When Molly Solomon took over as executive producer and president of NBC's Olympics production unit last November, she expected to be in Tokyo right now with the games in full swing. But with the Summer Olympics postponed a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Solomon and her team have reset their countdown clocks while trying to adjust to a new set of challenges.
Any Olympics provides plenty of compelling storylines, but Solomon says Tokyo's turn takes on bigger importance with everything that has transpired worldwide this year.
“We have tried to reset everything because what we are working on is even more important than forever,” Solomon said. “The impact of the Olympics is profound. The delay only adds to the promise.”
Everybody from NBC to athletes and prominent business executives around the world are hoping the Tokyo Games delivers on that promise after the pandemic created numerous issues for the Olympic movement on multiple levels.
NBC — which has the U.S. media rights through the 2032 Summer Games — had already done most of its features and taped promos before the International Olympic Committee postponed the games in March. With hardly any access to athletes currently, the network is asking them to chronicle their revised training routines for any updates or new features.
Other issues include how many people NBC will send to Tokyo. There are usually more than 2,000 in the contingent, but that is likely to be cut back, with an additional percentage of the production emanating from NBC Sports Group's headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut.
Solomon said that even though the production processes might change, how the network will cover the games will remain the same.
“We document the competition and the inspiring stories and introduce the host city,” she said. “After everything we have been through, people are craving anything from the ordinary to the extraordinary. It is still about the storytelling and the fascination with the athletes. People know Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky, but there will be other athletes emerge as well. There's always an interesting mix of familiar and new athletes.”
With three straight Summer and Winter Games being held in Asia, NBC has the advantage of airing most of the popular sports live in prime time in the Eastern and Central U.S. time zones. The Mountain and Pacific zones also will have live prime-time events after NBC went to a prime time-plus model instead of late-night shows in 2018.
But NBC also is facing a mammoth task that hasn't been encountered since 1984, which is one network doing two Olympics in a six-month span. However, NBC's task is more daunting when one considers the hours of production involved now.
ABC aired 63 hours from the Sarajevo Winter Games and 180 from the Los Angeles Summer Games, which were both records at the time. NBC's coverage from Tokyo will be more than 7,000 hours and the 2022 Beijing Winter Games 2,500. While ABC used only one channel for its coverage, NBC will again air across many channels along with online streaming.
“The fact that it is a big challenge is even more attractive to our team because the Olympics are the most complex to produce,” Solomon said. “The good thing about Beijing is there is a familiarity with the area (from the 2008 Summer Games), with the only new areas we have to see are the mountain venues.”
While NBC and the athletes work on their plans, advertising and marketing executives are looking to make the most of the extra time to prepare for Tokyo — while keeping Beijing in 2022 in mind as well.
Dan Lovinger, executive vice president for advertising sales for NBC, said in early March it had surpassed $1.25 billion for Tokyo, which already was an Olympic record.
Jeannie Goldstein, who has overseen marketing and sponsorship strategy for prominent Olympic sponsors such as United Airlines, VISA, McDonald's and Coca-Cola in the past, said the biggest unknown is the companies that have not committed yet beyond Tokyo.
“There’s this nebulous time period where not everybody has the rights to both of those games,” said Goldstein, a partner at Chicago Sports & Entertainment Partners. "Now, whether they step up or they figure out a way to get people to back 2022, I don’t know how, there might need to be some creativity on the sponsorship-sales side of this.”
Adam Lippard, the head of global sports and entertainment consulting for GMR Marketing, which represents half of Olympics’ top global partner program, is unsure if there will be a buyer's market for sponsorship and marketing deals, but he does see similarities between the upcoming Tokyo Games and the last time the city hosted the Olympics in 1964.
“It was really their coming-out party in 1964 off the backs of World War II. And now they have that same seminal opportunity to ... bring humans back together, reunite the globe," he said. "And I think as difficult as it has been on everybody within the Olympic family, from the organizers to the brands to the athletes, first and foremost, this is hopefully going to be a healing moment for everybody when we can get this event back on.”
Solomon and her team did a virtual toast on July 23, when the opening ceremony was supposed to take place. She thinks next year's ceremony could be just as important.
“It could be the most profound in Olympic history with many overcome challenges," she said. “It has the potential to be such and amazing and powerful moment.”
AP Sports Writer Jay Cohen in Chicago contributed to this report.
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