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How Commercialization Influences The 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Around Tokyo Olympics - Day 11
Carl Court
Getty Images AsiaPac
Young men watch Japans men's semi-final football match against Spain on a laptop outside Saitama Stadium where the game is being played without spectators, on day 11 of the Tokyo Olympics on August 3, 2021 in Saitama, Japan.

There are 7,000 hours of sports to watch over the course of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and while it’s impossible to catch it all, global audiences have been watching it live or streaming on their TVs and devices. And in a year where more people are watching from home than ever, how does commercialization influence the Olympics?

Michael Mirer says that these games have been an interesting parallel to what we just went through watching our favorite American sports on television without fans in person. He's a visiting assistant professor in University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Department of Journalism, Advertising and Media Studies.

With no spectators allowed in Tokyo due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, broadcasters are trying to deliver a different experience to still get viewers invested in the Olympics.

"We're not going to have that chorus in the background telling us how awesome things are," says Mirer. "I think that's a big deal, especially in the Olympics, when we're not always familiar with the sports that we're watching so we don't even have the people in the background telling us things are going very well."

Mirer says NBC is doing a two-pronged approach — the 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Central Time broadcast, which is highly produced and includes short packages introducing the athletes, and then these same athletes are also heavily featured during commercial breaks over the course of the Olympics.

Typically, sports broadcasters focus on gymnastics, track, beach volleyball, swimming and diving, according to Mirer.

"We're going to see a lot of those athletes in commercials because then they're going to be on the screen. And then that benefits both the sponsor because ... we're more likely to sort of dig into their performance because we have an attachment, we have what's called a parasocial interaction with the athlete on the screen," he explains.

While many spectators see the Olympics as a way to highlight top athletes, Mirer says he thinks it's impossible to not see the Olympics as "a spectacle of capitalism and a spectacle of what we might call neoliberalism."

He notes that public money has been taken from Japan and repurposed into private enterprise, the International Olympic Committee doesn't pay for the infrastructure required to host the games and they won't be paying for the potential effects of COVID spread in Japan. Plus, "NBC will walk away with a tidy profit, as will broadcasters around the world," says Mirer.

Streaming options have become even more important for the 2020 Olympics, especially given the time difference between Tokyo and the U.S. and this allows for more commercial opportunities, he says. "The Olympics embody a lot of the social pathologies and social issues that we see in sports all over. The Olympics are not necessarily a celebration of athletic excellence — it’s a way to make money," Mirer says.

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.
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