London (AFP)

"Sponsors prefer next year": the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics to 2021, announced on Tuesday, is good news for the event's sponsors, who must face, in addition to the new coronavirus pandemic, the danger of an economic recession.

"The sponsors (both local and international) prefer next year in any case (for the Games to be held), given the chaos it would have been at present," Martin Sorrell told AFP by telephone. , member of the Communication Commission of the International Olympic Committee, also one of the founders of the communication giant WPP.

Tuesday, faced with the Covid-19 pandemic and put under pressure from all sides by the sports world, the IOC postponed the Games which were to be held from July 24 to August 9, unheard of in peacetime.

For Sorrell, who left WPP in 2018, the questions opened by this change of program are numerous, starting with the calendar and the availability of infrastructure, but his confidence in the Japanese organizers, "extremely competent", is total.

For sponsors who have contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to be associated with the event, as for the rest of the economy, the times ahead will be tough.

- An "unrivaled" crisis -

This crisis is "without equivalent",, "the only possible comparison, it is with the periods of war", explained the veteran of the sector.

"I have experienced several recessions in my life, the oil shock of the 1980s, the bursting of the internet bubble in 2001, the financial crisis of 2008 ... Nothing has ever been faster than that", a- he assured.

"The second quarter of this year will be very difficult (for businesses), the third a little less and the fourth a little better, so there will be some signs of recovery by the time the Games take place," he said. valued.

The weight of sponsors vis-à-vis the IOC is however often overestimated, explained to AFP Martin Payne, former marketing director of the institution.

"Nothing is less true than believing that decision-making within the IOC is guided by business partners," said the 62-year-old Irishman, who in his almost 20 years in office has opened wide the door to sponsors.

"NBC (the American television network, the official broadcaster of the Games) has no seat at the table where the host countries decide."

"Decisions are made 100% on the basis of sporting considerations," he insisted, stressing that other bodies such as the football championships or Formula 1 - which he knows well for having worked there after the IOC. - are "much more commercial entities than the IOC, even if the amounts are less significant".

- "Optimism and hope" -

Becoming a member of the Olympic Partners Program (TOP), created in 1985 by the IOC, is not for everyone.

The dozen members, including Coca Cola or General Electric, have all invested more than USD 100 million to become the official suppliers of the Tokyo Games.

The IOC has also assured all the sponsors, whose rights expire at the end of 2020, that these "will be extended until the Games next year", noted Terrence Burns, a former marketing manager for the IOC and now vice-president of Engine Shop, a brand strategy agency which notably advises the German insurer Allianz on its partnership with the Olympic body.

"The key concepts in this extraordinary situation will be flexibility and fairness," added the man who also took part in 5 successful Olympic candidacies.

"Fortunately, the Olympic sponsorship agreements are precise and succinct in terms of the use of elements protected by intellectual property (...) Adjustments will be necessary, but I see no point of major difficulty, even less insurmountable ", he detailed.

And, once the crisis is over, the Games can regain their emotional dimension, he hoped.

"In the Games, at least for me, optimism and hope count as much as sport. If the global coronavirus crisis is contained or even ended next year, I think these Games will be a unique and wonderful celebration of Humanity and its triumph ".

© 2020 AFP