“Nude Stadium” is what I want to refer them now as the stadiums which once used to be filled or covered with lots of people are now nude; as in so empty.
Coronavirus pandemic has sent shivers around the world and has affected every aspect of the sport, from the athletes themselves to the media coverage. It has brought professional sports to a standstill. A quick glimpse at the empty stadiums is a proof of this. Social distancing measures which was brought in to limit the spread of coronavirus, have had a significant effect on sporting fixtures.
Even, I learnt that some workers sprayed disinfectant inside Gelora Bung Karno main stadium after Indonesia’s capital began a two-week emergency period to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 26, 2020.
Coronavirus has also led to a public health emergency that has resulted to thousands of deaths and plunged the global economy into what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warns could be the sharpest downturn ever.
EFFECTS OF CORONAVIRUS ON SPORTS
Tokyo Olympics was postponed to 2021 over coronavirus concerns. This has also affected the sporting calendar.
Professional sports leagues are analogous to entertainment companies, where each team in a league is like a different channel. The teams have their own identities, employees and fan bases, but the overall ‘programming schedule’ (the rules of the game and the fixture list) are set by the leagues. Professional leagues everywhere have now suspended their activities to limit the spread of the virus. Even the Summer Olympics, which is one the world’s most-watched sporting broadcasts, was also affected.
Prior to coronavirus outbreak, the global value of the sports industry was estimated to be $471bn in 2018 – an increase of 45% since 2011. Now, every part of the sporting value chain has been affected, from athletes, teams and leagues, to the media that broadcast and cover games. Kindly note that there are three main income streams for sports leagues: broadcasting (sales of media rights), commercial (sponsorship and advertising partnerships) and match day revenue (ticketing and hospitality).
Watching sports by traditional satellite television has fallen in the past 10 years.
Anything longer than a temporary shutdown would see the leagues unable to meet their commitments to broadcasters, limiting their ability to distribute income back to the clubs. The impact on the industry would be dramatic: no games mean no TV deals and no match-day income; no income means no clubs.
WITH ALL THESE IN MIND, WHAT STRATEGIES IS THE INDUSTRY ADOPTING IN RESPONSE TO THE INTERRUPTION?
The industry is trying to capitalize on the spike in media consumption by finding new ways to engage consumers. In the absence of live games, this means deepening the pool of content available to fans. For example, sports broadcasters such as ESPN and Fox Sports are showing classic games, archived content, documentaries, e-sports and niche competitions in a bid to keep consumers watching.
Individual leagues are doing the same. The NFL is making every game since 2009 available for streaming on its direct-to-consumer channel Game Pass, a strategy which led to a 500-fold increase in daily sign-ups for the service.
Mark Tatum, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer of the NBA described the league’s strategy to the World Economic Forum: “We’ve launched an NBA 2K competition [an e-sports form of the game] with players streaming from their homes. We’ve expedited production to bring forward the release of a Michael Jordan documentary. We’re hosting live quarantine parties on social media with current and former players, and we’re showing classic games every night – all things to continue to engage our fans during this time.”
The NBA and Turner Sports have removed the pay-wall for their joint streaming subscription service, League Pass. Major League Baseball is doing the same, offering its archive of games for free on MLB.TV and YouTube. The Premier League is probably wishing that its streaming channel, planned for 2022, was already available.
Discussions are taking place between sports bodies and TV network partners to find mutual solutions to “force majeure” clauses that work for both sides. These include leagues paying broadcasters compensation, granting them additional rights and extending agreements. The issues are replicated further down the value chain: in the Premier League, commercial agreements at the club level are likely to need tweaking too. Some sports associations are already affected by shortfalls: collegiate men’s basketball teams have announced a more than 50% drop in income, and Premier League clubs are bracing themselves for $60-150m in lost revenues.
Other options also include playing matches in areas less affected by COVID-19 and moving training facilities – and even isolating entire teams and their management staff to a single area, as the MLB and NRL are rumoured to be doing. There is precedent for physical moves like this: MLB teams have previously temporarily relocated operations in the wake of hurricane damage in the US.
In conclusion, the absence of “real” sport presents an opportunity for virtual technologies to grow. Already, sports leagues across the world are using esports to maintain interest and a sense of competition during shutdowns. Esports have grown massively in recent years and present a new way to engage fans and bring in revenue. Furthermore, immersive technologies could enable fans to experience games live, without having to be physically present – an idea that once may have been counterintuitive but now seems logical.
In these difficult times, the ability of sports to bring people together is missed more than ever. The industry itself may be in new territory, but with the right strategies can emerge from the crisis stronger and more popular than ever. As Tatum puts it: “Ours is a global game: a quarter of NBA players were born outside of the United States; we have offices in different countries and cities around the world. This pandemic may change the protocols we have to live by, but not our focus on expanding basketball around the world.”
Sports Gists compiled by Raphael Nwabueze +2348189279268