be felt in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, which are now just six months away. Expect Beijing and the IOC to agree to a similar plan to exclude foreign as well as domestic spectators. Beijing is already more than one year behind the usual timetable for a ticketing program, but organizers have yet to make any announcements. Sources at NOCs around the world tell Around the Rings they are certain that overseas spectators won’t be welcome in Beijing.

The atmosphere may be the most dramatically affected by the no-spectator policy. Venues will be absent the cheers, groans and chanting that are visceral punctuation marks of sports competitions.

The panorama of flag-waving, outrageously costumed spectators won’t be part of the Tokyo story, or for that matter, Beijing next February.

Without spectators, sponsors who spend mightily to link their brand to the Games have no need to activate in the host city, whether with signage or pavilions to exhibit their wares. With Tokyo a bust, sponsors are unlikely to make plans now for Beijing if spectators aren’t there either.

Even pin trading will be a casualty of these Games in a bubble. With coronavirus protocols limiting access to athletes and officials, pin collectors will be cut off from a major source of ephemera -- if they were only allowed to travel to Japan.

Broadcasters of the world are the largest source of revenue for the Olympics. They will face the challenge of delivering coverage of a Games with a soundtrack of silence. This will be abundantly on display for the opening ceremony July 23. The newly built 80,000-seat National Stadium will seem cavernous with most seats empty and silent. It will be an awkward backdrop for what is usually a noisy and dramatic overture to the Olympics.

It may be tough for the broadcasters, but the people of Japan will be the biggest losers. The total spectator ban will deny them the chance to roar with approval when the Japanese team enters the stadium as the final delegation in the parade of nations.

The silence will be deafening.

Reported by Ed Hula.