David Owen

On July 2, 2015 in Tokyo, Tsunekazu Takeda, President of the Japanese Olympic Committee, told me that Tokyo 2020 had already hit its ¥150 billion (£1.09 billion/$1.38 billion/€1.2 billion) domestic sponsorship target – more than five years in advance.

Fine, but why bring this up now?

Well, as it lays on breakdancing displays for the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Coordination Commission in Marseille this week, Paris 2024 is fast steaming towards the same five-years-to-go milestone.

Yet it has signed up just one sponsor – the banking group BPCE, which had been a partner of the French National Olympic Sport Committee (CNOSF) since 2010.

It emerged last week that one of the biggest French multinationals – the oil company Total – had ruled out becoming a sponsor due to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s increased campaigning for environmental initiatives.

Meanwhile, by far the buzziest Olympic marketing story of recent months was April’s deal between NBCUniversal and Los Angeles 2028, which will see the broadcaster collaborate on media and sponsorship opportunities.

You could argue, in other words, that the City of Light is being outshone in its marketing efforts by the hosts of both of the Summer Games that will precede Paris 2024 and those that will follow them.

So is it time for Lausanne, which goodness knows has plenty on its plate at the moment, to be getting agitated?

Actually, I don’t really think so, not yet – even if our French friends have not got off to the fastest start imaginable, and even though things could get hairy if Western Europe’s increasingly unpredictable politics were to tip the regional economy into a tailspin.

For one thing, notwithstanding President Emmanuel Macron’s recent proposal to shut down the elite École Nationale d’Administration, France still has a formidable grande école-based old boy network.

The French state also retains shareholdings in a relatively wide range of industrial and service sectors, such as transport and energy.

Even if fully private entities were to start to manifest cold feet about the value proposition of sponsoring the 2024 Olympics, I would expect those groups where state influence could most readily be brought to bear to bring out their cheque books uncomplainingly.

Marlène Masure, Paris 2024’s executive director of business development and partnerships, alludes to “a sense of responsibility” when events like the Olympics come to France.

Tsunekazu Takeda is due to step down from his role as President of the Japanese Olympic Committee this month after being implicated in an alleged bribery scandal connected to Tokyo's successful bid for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games ©Getty Images
Tsunekazu Takeda is due to step down from his role as President of the Japanese Olympic Committee this month after being implicated in an alleged bribery scandal connected to Tokyo's successful bid for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games ©Getty Images

This was after I got in touch to discuss whether Paris was falling behind the eight ball.

It is also true to say that Tokyo 2020 – now up to 63 domestic sponsors including 15 Gold Partners – is a bit of a special case.

A fairer comparison would probably be with London 2012.

And here I note that, while the British project was often praised for getting quickly into its marketing stride, Paris actually signed up its banking partner with longer to go before opening night (2,142 days) than London (1,962 days).

Having said that, London 2012 subsequently proceeded to nail down top-tier sponsorship deals with impressive regularity, with respectively 1,843, 1,772, 1,634, 1,605 and 1,485 days to go before the sporting action started and the first gold medal was handed out at the shooting venue in Woolwich.

In our interview, Masure – who joined from Walt Disney in April after Frédéric Longuépée left for a job in football – does not appear remotely worried.

“We are in the process of building the business development team,” she said.

“I was in Tokyo last week… we don’t feel late in any sense.

“It is just a question of taking time to build a partnership that makes sense for both parties.

“Time is our friend in this case.”

As Masure also touches on, the innovative approach adopted by Paris in certain areas means the full range of commercial opportunities has not necessarily been worked through yet.

For example, the planned mass events may offer sponsors new avenues to boost their brands via signage or t-shirts or perhaps even live streaming, depending on whether Paris 2024’s domestic broadcast partner is interested in screening them.

She describes Paris 2024’s overall domestic sponsorship target of $1.125 billion (£883 million/€993 million) as “very reasonable”.

Masure even tells me at one point: “We already know which are the big companies that will be on board." 

It is too early then for Olympic bigwigs to be losing any sleep over Paris 2024’s so far less-than-extensive list of signed-on-the-dotted-line sponsors.

After all, they have plenty of other stuff to keep them awake at the moment.

There again, in their shoes, I would want to see BPCE joined by other confirmed backers well before the Olympic Cauldron is lit in Tokyo.

As I write, that is still more than 400 days away.