If the Olympics Are Rescheduled, How Will the Photographic Industry Respond?

If the Olympics Are Rescheduled, How Will the Photographic Industry Respond?

It looks like the worldwide pandemic has finally hit the biggest sports and photography event of the year, as the international Olympic Committee is looking at rescheduling the 2020 Summer Olympics. With this news, the big camera and lens companies may be looking at their newly announced, but as yet unreleased models, and could be wondering if waiting out the economic ramifications of the COVID-19 virus is the most viable idea.

Up until this past Sunday, the Japanese officials in charge of the Olympic sites on the ground, including the newly built areas that pertain to the sports themselves, like the housing areas for the worldwide teams, spectators, and professionals that cover the games, have ignored or dismissed any calls to postpone or cancel this year’s summer games. The IOC, the International Olympic Committee, has sided with those officials from Japan in an attempt to keep the likelihood of the games occurring intact, but the IOC has finally begun to waver in the face of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. 

The most recent hurdles have been coming from the countries that have some of the highest participation levels in the games, including Canada, in a March 22 statement, saying it would not send any athletes to the summer 2020 Olympic games. Canada’s Olympic Committee also requested a postponement of the games for one year in a statement, which was in a response to the IOC declaring in a March 17 letter that the games were still occurring on schedule. In response seemingly to Canada’s withdrawal, Australia’s Olympic Committee mirrored the apprehension of the Canadian Olympic Committee and stated they also would not be sending athletes to the summer 2020 Olympic Games to prioritize the health of their athletes. With both Canada and Australia leading the charge to, at the very least, postpone the Olympics, a number of other committees in Brazil, Germany, and Norway were also urging the IOC to protect the health of the athletes participating from each country and to postpone the Olympic Games.

Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, said on Monday that the decision to consider postponing the games, rather than a full cancellation of this year's Olympic Games, had been agreed upon with IOC President Thomas Bach this past Sunday. The timeframe for the postponement has not been decided as of yet with the possibility of a one-, three-, five-, or 12-month delay possible. The postponement of the games will be decided by the IOC over the course of "the next four weeks,” according to an IOC statement. 

Image by Pixabay, used under Creative Commons.

The Olympic Games are not just a worldwide athletic event, but an economic engine unto themselves that drives the advertising for a multitude of businesses, including the photographic industry. The big camera companies use the games not only as a testing ground for their newest cameras and lenses, but also as a way to show their captive audience what they should be using to capture the biggest sports and best athletes in the world. With a postponement of the games of several months, possibly moving to the end of the year or even 2021, does it make sense for these camera companies and the third party brands to push out new equipment? Without the advertising nudge they receive from the largest grouping of athletes and events in the world that are covered nearly 24 hours a day for almost two-and-a-half weeks by national and international television networks, the question will be if it makes business sense to release these new cameras or lenses at this time.

For third party manufacturers of lenses and for Sony as a now first-tier camera company, I don't see them suffering the same economic impact that the first party manufacturers will without the games going forward this year. With the consistent updates by both Sony and third party manufacturers, there isn't the pent-up value the games offer in comparison to the likes of Canon and Nikon. The value of the Olympics for the photographic industry as a whole is also in part from the business-to-business sales of equipment that many news and sports networks, as well as freelance journalists use to reinvigorate their inventories of equipment.

When covering the Olympic games, these groups also push out previous generation bodies and older lenses that may now be behind their counterparts and don't necessarily offer the best chance of capturing the instant and immediate value images of the human struggle. Athletes facing the highest levels of adversity need to be captured, sent, and disseminated in record time. Additional seconds to download and upload images to a sports or news network can mean the difference between when a sports journalist has an image on the front page of a paper or the tenth. The same goes for images hitting the online news cycle and may mean careers are changed or networks are less watched, which is a loss of advertising revenue simply because a camera had a slower upload speed.

My opinion is that Canon and Nikon are not only at a crossroads, but at a very difficult business junction due not only to the pandemic, but due to Sony and the loss of their user base from the lack of innovation up to this point. Though Canon and Nikon may have begun to steer their respective ships into new lanes that would see their user bases begin to grow again, the timing is quite possibly a few years too late. Announcements of new cameras and plans for releases don’t add to any bottom line if they aren’t out in the world and being used by photographers that are also advocating that that the piece of new equipment is what you, the consumer, really needs for your work. The question for everyone associated with the photography business in this current climate is: “How do we get through this?” The simple answer, though it may be the hardest to say, is that some of us, including the largest behemoths in the photographic industry may not make it through to the other side of this new economic reality, at least not in the form we know them now.

Let us know what you think of the IOC postponing the summer 2020 Olympics and if you see this as a harbinger of things to come among the largest businesses in the photographic industry.

Lead Image by Inspired Images, used under Creative Commons.

Log in or register to post comments

17 Comments

Better question:

"If the Olympics Are Not Rescheduled, How Will the Photographic Industry Respond?"

George Popescu's picture

They will be canceled or postponed for 1 year at least. The country will be closed to all foreign visitors next month, how do you expect people to come and compete?
There is no "if" there is only for how long will they be postponed.
I feel bad for all the merchandise that has Tokyo 2020 on it, both sold and unsold. What a waste of goods.

