Summer Olympics in Tokyo Postponed to 2021 Due to Coronavirus

Decision to delay leaves NBCUniversal with $1.25 billion-plus ad revenue hole for 2020

The Tokyo Olympics, which had been set to take place from July 24-Aug. 9, have been postponed. Getty Images
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Key insights:

In a move that has seemed inevitable for more than a week, the 2020 Summer Olympics have become the latest sports event—and by far the biggest—to be postponed as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The summer games had been set to take place from July 24 to Aug. 9 in Tokyo, but Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said this morning he has reached an agreement with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach to postpone the Olympics for a year, until no later than summer 2021.

The IOC confirmed the decision in a statement: “In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO today, the IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community.”

Despite now taking place in 2021, the event will still be called the 2020 Games, the IOC said.

The decision deprives NBCUniversal of what execs had long been calling “the media event of the year”—and a key element of its marketing campaign for upcoming streaming service Peacock—while leaving it with a $1.25 billion-plus ad revenue hole for 2020.

Update: A few hours after the IOC announced the postponement, NBC Sports said in a statement, “Given the unprecedented obligation we all face to contain COVID-19 globally, we fully understand the decision made by the IOC, Japanese government, and the health organizations they are working with to postpone the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics until 2021. We have no doubt that the IOC and Tokyo Organizing Committee will put on an exceptional Games next year, and that the Olympic flame will once again unite the world and provide a light at the end of this tunnel.”

As for how the postponement will affect the company’s Olympics ad sales, an NBCUniversal spokesperson said in a statement, “NBCUniversal is actively working with our advertising partners to navigate this postponement, and we’re exploring all options to best serve their brands and our consumers this year, and into 2021.”

The news comes after most sports events around the globe have been shut down by COVID-19’s spread. A week and a half ago, all major American sports leagues suspended play, leaving networks and advertisers scrambling. Several global sports tournaments had already been postponed a year, including soccer’s European Championship (known as Euro 2020) and the Copa America.

But as the IOC dragged its feet on postponing the Olympics, multiple countries said they would not take part in the Tokyo Games if they continued as scheduled, including Canada and Australia.

Postponing the Olympics will have a massive impact on Comcast’s NBCUniversal, which began marketing the event back in 2018. On March 3, the company said it had surpassed $1.25 billion in Tokyo Olympics ad sales—a new ad revenue record for the games—and had sold out 90% of its national ad inventory for the Summer Games, along with its Tokyo Paralympics ad inventory.

Discovery Inc., which has Olympics rights through 2024 in several European countries via Eurosport, will also feel a major ad revenue pinch.

Update: Tuesday afternoon, Discovery released the following statement about the postponement: “Discovery fully supports the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee’s plan to stage the Olympic Games in 2021 and to make every effort to ensure the well-being of spectators, athletes, staff and the international community. Our essential planning and deliverables are complete and will now shift into next year.  We will continue to develop our products and offerings to best serve our customers and marketing partners in 2021.”

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@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV/Media Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.