The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous damage to the world economy. Schools are closed and people have been forced to join the office exodus. With social distancing and empty streets becoming the new normal, we witness a change in human behavior at a scale never seen before.
While the impact of the present crisis is diverse depending on the geography and the type of business, one segment that has experienced disproportionate damage is the sports industry. March 2020 – supposed to be a busy sports month – saw an unprecedented number of cancellations and postponement of events all over the world.
The Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee have decided to postpone the Tokyo Olympics to 2021. The World Athletics Championships has been moved forwarded to 2022 and the Formula 1 Motorsports event is now expected to begin in May. Back home, in a cricket crazy country like India, the much-loved IPL has been put on hold.
Sports organizations, public officials and players are in an unenviable position. On the one hand, they have to address public health issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic and on the other, they have to take measures to minimize the economic losses caused by the cancellation of on-field games.
The challenges encountered by the sports industry are unique. With no ticket sales, sponsorships and broadcasting rights, the players are staring at the prospect of no pay and the clubs have to look at ensuring that the morale of the players have not been affected. In the US, the National Basketball Association (NBA) alone faced $350- $450 million revenue losses due to cancellation of games.
While health and safety of the public are of paramount importance, sports authorities cannot wish away the economic losses due to the disruption in this year’s sports calendar. Some of them may also face lawsuits from sponsors and broadcasters.
In this scenario, many sports associations and clubs are looking at holding the matches behind closed doors. WWE’s WrestleMania 36 took place behind closed doors in April. The show was aired as a pay-per-view event worldwide. Australia’s one day series against New Zealand was also played behind closed doors. Although the fans were not allowed in the stadium, the match was broadcast live on TV.
The players in these matches were advised to change their on-field customary behavior. They were told not to shake hands and embrace each other. Even the use of saliva to polish the ball was not allowed.
However, what is significant here is that some authorities are taking precautious measures to reduce the economic damage by providing content to broadcasters. Players are also willing to cooperate. Clubs are adopting technology and live streaming to keep their engagement with the fans intact in these difficult times.
While the 70,000 WWE fans in the US might have missed a chance to experience the drama of wresting in a stadium, the authorities managed to keep the spirit of the matches alive with live streaming. In any case, WWE events and their scripts are always pre-recorded. So not much to miss there.
The Australian experience shows that even cricket matches can be held without fans. Live streaming can always bring the excitement of a competition to your homes in real time.
In these challenging times, technology can help sports industry to ease the financial strain on the games. Holding closed door events show that games can be played without jeopardizing public safety. What these events need is a meaningful way to connect with fans online.
With the forced lockdown and cancellation of events, fans around the world have been asking “what are we supposed to do now?” With time on their hands, most are watching reruns of their favorite matches.
Even if the lockdown is lifted, it is unlikely that any government will allow a crowd of spectators to gather for a sporting event unless there is a vaccine for COVID-19. Another issue with the sporting events is that unlike other industries, lost time can sometimes exceed the economic damage as it can affect the fitness goals of players. Even if the game schedule resumes, the organizers have to ensure that there are no clashes in match calendars.
All these activities and re-scheduling call for coordination and concerted efforts. Technology can come in handy for leagues and tournament operators to connect with each other and reschedule events.
Stadiums across the world have turned off lights but you can plug into technology to connect with your fans. This is the right time for sports authorities and clubs to revamp their outreach programs. They can use emerging technologies like VR to offer their fans an immersive experience. Younger groups of tech savvy fans will lap up VR and its power to enhance sporting experience. Technology platforms can look at incorporating VR when telecasting old games and matches.
Fans would also be eager to watch videos of their favorite players during the time of a global pandemic. Sports clubs and leagues can upload work out videos of their players and their regular fitness regime for fan consumption.
Sports industry should realize that fan engagement technologies like live streaming and content platforms are important even without live sports. These platforms can help millions of fans reach a happier place during these gloomy times.
The coronavirus is not expected to go away anytime soon. But if you are engaged in sports industry you cannot wait any further. This is your time to devise plans to turn the corner on saving the industry from going down. You have to explore new possibilities offered by technology to connect with your fans and minimize economic damage.
Gemini Consulting & Services has the technology and platform to enhance your outreach. Our mobile apps can help you offer an immersive gaming experience to sports fans around the world. With Gemini as your partner, these extra efforts will ensure that once the games have resumed fans want to buy tickets to the games and sponsors renew their contracts with your organization.