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  • Visa Committed to Its Tokyo 2020 Athletes


    (ATR) With the IOC postponing the Olympic Games to 2021, Visa has remained committed to athletes progress by continuing to extend their sponsorship. Visa's Chris Curtin, Chief Brand & Innovation Marketing Officer discusses Visa decision and the road ahead to Tokyo. 

    Chris Curtin, Chief Brand & Innovation Marketing Officer for Visa  (LinkedIn)
    Around the Rings: The postponement of this summer’s Games to 2021 has wreaked havoc on athletes’ training, not to mention their professional lives. So far Visa is the only sponsor we know of that has said it will continue to support its athletes for another year. How long did it take to come to this decision? What were the driving factors?

    Chris Curtin: Visa commends the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Prime Minister Abe for the decision to postpone the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 to 2021. At Visa, we are committed to supporting and celebrating our diverse and global roster of Team Visa athletes. We are proud of the program and the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls that make up our roster. We offered our Team Visa athletes the opportunity to extend their relationship with Visa, supporting them along their new path to Tokyo next year.

    This incredible community of athletes have continued to sacrifice so much and to have this vision suddenly disrupted is certainly stressful. It was a quick and decisive moment for us at Visa to ask ourselves, “Who are we and what do we stand for?” We hope that by providing some financial certainty, we can remove some worry and allow them to focus on what is most important. Right now, that is the health and well-being of their family and friends.

    ATR: What would you say to other sponsors who may be wavering?

    CC: While I cannot speak for other sponsors, I can say that at Visa, we are proud to support our roster of athletes who are training to compete in Tokyo. Part of that support means staying committed in our sponsorship obligations. Although a postponement changes the timing of the Games, it does not create any sort of wavering reaction that keeps us from upholding our promise.

    ATR: Visa sponsors nearly 100 athletes. What does this sponsorship include? A stipend? Help with training facilities (when they reopen)? Mental health support? Has it changed in anyway since the postponement?

    CC: Visa knows that successful athletes need to do more than just excel at their sport – they need to build a brand that attracts sponsors and fans that support them in their Olympic pursuit. Team Visa does just that – we invest in them and help provide useful resources for a career beyond athletics.

    Five-time Olympic champion Katie Ledecky is part of Team Visa.  (Wikimedia Commons)
    In November 2019, we hosted over 40 Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls at the Visa headquarters in San Francisco for the Team Visa Summit. At this summit, we offered sessions on the benefits of digital payments, best practices to improve financial literacy, insights into the Japanese payments ecosystem and ways these athletes could establish their voice through social media.

    This program is a point of pride for Visa. Since 2000, we have supported and celebrated more than 500 Olympic and Paralympic Games hopefuls. For Tokyo, we are committed to supporting a roster 90+ Team Visa athletes. As the road to the Olympics moves to 2021, we are proud to offer the opportunity to extend the sponsorship with Visa into 2021.

    ATR: Visa had some of its ads ready to go. How are these being re-tooled, and when would you expect to start airing them?

    CC: In mid-March, we had a majority of our Olympics-centric creative completed and nearly four months left before Opening Ceremony when the decision to delay was announced. Though the news caused an initial disappointment and heartbreak, we quickly saw the power of the Olympic spirit shine. Athletes everywhere shared messages of support; they spoke of resilience in the wake of uncertainty and encouraged unity in a time when we have never felt more distant – this was a true reflection of the humanity that the Olympics evoke.

    To help further spread this message and share our own support for Team Visa, we called on our incredible athletes. We asked them to film themselves using smart sanitary practices to prevent the spread of coronavirus, such as handwashing, applying hand sanitizer or social distancing. As a result, we released a series of PSA-style videos, starring athletes Sky Brown, Katie Ledecky, Sean McColl and Kenneth Tencio.

    Through our athletes – a set of people we deeply believe in – we preached that we are all in this together and better days are ahead. This message has been shared on our owned channels as well as via the social channels of our select athletes.

    ATR: In every disaster there is opportunity somewhere. Can you see any opportunities yet? Is the additional year of marketing and sponsorship a silver lining?

    CC: In the true spirit of the Olympics - athletes, fans, sponsors and partners will continue supporting one another, proving that no delay can hinder the resilience of a united, global Olympic community. We are proud to be part of a group that promotes such comradery, unification, and determination.

    Visa will continue to support the Japanese government’s “Cashless Japan” imperative, which aims to double the total payments made digitally to 40% by 2025. We are working to educate Japanese consumers in conjunction with METI and other partners to work towards that goal.

    Visa is excited to be at the core of that international commitment and we look forward to delivering innovative payment experiences at Tokyo 2020. For the months ahead, we are eager to collaborate with all relevant parties to ensure the Games are a success in 2021.

    : Visa's sponsorship ends this year. How are you handling that? Will the sponsorship just be extended by one year?

    CC: In 2018, Visa announced our continued support of the Olympic Movement and the Olympic Games through 2032. Our rights extend through the Beijing Olympics 2022, Paris Olympics 2024, Winter Olympics 2026 and Los Angeles Olympics 2028.

    ATR: What does Visa get from its Olympic sponsorship?

    CC:The Olympics is unique because of its multi-national spirit and potential to unite the world. As a brand it also allows us to create tailored experiences that both celebrate and positively impact the host market. There is virtually no other market in the world today that compares to Japan – it is the world’s third largest economy and a leader across many industries, yet commerce remains predominantly cash-based, especially for small ticket transactions.

    As a leader in digital payments, we have a responsibility to help Japan’s citizens understand the speed and ease of digital payments. To do so, we are exploring innovations and implementing technology that enhances fan experience during the Games so that once the competition is over, we leave behind a legacy of digital innovation.

    We look forward to celebrating Japanese culture, economy and innovations on a global scale. As for the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls: we will showcase the power of a unified - yet beautifully diverse - Olympic community.

    Homepage photo: LinkedIn

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