Sport and Coronavirus

Coronavirus’ impact on sport will be more profound than anything we have seen in our lifetimes. All sports businesses will need to adapt to survive.

I’ve spent 25 years creating or re-imagining sports businesses through digital. This site is created to help you use the current hiatus creatively and effectively to prepare you for an uncertain future. Scroll down for a quick summary of 15 things you need to know now.

Join me for regular interactive webinars on the Coronavirus, sport and digital starting on Tuesday 14th April where, with some special guests, I will take a look at how digital people running major events, including the Olympics, are coping with change. Sign up here (you can also watch on demand).

Sports executives are asking themselves some tough questions right now:

  • How do I plan for the future when I have no idea how long this postponement of sport will last?
  • Are there short-term opportunities that I should be taking whilst the world remains in crisis?
  • How do I shift my business model now to be ready for an unknown future?
  • Is e-Sports an opportunity?
  • How can I invest in a new business idea when I’m not generating any short-term cashflow?

This guide is divided into five sections which addresses these questions and more: context, what’s happening in sport right now, what’s next for sport?, future of sport and how to reboot your sport.


Where is sport right now?

  • Sport is on hiatus and has gone fully digital.
  • From a short term commercial perspective, cancellation is the worst option for everyone but if your event falls any time before the autumn of 2020 it may be inevitable. That window may extend deep into 2021.

What’s next for sport?

  • Times are going to get tough. But let’s be clear, tough talk is cheap. Sport is not going away. People still value and enjoy sport. It’s part of our culture. Money and even health will not stand in the way of that.
  • There will be casualties among professional sports clubs and bodies. The survival, in some cases, of the least unfit. Professional sport will come back. There will still be opportunities to make money, just less of it.
  • However, some world famous athletes may finally take the opportunity during the hiatus to leverage their extraordinary individual reach, generate new content, create new formats and reshape the industry and their place and importance in it.
  • Coronavirus will not dampen the changes we are seeing in consumer habits, attention and technology, it will accelerate them. Digital will be at the heart of that change, no longer as a nice to have but as the primary way sport is delivered, consumed and talked about.
  • The power of sports marketing to deliver brand awareness and brand perception and a measured impact on sales is often discussed. It’s rarely proven. This must now change.
  • A properly managed, addressable digital audience can provide direct value to rights holders as well as critical leverage in broadcast and sponsor negotiations and valuations.

The future of sport:

  • Sports rights holders will have to get a proper grip of their digital potential, double down on relationships with existing fans, attract, engage and activate every potential digital fan, maximise digital returns from fans and sponsors and reduce dependence on broadcast deals.
  • A new business model, beyond the rights fee, with always-on digital content, audience growth and engagement and data at its heart driving direct and indirect value from digital transactions with fans may emerge. The hiatus is a great opportunity for rights holders and teams to try it out and get good at it.
  • Being more digital alone isn’t enough. We need to sort out all the things sport is generally bad at including governance, coordination between stakeholders, alignment of business objectives and having a defined purpose.
  • The sports industry lacks self-awareness. We are incredibly bad at thinking about what sport, especially our favourite sport, is actually for and why people like it. After Coronavirus has done its damage, professional sport will have to build trust and prove its value to the world. 
  • The legacy of Coronavirus is likely to include the powerful effect of the notion of sacrifice – giving up something however small for the greater good, large-scale civic engagement, a greater sense of our mutual dependence, respect for health workers and greater empathy with loss. 
  • We may also witness greater acceptance for leadership roles for women (who comprise over 60% of entry level healthcare workers), more appreciation for the great outdoors, nature, open spaces, and simple pleasures.
  • For sport this will certainly mean our great events can act as a release valve for a world emerging from one of the grimmest periods in our collective history. But also more focus on sport that is not played primarily for money, equality of both sexes and able and disabled sport, more demand for a carefree approach to playing sport among professional sportspeople and a focus on athletes who are less “bling” and more “bring”.
  • Reinventing your sport for a changed world will be harder than simply digitising it. You need smart people who love change and hard work. People who like building stuff, who can think in multi-disciplinary ways and who are used to inventing the future. We all need to become digital people now.

Find out how you can reboot your sport using digital and get in touch