NBCUniversal Expects to Rake in More Than $1.2B for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Kazuhiro NOGI/AFP/Getty Images

Dan Lovinger, executive vp ad sales, NBC Sports Group, said the network is pacing “significantly ahead” of its sales goals compared to the last Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

NBCUniversal executives expect to surpass $1.2 billion in ad dollars for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. That’s what the company took in for the last Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Dan Lovinger, executive vp ad sales, NBC Sports Group, said the network is pacing “significantly ahead” of its sales goals compared to Rio, but he would not disclose the total ad dollar target for Tokyo.

“In a world where media fragmentation is common, there are very few places to go for massive scale, reach and message memorability,” said Lovinger. “And the Olympics are at the top of a very short list.”

NBCUniversal is planning to carry more than 7,000 hours of coverage across broadcast, cable, digital and social. It’s unclear what, if any, programming will go to NBCUniversal’s still-gestating over-the-top service, which is set to launch in 2020. But Lovinger told reporters Tuesday during a conference call that those internal discussions are ongoing.

In a first this year, NBC Sports will sell all of its Olympic advertising on a viewer guarantee across all platforms, employing its proprietary TAD (total audience delivery) measurement tool.

Lovinger touted the Olympics' “brand safe” environment as well as the Games’ timing — they fall between the political conventions — as a respite from the election coverage that will dominate the news cycle in the weeks leading up to and after the Games. (The DNC is scheduled for July 13-16, while the RNC will be held Aug. 24-27.)

The Tokyo Games, said Lovinger, “will be the most unifying event in our country in years.”

Of course, the Olympics in particular often include a geopolitical narrative. During the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, there was much criticism about the country’s preparedness and instability, particularly problems of crime and poverty. And in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the run-up to the 2018 Winter Games was marked by concerns about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s nuclear saber-rattling. In the end, athletes from North Korea joined their peers for the Opening Ceremony parade of nations in an unprecedented show of unity.

But in the Trump era, when the president has taken direct aim at athletes for voicing opposition and the obligatory White House visit by championship teams has become a political football, the Olympics are likely to include some form of political speech.

Lovinger said media buyers — most of whom eschew overt ideological programming — have not expressed any trepidation about the potential for politicization during the Games.

“Everybody roots for one team,” he said. “There’s no red or blue. There’s just red, white and blue. I can’t predict what athletes will do in a live situation and neither can our producers. There may be some political discourse, but I guarantee it will be far less than what’s going on at the political conventions the weeks prior and after.”

NBCUniversal paid $4.38 billion in 2011 for the rights to broadcast the Olympics through 2020. And in 2014 it extended its grip on the largest global sporting event, shelling out $7.7 billion for the Games through 2032. But viewership for all content, even live sports, is experiencing declines in a rapidly splintering media environment. Tune-in for Rio and Pyeongchang, while still dominant, experienced erosion. NBC’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Winter Games averaged 19.8 million viewers a night across NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports streaming platforms. (The overwhelming majority of viewers — 17.8 million — watched on NBC.) That was down 7 percent compared to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, which did not air on NBC Sports Network, nor was it streamed. But even with some erosion, the Games will still obliterate the competition. NBC’s primetime coverage from Pyeongchang out-delivered its broadcast competitors by 82 percent every night. 

“We’re still going to deliver over 200 million viewers in 17 nights," said Lovinger. "We’ll average over 15 million viewers in any given night. You can’t find that kind of scale anywhere else. I think advertisers recognize that even if there’s a slight decline in overall reach, [the Olympics] is still dominant.”