4 Reasons Why the Tokyo Olympics Never Got Off the Starting Block


Like clockwork, the Olympic Games yield enduring memories for Team USA every four years. From the superhuman athleticism of Michael Phelps in 2008 to the larger-than-life presence of Simone Biles in 2016, there’s been no shortage of made-for-TV moments in the 21st century alone.

Yet, despite Team USA’s best efforts, that streak came to an end this year in Tokyo. TV viewership plummeted by nearly 50 percent, marquee athletes were sidelined amid controversy, and the country’s collective interest in the delayed event has faded.

On the heels of the 2021 Olympic Games, we’ve outlined four factors that carry implications for the way major events are planned in the future, the communications strategies hatched by the world’s biggest brands, and how media companies generate and capture consumer interest:

  • Media budgets may change forever: NBC Universal invested more than $1 billion to broadcast 7,000 hours of Olympics coverage; the network’s advertisers reportedly spent more than $1.2 billion for air time; and official Olympics sponsors committed to four-year packages that start at $200 million. In the wake of Tokyo, these dollars will likely be reallocated to new media platforms that are managing to sustain and grow viewership (think YouTube and TikTok).
  • TV schedules can’t keep up anymore: Attracting an American audience for an event hosted on the other side of the world is a daunting task in any year. Drastic time zone discrepancies mean some events can only be viewed live at inopportune times, forcing U.S. fans to watch taped broadcasts hours later. Compounding the problem is today’s 24-hour news cycle, omnipresent social media feeds, and breaking news alerts automatically generated by smart phones, all of which have demonstrated a blatant disregard for spoilers. 
  • The pandemic is having an outsized impact: The writing was on the wall when the Olympics were delayed a year in hopes that the COVID-19 situation would be under control by summer 2021. Fast forward a year, and the virus hasn’t let up. This led to surreal circumstances. Stadiums were empty as events rolled on; athletes were masked during the Opening Ceremony; and Japanese residents were up in arms over the idea of hosting the games. Let’s hope things improve before the 2022 World Cup.
  • Cord cutting is changing the game: There was a time when the Olympic Games were must-see TV for American families – and it wasn’t so long ago. Five years ago, U.S. network viewership averaged 30 million people daily. This year, that number stands at 16 million. The exponential growth of streaming video has left many fans asking ‘where do I watch?’