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Where is sport now?

  • Sport is on hiatus and has gone fully digital

At the end of 2019 we were looking forward to the battle for team tennis between the ATP and ITF, Tokyo 2020, Euro 2020, the Ryder Cup and the Hundred, Liverpool’s EPL title race, New NFL stadia, the XFL and getting angry about VAR. How things changed.

The growth of streaming, the growing importance of the FAANGs (the big tech companies) in the media rights landscape, the demand for behind the scenes content, Saudi Arabian investment in sport, and the power of one-off streamed specials like Logan Paul vs KSI however may be themes that may grow, not retract. Disruption is on its way but some of it may look familiar.

Sport short term: Cancellations

Every major sporting event and league has been postponed for the foreseeable future or outright cancelled. This includes, at last, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Some events have announced new dates already – Euro 2020 will take place on the same dates in 2021 and the French Open have announced, ambitiously, a new date in September. The J League has already decided that no teams will be relegated this season, should it ever restart.

An excellent and up to date resource for the the current state of cancellations is Snavie

Sport short term: Business operations

  • Every contract is under review and every client relationship will be revisited.
  • Cancellation is the worst option for everyone but if your event falls any time before the autumn of 2020 it may be inevitable. 

A lot of the best minds in sport will now be fully focused on contracts, clients and colleagues.

Nothing is more important than the health and welfare of your employees. If you’re a senior manager or C-level executive and you’ve read this far and haven’t made or been party to a plan to look after your employees please stop here and come back when you have.

Every contract will be under review and every client relationship will be revisited. Coronavirus will be the bad guy because only “force majeure” can make the best of a messy exit from obligations (you might find this force majeure flow chart (a download) from law firm Lewis Silkin useful). The basic test will be: if business could have gone on, force majeure or no, grounds for compensation will be diminished.

Any season or sale cycle that is underway or planned in the next three years will be significantly impacted. Already initial conversations about playing sport behind closed doors have moved on either because practically games in the near term seem improbable or, worse, distasteful.

Life first. Damn it. Everything has to be moved to the next season. It is time for realism, gentlemen. This is the plague

Brescia president Massimo Cellino in Yahoo News March 22nd

Adam Silver of the NBA, always ahead of the game, has floated the idea of a charity game based on testing. Speaking to Rachel Nichols he said: “One of the things we’ve been talking about: Are there conditions in which a group of players could compete? Maybe it’s for a giant fundraiser or just for the good of the people.”

A game played under those circumstances could take place between players who were tested, quarantined and isolated. The NFL on a parallel track have hinted at linking testing to contracts. This porn industry approach to athlete participation may prove to have scientific, practical and ethical loop holes.

A number of broadcasters are discussing delayed payments or reimbursement. Nent, the Nordic broadcaster, was one of the first to call for compensation while simultaneously reducing package prices. Sky in the UK is offering customers the right to suspend their Sky Sports packages without losing access to the non-live content its channels are currently showing.

Equally rights holders will be keen to remind broadcasters of their obligations should rights holders find a way to postpone and reschedule events or play them behind closed doors. From a short term commercial perspective cancellation is the worst option for rights holders as it likely triggers compensation clauses in contracts. There is still dilution of product risk and potential for claims should matches take place at strange times or in crowd-free venues.

Sponsors and licencees will have had to cancel entertainment and hospitality as well as plans for product and service delivery whether delivered as value to rights holders in VIK or delivered as part of commercial rights.

On a more prosaic level supply chains breakdown will affect sporting equipment, food and beverage supply, and transportation.

Intangible services may also have an impact – the boss of an Indian IT outsourcer told me that he thinks no more than 40% of his workforce can work from home given the undersupply of both broadband and laptops in the Indian market and that NASSCOM, the trade association of the Indian IT industry may not prioritse support for businesses that do not serve key industries.

 

Sport short term: Digital substitution

In an excellent and eloquent piece for SportsPro Eoin Connolly pithily explains how sport has reacted to the early days of lockdown:

Already, sports media, clubs and leagues are exploring ways of staying relevant, digitally, in their enforced hiatus. Some are dipping into the archives to relive old experiences, others tinkering with interactive challenges or crowdsourcing content. Athletes are showing glimpses of their own socially distanced lives.

This may be a moment where esports leagues and Peloton and Zwift to gain mainstream recognition. But existing organisations will be working hard to make the most of their digital networks.

Eoin Connolly: What is sport for in the age of coronavirus? March 19 2020

F1 and Nascar have already held virtual races featuring real drivers. La Liga hosted an esports FIFA tournament with current players from 18 of the league’s teams taking part streamed live on Twitch with a cumulative audience of 1 million. British Cycling and Zwift have partnered to create a series of online workouts and races featuring elite athletes. Verizon in the US reported an 75% increase in gaming traffic but the beneficiaries seem to have been traditional video games, where fighting and fantasy formats dominate, rather than simulation esports.

Rights holders have been unlocking their OTT services opening their archives for fans on free trial. Both the NFL and NBA are providing complimentary access to fans to watch past games, highlights, and documentaries via their respective OTT services, NBA League Pass and NFL Game Pass until Mid April and the end of May respectively. UEFA will be showing classic matches from their club and national archives six days a week, via their OTT Service UEFA.tv.

This excellent presentation on immediate marketing tactics from BBH London is worth your time – and easy to digest. It includes these thought starters on customer needs and mindsets for marketers and many examples of marketing creative designed to address them, they should be great stimulus for content ideas:

In Brazil Esporte Interativo – the world’s biggest sports page on Facebook is using its huge reach to communicate Coronavirus information more effectively than any other Brazilian media channel according to Comscore (h/t Turner digital boss Fabio):

It’s important in the rush to publish to think about tone. Especially if you have fans in Italy, New York or Wuhan. Test your content ideas with people who have been impacted directly by the virus and who may have a different perspective from you.

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