COVID-19 and Its Effect on Sport Marketing
The COVID-19 pandemic has heavily impacted the sports industry. With restrictions on large gatherings, ticket and concession sales are incredibly low. The players themselves are at high risk for contracting the virus and forced to undergo more precautions and testing than the average person. Simultaneously, people need sports and entertainment more than ever to escape the current situation and to regain some semblance of normalcy. So, we, as marketers, have taken these lemons and turned them into lemonade. We have found ways to grow our audiences, find new sources of revenue, take advantage of new trends, and other innovative ideas
Diversifying Content and Channels
This year has been a significant opportunity for media and entertainment to gain new or expand their current audiences. Stay at home orders, quarantining, and fears about the virus have resulted in people spending more time in the home, browsing for entertainment. ESPN diversified the content they aired with offerings such as the Michael Jordan docuseries and other non-sports centric subject matter. This type of content attracted new viewers who aren't prone to watching football or basketball games.
The easiest way for sports marketers to adapt to this season in life is to see how their audiences are adjusting to these new norms. For example, some are looking to esports and sports gaming for live competition and entertainment. Many sports fans engage with their team, league, and players, by utilizing social media and other digital platforms. The necessity of moving to digital is becoming even more apparent, as many employees and students are still working virtually. Wake Forest University Athletics’ Deacon Virtual Season Ticket is a great example of sports going digital. This new offering will give fans exclusive content like proprietary video, live features, and photos. Finding ways to generate revenue in the digital world may not only be critical for sports during the pandemic but from now on.
Athletes and Influencer Marketing
At the beginning of the pandemic, athletes were bored at home, and so were their fans. Being quarantined led to an increase in activity on sports competitors’ social media channels. Utilizing socials allowed them to engage with their community without even stepping onto their field. The sports industry and marketers are taking advantage of this by creating more influencer marketing partnerships with sports participants. Even now, as more and more
players are getting back to their craft, these partnerships are still in place, and athletes have a greater following on social media than ever before. Large brands that have seen great success in utilizing players' posts across multiple social platforms for their campaigns this year include; ESPN, the WNBA, Hulu, EA Sports, More Than A Vote, and Nike.
Virtual Sports and Gaming
Many sports channels started airing old games that were popular among fans, but many viewers were missing the adrenaline that comes with watching live competitions. As a result, many sports viewers turned to watching esports and sports games live streamers. Esports leagues had a spike in viewership during the first month of quarantine and have remained high since. Initially, sports fans turned to virtual alternatives while they missed live sports, but they have stayed because becoming fans of this modern form of entertainment, esports players and teams, and popular streamers. Even prominent athletes got on gaming streaming services like Twitch and YouTube to stream themselves playing virtual sports. This year we have seen sports media and leagues move more into esports and gaming than ever before. ESPN hosted and aired "ESPN Esports Day," and NASCAR and Fox Sports had the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series. Both of these events gave advertisers the opportunity to advertise as they would for a live event. This industry is growing and showing that it can be successful despite what is going on in the outside world. Therefore, sports marketers should educate themselves on what advertising and brand partnerships look like with streaming sites like Twitch, popular sports games, and well-known streamers and esports gamers.
In 2019 more than forty percent of marketers said that live events were the most important marketing channel, according to Bizzabo's 2019 Event Marketing Report. These stats and others seem incredibly foreboding; however, while the sports industry and its marketers face new challenges, there are still positives. These times are unlike any we have seen before, which leads to new ideas, growth, and innovation! We can look at ways of taking advantage of sports fans spending more time on their phones, how to let fans virtually engage with their favorite teams, and even introduce people to the world of sports who now may be bored enough to give it a chance.
This will not be the first or last trial that the sports industry has faced, but we have proven that the challenges we face allow us to grow and make improvements that we never would have thought of before.