With Tokyo 2020 now just a year away, Campaign asked the man who orchestrated Tokyo’s winning bid for the Games, Nick Varley, for his views on the brand, sponsor challenges, and what the event will ultimately do for Japan.
A former journalist, Varley has worked in the sports sector for 25 years. He no longer manages bids for sporting events, a process he says has become obsolete. Last year, after dissolving the bid specialist Seven46, he set up Look Up Communications to focus on sports-related content marketing.
How do you think people internationally perceive the Tokyo 2020 brand?
Most people will think nothing of it because it won’t be on their agenda yet. But Thomas Bach has said Tokyo 2020 is setting new records for being the best-prepared games ever. Certainly, four years ago we were in Rio, so in comparison to that, you can’t fail to look good. Just by not being Rio, Tokyo is doing well but I think it’s doing a lot better. People are expecting it to be a great event.
When is it going to come fully on the international radar?
We’re now in the period where an increasing number of people will be looking towards Tokyo. The Rugby World Cup, by accident, will add interest and people will start looking at Japan as the host of two events in quick succession. The volume dial is starting from zero now and will turn up all the way to next May or June.
Could the organisers be promoting it better?
I think Tokyo 2020 is about where it should be internationally. When they unveil their motto that will be a big moment. That’s when you start getting a much bigger international profile—when you start communicating in an international language.
How damaging do you think the corruption allegations will prove for the way this event is ultimately perceived?
The reality is that those allegations are very serious, but the general public will almost entirely ignore them. As soon as the Olympics come on everyone is only interested in sports, for better or worse.
What do you think made London 2012 stand out as an Olympic Games, and what do you think will make Tokyo 2020 stand out?
What made London successful was a very clear vision of what it was about. The choice of venues putting sport in unusual places was a great success, and let’s not forget the operational side of things. The beauty of London was that everything worked seamlessly, which isn’t necessarily what we may expect [in Britain]. This will also make Tokyo stand out. The operational side will be flawless. I also think some venues will go down as landmarks of global sport. I’m sure the New National Stadium will be hosting other significant events over the next 10 or 20 years. The other thing that Tokyo has in common with London is that it’s a genuine global city—it resonates with the whole world.
London 2012 seemed to bring out the best in people creatively. Do you think the same will happen in Japan?
The interesting thing for me will be how Japan presents itself to the world. Everyone in the UK who watched the opening ceremony was sitting there slightly concerned about what they were going to see. They didn’t want it to be all about tradition. They wanted to portray a modern United Kingdom to the world and in the end they did, so it was a triumph. What face of Japan will the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony portray—will it be one that’s forward-looking and all about cool things and technology or will it be a little more backward-looking and focused on tradition? The balance there will be fascinating to see.
Are sponsors well-prepared in terms of activation or have they left things late?
The challenge is the clutter—the sheer number of sponsors. There are so many of them that finding their own sweet spot, an area they can own, is going to be very difficult. There’s a limited bandwidth to activate in anyway and that’s going to be diminished per sponsor.
Do you think the Olympic Partners will ultimately recoup value? Will it really be good for their business?
I’m sure it will be. You’re associated with the world’s most powerful brand, in the world’s third-biggest economy—a major, major market that happens to be in Asia, which is obviously the world’s biggest growth area. If you look at the deals the IOC has done, brands are renewing their sponsorships and new brands are coming in at the top level so there’s clearly still very high perceived value.
What do you thin Tokyo 2020 will do for Japan’s own brand, and how can the country keep the momentum going after the event?
London 2012 gave the population an enormous sense of achievement and self-confidence because everyone could see what a great job was done. The approval ratings were in the high 90s. I think you’ll get that in Tokyo, a sense of doing a good job. But then how do you take that forward? One thing the British government has done well was to run its biggest ever advertising campaign [the Great Britain Campaign]. It’s a question of using the platform you have from the Olympics to market your country—how you can get 10 years’ worth of value out of two weeks of sport.