The third in a new weekly series that highlights innovation and draws inspiration from sport around the world as it emerges post-pandemic.
Our hope is that we will provide a means by which Sport for Business members will stay up to date with the latest developments in health, broadcast and fan engagement. Times of great change are also times of the greatest opportunity so let’s see what’s going on.
The most important innovations cropping up in the world of sport are those that assist our athletes, staff and fans to return to action in as safe a manner as possible.
Dutch Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven will trial the ‘Brainport Bracelet’ for all fans to wear at their first post-lockdown home game next month.
The technology in the bracelet will track all fans that the wearer comes into close contact with throughout their time in the stadium. If an attendee is displaying symptoms or is diagnosed with the virus after the event, everyone who came into contact with them will be notified.
PSV officials have confirmed that the bracelet complies with Dutch privacy legislation. Although similar concepts can already be found on certain apps – such as COVID Tracker, which was launched by the HSE this week – the key benefit of the Brainport Bracelet is that it can be used by members of the public who don’t have access to a smartphone.
It is also a sign of the coming together of sponsors and clubs to find innovative solutions. Brainport is a science and technology hub backed by Phillips that also happens to sponsor PSV.
THE SKY(BOX)’S THE LIMIT
While the motive of contact tracing behind the Brainport Bracelet is an important one, sport needs to get to a position where it can be proactive, rather than reactive.
The International Volleyball Federation have taken innovative steps to limit the potential spread of the virus at their King of the Court tournament in Utrecht in September. Teaming up with sports events agency Sportworx, they plan to construct a venue made entirely of sky-boxes, which will guarantee social distancing. The boxes, constructed from building materials, will have a capacity of between two and ten people.
While sporting federations all over Europe have been proposing formulas for the required number of seats between fans to facilitate social distancing, this is one of the first initiatives that will prevent contact between fans altogether. It is, however, only feasible for event organisers that are content to have hundreds of attendees, rather than thousands.
While we wait to attend sporting events in person once again, we rely on the broadcasters, clubs and independent media to help us feel closer to the action than ever before. This will be a particularly interesting space to monitor over the coming months, as COVID-19 has forced content providers to realign their focus, priorities and delivery mechanisms.
Last week we saw La Liga’s attempts to create virtual crowds; this week it is the Italian top-flight who are putting their own spin on things in this area.
Interregional Sports Group, Serie A’s exclusive virtual media partner, will project branding and graphics onto empty stands at games for the remainder of the season.
This provides a more flexible alternative to the tarp stand coverings we have seen at Premier League games, as sponsor branding and team graphics can be adapted to different broadcast territories.
Sport is having to adapt like never before, with a specific emphasis on managing fan relationships during this turbulent period. To maintain supporter engagement and satisfaction throughout the COVID-19 crisis, sporting organisations will need to dramatically adjust strategies in areas such as ticketing, digital and non match day events.
Electronic SUV off-road racing series Extreme E have announced plans to cater for fans who enjoy the plusher aspects of live sporting events, unveiling its virtual hospitality experience.
Individuals who sign up to the experience will be posted virtual reality (VR) headsets, which will provide them with access to live streams of the race, tours around team paddocks, intimate interviews with drivers and track walks. To facilitate the service, each race will be filmed with 3D cameras.
Fans can avail of an additional premium service, for which Extreme E will send a chef to their home to prepare a meal that is themed on the location of that week’s race. This package will also include opportunities to win VIP hampers and merchandise.
The successful adoption of VR is something that the sports industry has been trying its hand at for several years now, with mixed results. With an urgent need to enable fans to find new ways of feeling part of the action, it seems that this could be a vital moment to master the technology once and for all.
In last week’s Beyond the Lines, we discussed the likelihood of severely reduced capacities being the realistic next step for Irish sporting events and the complexities that will come with the allocation of tickets. It is unavoidable that certain stakeholders will be frustrated from missing out when sport returns, but there are several organisations who have already laid out their plans to limit this.
The English Rugby Football Union (RFU) have taken a decision that will leave a sour taste in the mouths of grassroots clubs and members, announcing that priority on tickets will be given to corporate fans, box holders and sponsors. In a statement, the RFU stressed that the decision was taken to ensure the fulfilment of their obligations to contracted ticket groups amidst extreme financial pressures; pressures that were reflected in a spate of redundancies announced earlier this week.
Scottish Premier League football club Aberdeen have used the inevitable reduced capacity as a means to bolster season ticket sales, by announcing that the first 7,500 fans to purchase for next season will be prioritised for entry to games. 7,500 being the forecasted maximum capacity that complies with social distancing regulations.
Given that the focus of this section is on fair allocation of tickets, both of these initiatives leave something to be desired, as they exclude those fans with the lowest incomes. Although it might transpire that there quite simply is no fair way to distribute heavily diminished ticket supplies, we’ll return to the drawing board over the coming weeks and do our best.
Partnerships have become fundamental to the sustainability and growth of the sporting ecosystem, having evolved from the tired concept of sponsorship being a one-way transactional relationship. This has never been more true than at this present moment, as stakeholders from across the industry must work together to overcome the hurdles of COVID-19.
Leicester Tigers’ Help & Expertise Hub is a pop-up marketing support division within the club. It will act as an in-house agency for their commercial partners for the duration of the pandemic, providing support in areas such as sales, design, creative and sponsorship activation.
With the club realising that it had resources to spare, it spotted an opportunity to support their partners at a time when they need it most. It is a cliché, but the crisis we find ourselves in truly will make or break relationships. We rely on our partnerships now more than ever; this will continue to be the case over the coming months. It is important to look within and evaluate how you can support each other, not just in a monetary sense, as we navigate COVID-19 as a collective.
Beyond the Lines is a weekly feature brought to us by our new columnist, Vito Moloney Burke. Vito is a graduate in Business Studies from DCU and was 2018/19 Students’ Union President. He recently completed an internship with Liverpool Football Club’s Strategy team, and is currently undertaking the MSc in Sport Management at University College Dublin.