No-spectator Olympics dashes sporting items makers’ PR hopes

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With the Tokyo Olympics kicking off largely empty stadiums in just a week, Japan’s major sporting goods manufacturers have largely abandoned their plans to use the event to promote their brands – and hope for a boost in sales.

The Olympic Games, which have already been postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Tokyo is in the new state of emergency due to the renewed increase in coronavirus cases, will begin on July 23 with no spectators in the stadiums of the capital and at many other venues in Japan.

A worker at an Asics Corp. store in Osaka organizes items in its special corner for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games on June 30, 2021. (Kyodo)

Given the mood, companies are backing down in game-related advertising to anger a public worried that the Olympics could become a virus super-spreader event.

In Osaka’s Shinsaibashi business district, the sportswear manufacturer and major Olympic sponsor Asics Corp. put his Tokyo Games corner at the very back with little fanfare.

“Originally we wanted to show the athletes’ sportswear for the opening ceremony in front of the store,” said one official, but the plan was changed due to complaints received from some outlets in the area and elsewhere about promotions with the Games.

Some stores have also done away with eye-catching advertisements.

As expectations about the impact of the Olympics on brand awareness decline, Asics President Yasuhito Hirota said at a press conference in May that “Olympics-related revenues are likely to be lower than originally projected.”

Running shoe sales have been solid as more people become health conscious amid the pandemic, but licensed Olympic merchandise sales are expected to be well below the company’s original target, he said.

The change in the policy of Olympic organizers from holding the Games with a limited number of fans to holding them behind closed doors came after the government decided in early July to close Tokyo by May 22nd.

While fans have been banned from events in Tokyo and the surrounding Saitama, Chiba, and Kanagawa Prefectures, and Hokkaido and Fukushima Prefectures, it is expected that spectators will continue to be admitted to events in Ibaraki, Miyagi, and Shizuoka Prefectures.

Public opposition to holding the Olympic Games remains strong. A poll by Kyodo News in mid-June showed that around 86 percent of people in Japan were concerned about a recovery in COVID-19 cases when the Tokyo Games take place this summer.

The survey found that 40.3 percent think the games should be played without an audience and 30.8 percent think they should be canceled.

But the souring of sentiment surrounding the Games isn’t the only blow the pandemic has dealt sportswear makers.

Descente Ltd., which owns the rights to sell brands such as Le Coq Sportif, Munsingwear and Umbro in Japan and other parts of Asia, stepped up its advertising strategy in 2020 by launching new swimwear models and promoting them to star athletes.

The strategy failed, however, when the games were postponed for a year due to the pandemic and large retailers were forced to shut down or cease operations to curb the spread of infection.

“At times like these, it is difficult to whet consumer appetites,” said a Descente public relations officer.

Research by Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting Co. and Macromill Inc. showed that the sports-related market in Japan shrank 30 percent year over year to 1.6 trillion yen ($ 14.5 billion) in 2020.

The decrease was largely due to decreased opportunities to practice team sports like soccer and baseball, while people spent more time exercising at home, according to a study conducted in September 2020.

Shoichi Arisawa, an analyst at IwaiCosmo Securities Co. who is familiar with the management of companies like Asics, whose main business is in western Japan, said it is time for companies to “review sales methods that are based on the performance of famous people.” Athlete.”

As the demand for individual sports such as running and exercise increases amid the pandemic, companies should use social media to raise the profile of their products, Arisawa said.