What businesses can learn from the strategies of professional sports teams during the pandemic
2020 was poised to be another monumental year in sports with the Tokyo Olympics welcoming a new decade, Tom Brady bringing his talents to Florida and champion teams like the Toronto Raptors and the Washington Nationals looking to defend their titles. However, no corner of the sports world has had a typical year as we battle a global pandemic. Mustard stains on white t-shirts from stadium hot dogs and hoarse voices from chanting in the stands are just a few of the perks we all look forward to when sports resume with fans in the stands. But until then, there are a few things business owners, sports fans or not, can take away from how the sports industry has responded to the pandemic and pivoted the fan experience to keep teams afloat.
Find new ways to engage your audience.
When sports paused, sports broadcasters like ESPN and Fox Sports began showing classic games, archived documentaries (Last Dance), and niche competitions (hello, Joey Chestnut!) in a bid to keep sports fans tuning in. Individual leagues like the NFL took the hint and granted complimentary access to Game Pass, providing access to every single past game since 2009.
What does diversifying engagement look like for your customers? What vault of information or access can you let loose when your primary product isn’t available? How can you better prepare your business for a future potential set back so you can keep your audience involved?
Increase payment flexibility.
To see Floyd Mayweather and Connor McGregor duke it out can cost $90+ through pay-per-view, watching your favorite NBA game on Disney+ costs more than $150 per year and watching your collegiate athlete sister dive in the Big Ten can cost $15 per dive meet (ok, this one is from personal experience!)…all this is meant to say that being a sports fan comes with a price tag. The sports industry quickly realized that the rising unemployment numbers and lack of “real” sports were two huge roadblocks for revenue. A few networks pivoted quickly. The NBA and Turner Sports both removed the paywall for League Pass, their joint streaming subscription service. The MLB quickly followed and is offering free games for a limited time.
Whether your business is DTC, a subscription model or offered through a platform like Amazon, you need to get flexible with how you offer your services. Can you extend a small discount to pique interest or install a monthly payment plan option to attract new and existing customers? How can you extend flexibility to other parts of your business that aren’t payment-related?
Diversify your income
When it comes to sports revenue there are two major pieces of the pie: broadcast rights and fans in seats. CBS Sports, NBC Sports and FOX Sports are all examples of sports houses that buy broadcasting rights to games like the Super Bowl and playoffs. When fans come to a game, there’s an extraordinary opportunity to up sell them. If they’re enjoying the game (or even if their team is losing), why not watch over a beer – or two – with a side of nachos and a new jersey? When fans are absent, there’s no money to be maid which is why leagues have diversified their income streams such as rolling out eSports, gamified viewership and gambling.
Mark Tatum, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer of the NBA, told the World Economic Forum about how the league has quickly pivoted: “We’ve launched an NBA 2K competition with players streaming from their homes. We’ve expedited production to bring forward the release of a Michael Jordan documentary. We’re hosting live quarantine parties on social media with current and former players, and we’re showing classic games every night – all things to continue to engage our fans during this time.”
In a pandemic, recession or other unforeseen event, it would do your business well to have many irons in the oven. How can your current business diversify its offerings? Should you partner with like models to offer a new product?
Trim the fat – or gain it.
For athletes, the “break” from daily practices, rigorous schedules and on-the-road travel extended an opportunity for physical advantage. Pro golfer Bryson DeChambeau has used the PGA Tour Lockdown to help him put on a beefy 50 lbs of muscle, turning heads when he finally returned to the course in June and ripped a 367-yard drive, the furthest of his career. Meanwhile, powerhouse center Nikola Jokic with the Denver Nuggets came out of the NBA quarantine noticeably thinner and reportedly “got abs” thanks to an aggressive fitness routine to lose excess weight before the season resumed.
These athletes have used this time to reassess their craft and identify an opportunity to come back better. What does that look like for your business? This is the opportunity to take the time to tackle the website update or app refresh, train and retrain your management or roll out the software you’ve been meaning to implement for 18 months.
Digitize your audience.
In July the NBA announced it was going to create a virtual experience for basketball fans court side through Microsoft Teams. Microsoft accelerated the development of the technology for the NBA’s adoption and uses AI to place fans in the game. Fans can react in real-time as they watch a live feed of the game in Teams, and if they misbehave? Well, there’s an eject button for those fans. FOX quickly followed suit by adding virtual baseball fans in the stands ahead of its 25th season airing the MLB. Attending a game without being there is an idea that once may have been counter-intuitive, but now it’s our new normal.
While this strategy isn’t as easy to copy and paste for most businesses, it gives food for thought. How can you incorporate a more digital experience for your customers? How can you weave your digital marketing and social media strategy into the customer experience? What technology or methods can you weave into your business strategy to make your “fans” feel like they’re a part of what you’re offering?
The entire world of sports, from Formula 1 racing to table tennis, has been affected by the pandemic and each corner of the athletic world has found a new way to move forward. You don’t have to be a sports fan to take these lessons to heart and pivot now, or better prepare your business for the future.
– Emma Tiernon