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Volume 21 No. 2


Shortly before his visit to Tokyo last November, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach requested that the Japanese Olympic Committee organize an event with top executives from companies such as Toyota and Panasonic. Japan’s Olympic committee president, Tsunekazu Takeda, reached out to several corporate leaders and helped arrange the gathering.

The event gave Bach a chance not only to meet with top executives but also to spend more time with Takeda, who became an IOC member in 2012, as well as a firsthand glimpse of Takeda’s connections in Japan.

Tsunekazu Takeda was a surprise pick as the IOC’s marketing chief, but he’s well-connected in Asia.

“He’s well-connected with Japanese corporations,” said Kiyoshi Nakamura, Dentsu’s director of sports. “He may not be as connected to American or European corporations, but Asian corporations he knows well.”

That knowledge played a role in Bach’s decision last week to appoint Takeda as chairman of the IOC’s marketing commission, which oversees its $1 billion sponsorship program known as TOP (The Olympic Partner program). He follows Dick Pound of Canada and Gerhard Heiberg of Norway to become the first Asian chair of the commission.

The appointment surprised Takeda and executives of several TOP sponsors, who don’t know him. He wasn’t a member of the marketing commission and has been an IOC member for two years. But those who know him believe he will be a good fit for the job, especially as the IOC pivots toward Asia with a Winter Games in South Korea in 2018 and a Summer Games in Japan in 2020.

“He knows quite a bit about marketing,” Nakamura said. “I am sure he’ll be able to close two more [sponsor] spots in TOP.”

Takeda, 66, is a member of the Japanese royal family and former Olympian who competed in equestrian events at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. He was named president of the Japanese Olympic Committee in 2001. He also serves on the executive board of the Olympic Council of Asia, which is led by Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmad Al- Fahad Al-Sabah, who played a critical role lobbying for votes in Bach’s election as IOC president.

Under Takeda’s leadership, the Japanese Olympic Committee’s sponsorship program now has 29 sponsors collectively paying more than $100 million over four years. Major sponsors include Toyota and Asahi.

Those sponsors benefit from an image rights program developed under Takeda that awards them points they can exchange for use of Japanese Olympians in marketing and promotions. By comparison, U.S. Olympic Committee sponsors have to negotiate separate endorsement deals with Olympians to feature them in marketing.

In his role as marketing chair, Takeda will be responsible for managing the sponsorship sales and servicing efforts of the IOC’s TV and marketing services division. He also will be called on to pitch potential sponsors and help existing sponsors deal with problems that may arise such as issues over category protection.

“The marketing commission is different than other IOC commissions in that the chair has to be very involved in the process,” said Andrew Craig, a bid consultant who worked closely with Takeda during Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Olympics. “They have to meet with sponsors, and his human skills are of the highest order. He has the right diplomatic skills to work at the chief executive level.”

U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Larry Probst spent time with Takeda in Japan after the tsunami in 2011. Takeda gave Probst a tour of the Japanese Olympic Committee’s training center, and they talked about the devastation in Japan over the course of several meals together.

“He’s a very formal Japanese businessman who’s quiet but very friendly,” Probst said. “He comes across as a very capable person and has a lot of gravitas. I’m sure he will do well interacting with C-level executives.”

Takeda takes over the marketing commission at an important time in the 30-year history of TOP. The IOC has spent the last several years evaluating its TOP program and is considering changing the sponsorship program’s structure by reducing the number of partners, increasing the cost of a sponsorship or changing the mix of assets sponsors receive. The IOC recently signed an extension with TOP sponsor Panasonic through 2024. The deal nearly doubled the value of Panasonic’s sponsorship from $100 million over four years to almost $200 million over four years.

Takeda is to meet with Timo Lumme, IOC director of TV and marketing services, in the coming weeks to discuss the TOP program and the vision for the future. The IOC has 10 TOP sponsors committed through 2020, and Lumme said in February that it could add two more in the coming years. He also said that the organization could go in the opposite direction and reduce the number of sponsors.

Six months after being made a member of the International Olympic Committee, Larry Probst has been appointed chairman of the organization’s press commission.

The appointment is the latest evidence that ties between the IOC and U.S. Olympic Committee have improved over the last five years. Probst, who chairs the USOC, made that a priority in 2009 after Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics failed in the first round of voting.

He replaces Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper as head of the press commission and will have an important voice in the IOC’s social media policy for journalists, which has become increasingly important with the rise of Twitter, Instagram and other outlets. The commission’s primary responsibility is to act as a liaison between media and the IOC and ensure that the working conditions for journalists at upcoming Olympic Games are suitable.

In 2009, the idea that Probst would take on such an important role with the media would strike many as unlikely. He typically avoided the press and was guarded about the USOC’s activities. But that has changed in recent years. He now meets with U.S.-based Olympic media regularly and has pushed the USOC to become more transparent regarding its activities.