Updated | posted by

Why Airbnb is partnering with the Olympics in time for Tokyo 2020

Airbnb is set to announce a multi-year sponsorship with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ahead of Japan 2020, a major marketing deal for the brand as it readies for an IPO. 

It's attracted the company into the sponsor stable with a new 'experiences' category. Airbnb would join 13 other top-tier sponsors including Coca-Cola, Samsung, Visa, P&G and Panasonic. 

The deal is still to be confirmed by either IOC or Airbnb, but according to reports, will be in place for Tokyo 2020 and will run through to 2028 LA games.

Airbnb will focus on its 'experiences' business, rather than its accommodation output - with the IOC's 'hotel' category still up for grabs. 

Dan Tunna, a comms consultant with experience of working on Olympic Games, said the deal would be “huge for Airbnb”, by far its biggest investment in sport.

“The eyes of the world will be on Japan in the summer of 2020, and strategically it makes a lot of sense, offering global brand exposure at a time when Airbnb is preparing for an IPO and in desperate need of a good news story to improve its perception, reputation and credibility.”

Meanwhile, Jon Tibbs, founder and chairman of international sports agency JTA, noted for helping bring the Winter Olympics to Sochi, said that the move shows the continued pulling power of the Olympics and represents the ability of "the five rings to attract established and emerging global brands".

"There are very few global platforms that offer brands such an opportunity to activate integrated marketing programmes and achieve multiple business objectives,” he said. 

While the talks are occurring unusually late with less than a year to Tokyo 2020, Tibbs said there is still provide plenty of time for Airbnb to deliver some major activations. “Given the nature of Airbnb, there is huge scope to create programmes involving existing customers as well as attracting a whole new customer base,” he said. 

Beyond its accommodation business, Airbnb looks to be filling an experience and adventure space once dominated by the likes of Groupon. Although it remains to be seen how the brand will be activated, only having a minimal involvement in sports sponsorship before, some hints have previously been dropped.

Airbnb chief executive Brian Chesky told Nikkei before news of the partnership emerged that the Games could "really help put Airbnb on the map" in Japan. He outlined that "Airbnb was started for [such] events" indicating that the partnership may have been in the brand's DNA all along.

With or without the partnership, with its large presence in Tokyo during the high-traffic Olympic games, Airbnb was going to be heavily integrated. Tibbs said: “A great Olympic experience begins with having a unique base from which you can explore the city, region as well as attend sporting events. Safe, secure and totally different from ubiquitous global hotel brands.”

It takes some brands decades to build legitimacy in sports. Airbnb has only dabbled in sports partnerships, a deal with basketball's DeMarcus Cousins being the most recent, and historically, the New York City Marathon. Last year there was also a World Surf League 75 Experience execution, perhaps serving as a tester for this more high-profile event.

On how the Tokyo 2020 partnership will be executed, Tunna added: “Many fans attending in Japan will be seeking a once-in-a-lifetime experience and Olympic host committees see the Games as the ultimate vehicle to promote the national culture alongside the sporting competition."

Airbnb's challenge will be delivering authentic experiences and carving out meaningful campaign activations in a crowded market. In particular, it will be jostling for engagement with the other sponsors.

With the brand looking to go public in 2020, an Olympics uplift could well deliver a strong boost to its value. While it is not obliged to share profits, it did claim to breach $1bn in revenue in the third quarter of 2018 alone. It will hope an association with the Games will help it win gold.

Featured by The Drum

1