Summer Olympics Postponed Until 2021

The Summer Olympics have been postponed with the coronavirus crisis growing worldwide. The Games were to be held in Tokyo starting in July. They will take place in summer 2021 in Japan.

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the announcement on March 24.

The games are traditionally one of the most-watched events on television and the postponement will leave Comcast, which has the U.S. rights and Discovery, which hold the European rights scrambling to figure out how to program those weeks.

"Discovery fully supports the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee’s plan to stage the Olympic Games in 2021 and to make every effort to ensure the well-being of spectators, athletes, staff and the international community," the company said in a statement. "Our essential planning and deliverables are complete and will now shift into next year. We will continue to develop our products and offerings to best serve our customers and marketing partners in 2021."

In a statement, the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach and Prime Minister Shinzo, said, “in the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO today, the IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community.

“The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present. Therefore, it was agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan. It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.”

Losing the Olympics won’t have dire financial effects on Comcast, which holds the U.S. rights to the game, or for Discovery, which has the European rights.

Comcast has turned profits on the last few Olympics. It’s contract with the IOC has clauses that anticipate big disruptions, insulating the company from large losses in the event the games are canceled, according to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.

“We’re protected there,” Roberts said at an investment conference on March 3. “We also have insurance for any expenses we make. So there should be no losses should there not be an Olympics. There wouldn’t be a profit this year. But again, we’re optimistic the Olympics are going to happen.”

Comcast’s NBCUniversal unit had sold more than $1.25 billion in national advertising for the Tokyo games, which tops the previous record set during the Rio Summer Games of 2016.

Discovery had been expecting to lose money on the Tokyo games, the company’s first summer Olympics.

On Discovery’s fourth-quarter earnings call, CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels told analysts that the company expected to post a loss in the $175 million to $200 million range in the third quarter because of the Olympics. That loss vanishes if the games are postponed.

Wiedenfels said that Discovery expects to break even over the life of its Olympic contract as the games drive subscriptions to its Eurosport player and Dplay subscription service. 

The Olympics have never before been postponed. The 1916 Summer Games were cancelled due to World War I and the Summer and Winter Games were cancelled in 1940 and 1944 due to World War II.

Bach said last week that canceling the Games outright is not an option. 

Abe said he asked IOC president Thomas Bach for a one-year delay, and Bach agreed.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.