Sports Post Pandemic

Posted on April 23rd, 2020 by Bruce Neve

I confess, usually in a typical week at this time of year, I would watch 2 Leaf games, a Raptors game, attend a TFC game (I am a long term season ticket holder), maybe catch a few innings of a Jays game, the Sunday telecast of a PGA golf event, talk sports at work, peruse daily, talk EPL soccer at the pub and, if the weather permitted, play a game of tennis, a round of golf and maybe even a pick–up soccer game. So yes, I miss sports.

Some people blame our beloved  Toronto teams for the shutdowns.

Virtually every sports league and major event (Olympics, Euro2020, Wimbledon) has been cancelled or postponed.

For some, the time spent watching sports has been “partially” replaced by more engagement with e-sports, video gaming, twitching; but for me, that isn’t the same buzz as a whole city rallying behind a Raptors playoff run or a good Leaf flame out in round one playoffs. There is no doubt the adoption and use of e-sports, YouTube gaming live, Twitch and their growing relationship with sports leagues will be accelerated.

When sports do return, the NHL, NBA and MLB teams will be playing  to empty stadiums. While the sports audience is primarily Broadcast/streaming vs in–stadium, the energy in and around arenas ( bars, restaurants, street viewing) will be lost. Leagues that rely to a greater extent on gate receipts  (eg. NHL), will be hurt the most.

This period of playing to empty stadiums will be a great time to accelerate testing of immersive VR, interactive co-viewing experiences via mobile, behind the scenes “ insider” views of pregame preparation, action on the bench, choose your own camera angles, contests, and more. Monetizing the game experience could be another revenue stream for teams hurt by ticket sales revenue evaporating.

But what changes when we can return to stadiums? Ticket sales will possibly start in smaller numbers.

Digital ticketing and contactless payments were already becoming the norm, but how about branded face masks instead of team scarves handed out at the gate, all food pre-ordered and there for pick up, washroom break times pre-allocated to reduce numbers.

Forbes recently listed off ways in which fans will have a heightened since of awareness for hygiene and how stadiums may consider accommodating the new needs. Here are a few examples:

  1. Preparation: Fans will not want to directly touch their food with their hands. Can hot dogs be half-wrapped or can there be a spout for popcorn? What else can be done to make this easier?
  2. Condiments: A condiment bar is full of germs. Should all condiments start being individually packaged?
  3. Gloves: Should gloves be offered with meals? Or upon entrance to the gate?
  4. Payment: People will not want to sign anything with a public pen. Tap-and-go options should be offered.
  5. Ordering: Staff members should touch as few things and people as possible. Plan for online ordering for concessions and merchandise and fans can simply come by to pick it up.
  6. Process: Ushers shouldn’t grab tickets to check them. What happens with the passing of programs or giveaways?
  7. Staff Apparel: Are staff wearing masks and gloves? Potential disadvantage: wearing a mask in a loud arena will make communication difficult. 
  8. Staff Testing: Will staff be tested and certified? How can you publicize that knowledge (HIPPA)?
  9. Restrooms: Automatic faucets and toilets should be a must. What else should be done?
  10. Mobile Vendors: Exchanging or passing cash down the row is done. What should Hawkers do? How do they sell? Is that eliminated?

For now, experiencing and learning within video gaming, e-sports, Twitch and other platforms that have already replaced much of sports viewing for Gen Z.

In the near future, sports sponsors and broadcasters can  create new opportunities to engage sports audiences via VR, new complimentary experiences, ( chose camera angle, become the announcer, “bet” points on the next goal/penalty , penalty shot results).

Whats’ next? In-stadium audiences may include client branded face masks, gloves, scarves, hand sanitizer, pre-paid food cards, and clients sponsoring cable net or DAZN subscriptions for 6 months?

While there are arguably much bigger issues and priorities to address before the return of sports, I do look forward to the day that we can all enjoy the passion, the dedicated athletes, the friendly banter, the weekend warriors and hope that life returns to  those employed directly by, and those that benefit by association (bars, restaurants, hotels) to the game of sports.

I welcome others to share their thoughts about sports now, in the near term and the lasting impact of the pandemic.