In a matter of weeks, the risk of war on the Korean peninsula during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics has all but evaporated.
That’s cause for a big sigh of relief for NBC, corporate sponsors, their workers and guests, and it might even goose heretofore sluggish ticket sales in the region, experts said.
“I think the de-escalation of tension has been most welcome, by the world and our employees,” said Jim Bell, president of NBC Olympics production and programming. NBC will bring about 2,000 workers to the Games.
South Koreans and veteran Olympics planners have never thought an incident with the North was very likely, but ballistic missile tests and escalating rhetoric throughout 2017 cast a pall over Pyeongchang preparations. It even led to confusing threats, since rescinded, from the Trump administration to prohibit Team USA from participating.
In the new year, however, North Korea has committed to sending at least a 230-person delegation to Pyeongchang and a still-unknown number of athletes, who will march together with the South under a single flag at the opening ceremony. However ephemeral the thaw in international relations may be, it frees up the Olympic world for more pleasant matters.
The change in tenor comes too late to make much of a difference for international travelers and corporate hospitality guests, and the low interest from U.S. fans has always been driven by several factors in addition to a security risk. But it could make a difference on the margins.
“To the extent that anyone was still on the fence, that would be a good enough reason to get them off the fence and on the side of ‘Let’s go, let’s do it,” said Tony Fowler, senior vice president of GMR Marketing, which represents eight clients at the Games and hasn’t changed anything about its planning in light of the rapprochement with the North. “But we’re a couple of weeks away, so it’s hard to imagine too many people that are on the fence.”
Hayle Chun, vice president of partnerships and Olympics at Endeavor Global Marketing, said North Korean involvement likely will make the Games resonate more with some South Koreans, particularly those with more tolerant attitudes toward the North.
“The 1988 Seoul Olympics hold a special place in the hearts of many Koreans, who saw the Games as South Korea’s global coming-out party,” said Chun, a Korean-American who lived in Korea from 2014-17 as an employee of Samsung’s Olympic Marketing Group. “So for younger Koreans, who trend more liberal and open to reconciliation, they may view this as their own Olympic moment.”
Chun doubted it would cause a major surge in ticket sales, but he added: “I can see some Koreans wanting to be witness to history.”
Anything that shines a new, positive light on the Games in South Korea will be most welcome by Pyeongchang organizers, who had sold only 655,000 tickets, or 61 percent of their target, as of late December.
“[There are] still plenty of tickets for opening ceremony, which one would expect to become high demand with North and South marching under a unified flag,” said Ken Hanscom, chief operating officer of Invite Manager, a corporate hospitality CRM software provider. Hanscom has been closely tracking ticket availability for the Games. “Even the opening ceremony Category D [$200] tickets are available right now. Not sure that has ever happened this close before.”