The coronavirus-enforced shut down of the sports industry has brought severe financial damage on sports rightsholders. A brand-new study from Two Circles estimates that only 53 % of all scheduled sporting events will go ahead this year, resulting in sports industry revenues losses of up to 61.6 billion USD by the end of 2020. This number is huge, and I cannot begin to imagine what this mean for the future of the industry that so many of us love.
Right now, I imagine that commercial executives in every sports rightsholder throughout all major sports and leagues worldwide are doing their utmost to mitigate the damage and bring their brand through the crisis with as financial little damage as possible. Looking into the most likely and unfortunate scenario of having to realize most sports events this year with empty stadiums, I also think the executives are concerned about their opportunities to deliver “return on investment” to their current sponsors and commercial partners. This because large parts of the today’s sponsorship returns are still traditional, non-digital ones, and thus highly dependent on hospitality and visibility during matchdays.
However, while not having the normal daily operation to attend to, the shutdown has probably also given the executives an opportunity to think more strategically about how to further develop and commercialize their brand and prepare for the post-covid future. Many industry experts, including e.g. Alex Balfour, have recently argued that rightsholders need to quickly start reimagining their business, and change and adapt in order to survive. Here, clever digitalization of the sports industry can play an important role as an accelerator for the needed change going forward. Digital thus must be on most rightsholders strategic agenda right now.
At the end of the day, the power of each sports rightsholder’s brand is based upon the fans and users, who passionately follow and support them. They are the core of the brand, but the passion and support of fans does not only depend on sports performance metrics. Equally important, it depends on the rightsholder’s ability to cleverly engage fans, e.g. by delivering relevant and unique fan-oriented content and engagement services. It seems more and more evident – especially in times like these, where the corona crisis has forced fans to stay at home – that sports rightsholders need to improve on the way they deliver fan relevant digital content. Now, digital is the only means to maintain and further develop relationships with fans. Even though I have seen some great examples of unique, relevant and fan oriented content and engagements since the lockdown kicked in, I think most rightsholders are still doing content exactly the same way as they did before the lockdown – many, however, with less frequency and volume. But the decrease the numbers of content pieces is not the fundamental problem here. As Asaf Nevo from Pico puts it: “The real problem for teams is that they don’t really know who they are engaging with […]. Teams don’t know who the digital fans are. It all stays in the likes and comments and shares”. The key to understanding how to cleverly create and deliver content and engage fans is “relevance”. And to be “relevant”, rightsholders need to know their fans. This requires both valid data on fans, and a digital engine or tool to process the collected data and turn it into knowledge, which rightsholders can continuously learn from and act upon.
While many vendors in the digital fan engagement space follow a strategy of relying on a range of platforms and data sources, e.g. social media platforms, to deliver content, engage with fans, get data and then iterate, at MANY Digital, we follow a strategy of helping rightsholders take back control of their own brand. We use customized mobile content and fan engagement apps to help rightsholders profile and segment their fans at source. Furthermore, we have built a digital platform, which enables rightsholders to cleverly collect and process fan data and combine this with content and fan engagement services. On top of all this, we bring a new commercial concept and model. Through our platform and mobile apps, rightsholders can combine the art of the providing relevant, data-driven and hyper-targeted content and fan engagement with an opportunity to have a new digital inventory of products for sponsors and commercial partners – a new inventory, which is independent of lockdowns, stadium events, and works both during and in between matchdays. In short, we have built a solution enabling rightsholders to turn fan engagement into new digital revenue – it offers an opportunity to hyper-target fans with content and engagement services, and at the same time , it is a powerful tool for attracting new sponsors and commercial partners. Often sponsors request the ability to qualify their sponsorship spend, and in reality, many rightsholders struggle to truly deliver on this. We have developed a digital solution for it.
When the corona-enforced lockdown is finally over – hopefully sooner than later! – I hope and think that relevant digital content and fan engagement will be in the center of the sports rightsholders’ strategic radar, and so will digital tools, which can help rightsholders kickstart their revenue generation in order to regain what was lost during this horrible corona-crisis. What do you think?