Industry Veteran Cautionary–But Positive–On Sports Business Post Coronavirus

A reminder to play the long game

The only certainty in the world today is that the “new normal” is uncertain.

There is angst for businesses big and small. What all the COVID-19 disruption means for sports, brands, teams, leagues, media companies is all very fluid and will be for some time.

However one executive, one who has been through both bull and bear markets–although not one like what we are seeing in these unprecedented times–has words of both caution and optimism for all those involved in the multi-billion dollar sports industry.


Tony Ponturo, who helped craft sports marketing as we know it during his long career at Anheuser-Busch and afterwards as an investor and advisor to many companies big and small shared his thoughts with Team Marketing Report.

“These are certainly going to be challenging times and yes there is going to be a shakeout, but I think the smarter businesses, both mature ones and new players in the market who have cash on hand, will play the long game and can see down the road that when we get back to whatever the ‘new normal’ is, there will be both opportunity and interest in all types of events,” Ponturo explains.

“There is going to be a shakeup for sure in spending, but brands will want to engage with consumers through live events and all kinds of media, and a lot of that will come from a relocation of dollars depending on when events happen,” he adds.

Ponturo looks ahead to a fall that can potentially be like no other, with Roland Garros and the US Open, the Masters, the MLB Playoffs and World Series, the NFL, an extended MLS season–and if some scenarios hold true–even a rush for the Stanley Cup Final and NBA Championship during the summer.

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“That is going to present some very unique choices for brands who have allocated dollars to certain leagues at a time of year, and how they move that money will be interesting to watch,” says Ponturo. “They will be spending at a rate, and there will be deals that will change, but the brands that invest in sport for the long term won’t just close up shop and go away, they will have to find the best ways to reconnect with an avid and interested consumer more than ever when things return.”

The New York resident, now doing career counseling at Columbia University, also looked back on his brand work and pointed out that there were always scenarios where you would scatter investment and be ready for issues that could arise with live event cancellations, although nothing on the level of what we are seeing today.

“Our biggest concern should always be about the people, as we are a people industry”

“Our biggest concern should always be about the people, as we are a people industry,” Ponturo points out. “The biggest and the best brands adapt through uncertain times and will again; sports will be important and relevant during recovery, whenever that is. Do I think some companies will look to spend more in areas like news or entertainment? Sure, and all that is to be determined. But I do believe that the value of why brands get involved in sports marketing will still be there as we all collectively and safely weather this unprecedented storm. The business will adapt and evolve, and there will be learnings even in these times as to how people are engaging in the social and streaming space, but I don’t see it going away. If we could predict the period of time it would be great but we can’t; right now, but when that does become clearer smart businesses and people will plan and we will be back strong as an industry.”

While we see many predictions of massive losses, spending cuts and talk of givebacks and payments, we remain in unchartered waters, and it is good to be reminded that those playing the longer game into the Fall and beyond will lead and persevere, as they listen and learn from those who have weathered challenges smartly before.