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A Health and Socially Conscious Digital World Awaits

A Health and Socially Conscious Digital World Awaits

The New Norm for Sports Entertainment: Healthy, Socially Conscious, and Digital

Qondisa Ngwenya


Prism Sport and Entertainment


In a COVID-19-withered world, sports and entertainment have witnessed the most dramatic halt in human history.

Never before has such a disruption occurred. The only close equivalent is World War II, during which the FIFA World Cup was cancelled for 12 years, as were the 1940 and 1944 Olympics Games. In a weird echo of today, the 1940 Games were also originally scheduled for Tokyo, then moved to Helsinki, before being cancelled altogether.

Catastrophic as this was, the sporting world bounced back bigger and better, and this is sure to happen after COVID-19. When normalcy returns, the world will be a different place, and we are starting to see what that might look like. And the new normal appears to be a health and socially conscious digital world.

We are at least 18 to 24 months from full stadiums in many parts of the world. The jury is still out on whether the postponed Olympic Games in July 2021 can safely happen. As the president of the Japanese Medical Association, Dr Yoshitake Yokokura recently said, “My opinion is that it will be hard to host them unless an effective vaccine is developed. The global state of infections at that particular time will be a key issue. It will be difficult even if the situation in Japan has become better if infections continue to spread abroad".

Apart from the medical issues to consider, will fans be willing to take the risk of gathering in such numbers and under what conditions? If fans are reluctant to go to live events, how can brands and sports and entertainment companies respond in imaginative ways?

Industry players are struggling to retain and engage their existing participants and fans, let alone attract new ones, in an environment in which their currency (events, fans in stadium, and eyeballs on TV) has been eroded. Understanding why people consume their passions and how far they’ll go to in order to satiate them is of crucial importance in designing the new world order.

As a runner, I know that runners like to run and compete against themselves, improve their times, and go faster, farther, and stronger. Virtual Running Platforms (VRP) provide expanded opportunities in running and cycling for rights owners and sponsors alike.

For race organizers, they can provide new revenue sources and a participant base, much like that of esports. For sponsors, they offer an opportunity to engage with the running community throughout the year — along with data that enables them to deliver targeted messaging. They also have an opportunity to engage with consumers in a different language and reward them with real life benefits for achieving their goals.

With gaming and esports on an exponential rise, most rights owners are exploring opportunities to secure front row seats at their events. The Virtual Bundesliga has led the way for football leagues around the world in this regard. In partnership with the Bundesliga and EA Sports, the brand created a platform that has become another way to engage fans and attract new and younger audiences. By November 2019 it already had roughly 130,000 participants and multi-territory participation with live broadcasts. There are huge lessons here for other rights owners such as Cricket South Africa, which is looking for new ways to create value for its commercial partners and build a worldwide audience.

While the pause button is still on, we should reflect on how we can improve the fan experience during live events — as well as create never-done-before experiences online. It would be a fallacy to assume that fans will simply flock back to stadiums en masse as regularly as they did before.

Brands should instead focus their attention on how they can improve the fan experience overall. The customer journey to a seat in a stadium is still a disjointed process that requires many separate decision points. Brands have massive opportunities to make improvements and attract a new breed of sports and entertainment consumers.

We realize that our return to the new normal will be gradual. It requires safe facilities that still offer the same buzz as live sports events. Brands should think about how they can use their sponsorship investments to get fans back to the stadium safely, enabling them to engage in their passions in ways that make them fall in love again with their chosen sport, but under the new health regulations where safety and digital technology will dictate the norm.