Current challenges in sports facing Covid-19: media and fan engagement
16 Apr 2020

In the previous article, we spoke about the players’ training and fitness, the management of the stadiums and the economic loss as the first great challenges the world of sport is facing due to the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now we will discuss how to make the most from something that at first sight is a weakness, in order to create a future advantage once we leave behind this troubling situation.

4.- The media and sports journalism

As every non-essential business is closed due to the quarantine, most of the brands have lost their sales channels. And consequently, they’ve cancelled their advertising campaigns. This has produced a sudden income loss in the media, which in turn are experiencing an increase in traffic as never seen before. Even those under a subscription model are in serious trouble to survive. Radios and television are the most endangered. Take into mind that general-interest media dedicate without exception about 30% of its information to cover sports. In the case of sports media, they have lost 100% of their content, as without tournaments there is no great deal to talk about.

At this point now, teams have an opportunity which they can take advantage of. First, giving value to that information which is considered irrelevant when the leagues are being played. With the media eager to fill their empty spaces, it is time to tell and explain what occurs in the backstage. Elite athletes’ training routines at home, echoed by televisions, are a good example. They raise the spirits of the confined and send the message that health can be maintained by training at home. But there is much more. Let’s ask ourselves what the fans know about the work done by strength and conditioning coaches. How do athletes take care of their nutrition, what research is carried out, what new technologies are being incorporated into the stadiums, what projects there are for its renovation and etc.

All of these small information pills, which would be irrelevant in normal circumstances, can help to stay engaged with the fan. Let’s not forget we must also train them so that they don’t lose interest. After a long time without sport, they will be looking forward to returning to the excitement of the game, and we will have to feed them with information and stimuli from one day to the next. No doubt this is a key moment for the communication departments within clubs to act proactively, and to collaborate directly with the journalists in order to listen to their ideas and needs. But above all to help them fill their pages and empty slots with interesting and relevant content.

5.- Rethinking fan engagement

100 million viewers were watching the game that was taking place at the Beijing National Stadium. And they were not watching a football game, but the “League of Legends World Championship”, the popular online strategy game to which 8 million players connect daily. This attraction spurred by the so-called eSports over an audience confined at their homes has drawn now more than ever, the attention of the sports world. And it is being used to keep fans hooked on the competition during the halt. A classic option has been that of the Chicago Blackhawks that broadcasted a live game where their players and strategies were emulated in a video game format. But there have also been initiatives that have gone beyond, providing entertainment, creating brand image and helping create new revenue streams to fight against the COVID-19. So, has done LaLiga Fest, bringing together in a virtual huge concert top-level musicians and footballers, attended by 50 million people from 182 countries.

These examples help to imagine new ways to keep our fans hooked, and maybe even as a warm-up before the final return to the pitch. Any entertainment is welcome in a long quarantine, where there is more free time to spend at home. This is what the NBA 2K is doing, the NBA’s virtual league, also in the eSports arena, through preseason exhibitions and training sessions, because in March the season did not start due to the COVID-19. The virtual world needs the excitement of the real games as much as football or basketball need the stadiums, and also being accessible within a country or worldwide through different tours.

There is another initiative in the virtual world that we cannot overlook, and now this situation might have helped to standardise it, we’re talking about Live Chat services. According to a survey conducted by Google on fan insights, 80% of viewers who watch sports on TV do so while using their phone or tablet and the remaining 30% watch it through their devices. Sharing live experiences is now mainstream, and Live Chat services intend to put together this traffic from different social networks and platforms grouping the fans so that they share a common space. There are applications already working with this model, such as Yahoo Fantasy SportsBetmoWho Knows Wins or ZenSports.

The EuroLeague has just launched a new initiative signing an agreement with Iqoniq. Now all the fans of the EuroLeague and EuroCup will be able to connect to their clubs, and vice versa. This service anticipates a solution which many other leagues might end up adopting.

We must remember that elite sports are more than a competition for its fans. Sports games were medicine for the people’s spirit in the attacks of 11-S in New York and 11-M in Madrid. On the pitch once again, society proclaimed its solidarity and unity in the face of barbarism bringing back smiles to its viewers. Now that we are again suffering for our loved ones, the world needs its athletes more than ever. That is why we must prepare ourselves so that our return is a call to hope, to the future that awaits us, and to the excitement with which we fill the lives of millions of people around the world.

Martín Sacristán


Building the future of the sports industry