Sport: A positive platform in a pandemic

We find ourselves in a place where on the one hand we have more toilet paper in our homes than ever, but on the other, we have no live sport to watch! Who would ever have seen this coming? Certainly not the sports industry which has seen its annual calendar virtually wiped out.

How can firms even think about growth at a time where their primary product, live sport, is no longer available for fans? History and data have taught us that when brands act effectively in a time of crisis, they emerge far stronger than competitors after the event. So, what can sports brands do to remain relevant when disappearing is not an option?

Sport is fortunate to have a lot of alternatives to offer at this time. We’ve seen it lead the way to tackle global crises and issues on many other occasions and, as Nelson Mandela noted, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.” It has been the stage for fighting against racial injustice, women’s rights, and even mental health. A rugby player proudly announcing they’re a member of the LGBTQ community has become far more powerful in creating change than any politician.

In fact, it was sports governing bodies that led the way on banning mass gatherings before our governments did. Our sports men and women were the first to publicly announce and discuss what it is like to have the virus.

Consumers are also asking brands to get involved, with 93% of US consumers saying brands need to stand up and help (Mindshare US, 17 Mar). It seems now more than ever that sports brands must use their unique power to galvanize and unite communities. During a time of isolation with little person-to-person interaction, it’s important to be more creative than ever.

First and foremost, you need to know what your brand stands for. What is at your very core and why is it that fans love you and follow you. Use this as a lens for all your communication and decision making on what activities to pursue. To help get you started, we at Landor, have put our heads together and identified four areas we feel sports brands can look at to release creative solutions to keep their fans and the world engaged.

 

Infrastructure

With games, matches, and competitions now void, some of the largest spaces are left empty. We’ve seen Chelsea Football Club and Gary Neville offer up their hotels to key medical staff. We’ve seen Wembley Stadium light up its iconic arch in NHS blue. But what can we do with the actual grounds? If you’re a brand that puts your community at its heart you may want to consider some of the following:

  • Medical purposes: Offer up your grounds up to our incredible NHS. Whether this is to use the ample kitchen space usually reserved for hospitality to feed the NHS workers, or to provide space for triage or testing. You could even open up your hallowed turf for your fans to get their exercise in—social distancing permitting, of course.
  • Housing the homeless: Crystal Palace FC opens their stadium up to the homeless each winter and right now the homeless are struggling more than ever. With increasing numbers of people working at home, there is less money going to those on the street. More so, as some of our most vulnerable community members, being at risk of exposure is another worry that they don’t need.

 

Players voice and fan engagement

We’re now in a time of ‘e-everything’ with many brands using online channels to engage supporters and customers. John Legend and Chris Martin have done e-concerts’ from their homes and many zoos and aquariums are live-streaming their enclosures and tanks.

Sports brands have an incredible opportunity to leverage their star power to attract and engage fans. This is your time to use players, who’ll now have unexpected down time, to educate and inspire. If you’re looking to grow brand loyalty and closeness with your fans you may want to consider connecting with them in a more intimate way:

  • Behind the scenes video diaries: Manchester City has launched its working from home vlogs which show how they are keeping busy and giving fans a special insight that they won’t have experienced before. Sports Brands need to think of ways to enable fans to feel closer to players
  • Q&As: another chance to connect with fans in a new way that gives them the opportunity to ask the questions they’ve always wanted to, whilst also allowing players the chance to ask fans questions too!
  • Training videos: with gyms shut and group activities banned, why not have players teach fans some of their skills, the ways they keep active inside, how to set tactics and even some theory-led classes that show the work that goes into a sport.
  • Lead by example: players, coaches, staff, governing bodies and leaders should use their voice to accurately educate fans on how to stay safe during the pandemic. Create social media posts that can be shared and discussed by staff, to utilize their platforms and influence for good.

 

Entertainment

Sport is, of course, one of the greatest forms of entertainment in the world, so the loss of competitions, games, and matches has been breaking fans’ hearts across the world—at a time where they’re craving distraction. With the country at home, people are searching for entertainment more than ever.

Source: Mindshare US: Wave 1 – 11 Mar, Wave 2 -17 Mar

 

Sports brands need to be thinking differently and creating new ways to interest fans without their usual product. Brands with innovation and forward-thinking at their heart may want to harness technological advancement, here are some ways to remain relevant and provide entertainment:

  • eSports: it’s growing faster than any physical sport today and what better entertainment than physical players competing against virtual players in a sport they are both leaders in. bring fans into the fold too either by live sharing (Twitch) or having them compete! Liverpool players versus their fans on FIFA 20?
  • Create a virtual documentary: through online video sharing platforms, create a raw, intimate documentary that details how your sports brand is coping with the pandemic and the steps taken to ensure players are staying top of their game. Involve your fans by asking them to share their stories and the shrines they’ve built in their homes to their favorite teams.
  • Netflix party: we’re all talking about the new ability to watch Netflix with your mates without being in the same house. Arrange viewings of the greatest sports films of all time with a dedicated Twitter handle to have live commentary as you watch. We recommend Coach Carter, Moneyball, Senna, Fever Pitch or Happy Gilmore. Or screen your team’s greatest games and have the players comment on what it felt like in those key moments to once again relive the glory in a more intimate fashion than ever before.

 

Sponsorships

Coca Cola, P&G, Barclays, and Intel Corp are all major sponsors of tournaments that have been suspended or postponed due to the pandemic. Those that have plugged almost £500 million this year,(and $4 billion in the last three) into creating the Tokyo 2020 Olympics have found themselves losing their core platform for 2020 that all brand and marketing campaigns had been planned around. With months until the Premier League is even in a position to kick-off again, over a year until we see the Tokyo Olympics and of course the delay of Euros 2020, how can these loyal sponsors stay relevant when the event noise has gone silent?

  • Build greater noise: we predict a surge in attendees to live sporting events and competitions once we’re released from isolation. In fact, we’re already seeing it. People are no longer taking for granted the experience of witnessing live sport and are seeing it as the beacon of light at the end of a dark tunnel. They need sport to reassure them and boy will the party be good when we get there! So, it’s time for sponsors to support their associated events to increase the excitement and provide the rallying cry for the good we have to look forward to. This can be achieved by showcasing historic content and historic activations (P&G have been Olympic sponsors for decades).
  • Partner with the stars—sponsor in isolation: as we’ve discussed above, sports stars need to be using their platforms to engage and entertain followers from their own front rooms. How can sponsors work alongside players to support in creating at home content such as training videos, fan Q&As, compete in eSports, discuss tactics?