George Popescu's picture

Except that there are millions of them in the stores here in Tokyo sitting on the shelves, no tourists so no one is buying them.

Wolfgang Post's picture

2020 - The Games That Didn't Happen :)

I would come closer to buying a shirt or something
now actually.

VINICIUS YUZO ZUCARELI's picture

Not only that, but it will be much much smaller. With the world economy in shambles, unemployment rate over 20 or 30% all over the world, people won't care about the Olympics. They will be trying to survive starvation.

VINICIUS YUZO ZUCARELI's picture

You might be thinking about extremely rich countries, like the US, which has a small chance to not go down like that, but the rest of the world? Olympics will not be a priority, I guarantee you that

VINICIUS YUZO ZUCARELI's picture

I don't think you understand the magnitude of difference. Your UBI proposals would probably put non-working Americans in the top 1 to 5% richest in Brazil, or anywhere else in South America or Africa and many countries in Asia.
Minimum wage workers in the US are considered very wealthy anywhere not North America or Europe and Japan, basically.

Michael Dougherty's picture

I've not heard anything about crops not being grown and the distribution of food and essentials failing. After the initial run on grocery stores in SoCal, the stores are being restocked really quickly. There is absolutely no shortage of healthy and vegetarian foods. (Humor but true)

Professional photographers... You do it, we shoot it

Spec sheet obsesser... The other camera has 20fps

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

I wonder how big a deal this really is for Canon and Nikon, given we're talking about sales of their top tier equipment to a very small community of organizations and individuals with Olympic press credentials.

Canon sells way more Rebels than 1DX bodies, for example, and I'm not sure how what the photographers at the Olympics are shooting with has an impact on those sales.

Sony didn't need representation at the Olympics or any other press pools to achieve its market position. And people who are always going to buy the next Canon or Nikon flagship are going to do it, Olympics or not.

The real threat to Canon and Nikon is reliance upon the 4-year innovation calendar when the rest of the camera world is innovating like crazy.

I still own my Canon 5D3 because the 5D4 was not a compelling upgrade. That led me to give the Fuji XT2 a try as a "fun" camera. It immediately became my workhorse that I use for all my work, except when I need a 70-200 (not going to buy the Fuji version when I already have the Canon).

The XT2 came out in 2016. The XT3 (which I also own), came out in 2018. And the XT4 is already out, though it won't be shipping on schedule. And throw the XH1 in there, too, whatever year that came out.

I'm sure Sony has a similar pace of innovation.

Meanwhile, Canon releases a camera every four years that could have lots more in it, but they chose not to include things that everyone else included two releases ago. Those decisions are far more of a threat to their sales than than Olympics being delayed.

David Pavlich's picture

I'm going to make an educated guess and say that if the R5 lives up to the hype, there's a lot of photographers that will either come back to Canon or leave other brands to shoot with Canon for the first time.

I haven't jumped to an R because of the one card slot (5DIV shooter), but the R5 will have 2 slots and would give photographers access to some magnificent lenses. Canon is doing just fine.

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

I wouldn't say they're doing just fine.

The Olympics used to be Canon vs Nikon.

To allow a third competitor (Sony) to come out of nowhere to take market share on the Olympic stage is not doing fine from a business standpoint.

There was a time when Honda and Toyota (and more recently, Hyundai) were minor players in the American car industry. Due to a global economic crisis, some of the American car companies that had decades of head start no longer exist. 12 months prior, that was unthinkable.

The existence of the Sony A9 is not a small thing. Every A9 at the Olympics replaced a Canon or Nikon. That's not a small problem.

David Pavlich's picture

Do you happen to know how many cameras are at the Olympics? My guess is that it's a tiny percentage of total sports cameras being used today. I saw maybe two or three Sony cameras at the last pro tennis tournament I went to. The majority were Canon.

Nikon did a poor job of upgrading their flagship. Canon did a fantastic job placing their flagship at the top. Even so, flagship cameras are a tiny part of overall camera sales. Canon didn't react quickly to Sony, but now that they have, they've done so in fine fashion.

Of course, if the R5 is a dud, then all bets are off, but I'm guessing that it will be a success and will validate Canon's choice of offering high end lenses for their mirrorless line from the start.

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

That's actually the point I was making. The people shooting at the Olympics are select professionals using flagship bodies.

I don't see how delaying the Olympics will translate into economic ramifications for the camera companies. Those $5000 to $6000 camera bodies that would be in use at the Olympics don't really have anything to do with what regular people are doing, including non-sports/wildlife full time pros.

I don't expect the R5 to be a dud. I think the Canon folks have finally acknowledged that they can't deliver 70% features when all the other vendors are putting 100% into every body AND have a faster release cycle. Canon has the resources to out-innovate everybody, they've just decided to do the opposite for too long. I hope the R5 signals and end to that.

Those two or three Sony cameras being used at events where there were zero Sony cameras ten years ago is not something that Canon or Nikon executives will look at as a small thing. Ten years from now, it won't still be just two or three Sonys and each new Sony is a Canon or a Nikon loss.

If that R5 is fantastic, we can thank Sony for it. There's no way Canon would have done that without all the pressure from Sony.

Postponment is a chance for Nikon to fix the almost launch of the D6 to make it competitive with th Canon 1DX__ .