Our weekly series 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.
With most sporting organisations currently planning for the day they can let supporters back into stadiums with reduced capacities, German Bundesliga side Union Berlin is planning to fill the entirety of their home ground from the outset of the 2020/21 season.
In order to preserve the atmosphere that the club has become renowned for during its debut season in the top-tier, Union Berlin’s President has offered to fund COVID-19 tests for all 22,012 ticket-holders on matchdays, ensuring all those who test negative can be granted entry.
The term ‘football without fans is nothing’ has been bandied about over the last few months but this is one of the most impressive examples of a team putting their money where their mouth is.
Although such a sizeable investment would not be feasible for many Irish clubs, Union Berlin seem to have set a bar here, exhibiting just how determined they are for fans to return to their old stomping ground.
The NFL has developed a COVID-19-combatting mouth shield in a collaboration with Oakley. The guard has been distributed to all thirty-two teams, with the league’s medical experts advocating for the use of the protective equipment.
The plastic sheets attach to the lower half of the players’ face guards and prevent the direct transmission of droplets.
According to the NFL Players’ Association, the biggest concerns raised during the equipment’s trial period have been the impairment of vision, audibility and breathability: three vital components for all athletes.
Should the producers of the shield be able to iron out these creases, the equipment would provide a pivotal additional layer of safety. Something sports such as camogie and hurling will be keen to keep an eye one.
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.
New research conducted on the impact of COVID-19 on sports broadcasting experiences – prepared by sports marketing consulting agency Genesco Sports Enterprises – has found that 76 per cent of fans in the US want more ‘watch party’ experiences; 74 per cent are in favour of incorporating more virtual reality into live events and 64 per cent want more second-screen options.
The impossibility of attending sporting events in person has accelerated fans’ desire for the televised event to be interactive and, in this regard, the last few months have been a case of survival of the most innovative.
The aftershock of COVID-19 on Ireland’s ticketed events industry will linger for quite some time, so for the dwindling number of sporting bodies yet to act in this area, it is essential to tune in and adopt some of the interactive viewing technologies that audiences crave.
BREAKING NEW GROUND
Advancing on last week’s discussion in this column, which examined the increased emphasis on adapting sponsorship offerings to digital experiences, Major League Soccer has brought the concept to life following the resumption of the competition, which featured a range of their new 3D virtual assets offered to premium partners.
The visually striking package includes projected logos in the centre-circle, virtual sidelines with rolling sponsors, and virtual logos in the goalmouth for televised games. A space for advertising that has previously gone unutilised in elite-level football has been the sacred turf itself.
With games still behind closed doors and rights-holders clambering to drain every last drop of coverage for their sponsors, the concept of on-field branding is an interesting move. There is great potential here, particularly given the capability of regionalising graphics, but it will be counterproductive if sponsors ultimately aggravate fans by encroaching onto sacrosanct areas.
These new flexible advertising packages will be fundamental in fulfilling commercial obligations; broadcasters and rights-holders must simply be aware of where to draw the line.
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.
VIRTUAL PADDOCK CLUB
Formula 1 has partnered with Zoom to create their first ever Virtual Paddock Club for the remainder of their behind closed doors races.
Due to losses of over €310 million in traditional hospitality revenue this year, the two companies have struck a deal to create bespoke virtual hospitality experiences, following in the footsteps of Extreme E and their own McLaren Racing team in recent weeks. This package will provide fans with live insight from legends of the paddock, instant updates, and a unique vantage point over team garages and at the start and finish line.
With no plans to charge for this initial virtual experience, F1 is reportedly gearing up to implement more premium features that can be monetised over the coming weeks. For now, though, they seem eager to simply keep fans engaged, and they understand the importance of investing in that.
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.
ADAPTING WITH THE TIMES
With the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games postponed until next year, the IOC and IPC have ensured that Airbnb, Worldwide Partner of both events, can still gain traction from their partnership this summer, via the means of an online festival.
The five-day event will feature more than 100 ‘experiences’ hosted by Olympians and Paralympians on Airbnb. The athletes will host live video sessions, where spectators can hear about everything from leadership advice and building resilience to cooking lessons and yoga tutorials from their favourite stars.
While many organisations will be unable to fulfil originally agreed terms with partners due to cancelled events this summer, this is a superb example of implementing commercial agreements in an alternative fashion. Proving short-term adaptability and commitment to partners will not only result in short-term results, but will also gain long-term trust.
NEW SPONSORSHIP CATEGORIES
The Ladies Professional Golf Association have been one of the first organisations to break ground in COVID-19-related sponsorship categories, announcing Cambia Health solutions as official mask partners. The move highlights the fact that this new era for sport brings not only digital advertising opportunities but also increased physical apparatus to utilise as a marketing tool.
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.