The Challenge – Sports Marketing with Empty Stadiums:
Sports Teams, their partners, and other stakeholders were among the most negatively affected due to COVID. Depending on specific league structures, teams rely heavily on ticket sales and related revenue such as concessions, parking, and memorabilia. Over the last year and for the foreseeable future, teams are continuing to adjust their business models and marketing strategies with either no fans or very limited fans allowed in stadiums. As we begin to gradually resume “normal” activities, teams are facing a tough challenge: balancing how to attract fans digitally, while still focusing on normal business operations once we begin to fill stadiums.
The main determinant of how quickly fans can return to stadiums will be vaccine distribution. According to Dr.Anthony Fauci, NIAID Director, “We're gonna be vaccinating the highest-priority people [from] the end of December through January, February, March. By the time you get to the general public, the people who'll be going to the basketball games, who don't have any underlying conditions, that's gonna be starting at the end of April, May, June. So it probably will be well into the end of the summer before you can really feel comfortable [with full sports stadiums] – if a lot of people get vaccinated. I don't think we're going to be that normal in July. I think it probably would be by the end of the summer.”
Growing a Fanbase Virtually
Brands and Sports teams are working in conjunction, finding creative ways to keep fans engaged despite limited live attendance. An example of this was the “Mutua Madrid Open Virtual Pro” an adjustment to the annual professional tennis tournament held in Madrid. A partnership was formed between the videogame “Tennis World Tour” and the tournament to showcase current players playing head to head on livestream. The event included a live draw, in-game commentary, and fan interaction simulating a real-world tournament. The #PlayatHome hashtag was used throughout the tournament to encourage fans to join in on the play and discussion. This event was an example of what Chris Curtin, CMO of Visa calls “exporting” the experience as opposed to what teams are accustomed to, “importing” an audience into a stadium. Teams would be prudent to balance these two types of events going forward to form synergies and brand partnerships while attracting fans.
Individual athletes are also prioritizing the use of social media to reach fans worldwide. Tennis superstars Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal connected with fans on Instagram live and shared in a discussion that normally would not occur during a full tennis season.
Sports organizations must leave no stone unturned when it comes to fan data – without fans in seats, they must create ways to attract, inform, and engage fans during and after COVID restrictions. Here’s to an expedient return to full stadiums!