Survey Says: COVID-19’s SportsBiz Impact — Part I

As we rolled into Apr and closed in on a month of work from home mandates, TMR looked to get a read on where teams, leagues, venues, properties and agencies stood.

I pushed out an informal survey using a handful of questions to a range of folks from my network. Making sure to reach coast-to-coast, with sales account execs and sports management professors, team presidents and league CEOs, we spoke with dozens of sportsbiz professionals and we had nearly 50 people respond in writing.

Those who responded in writing answered two poll questions (results below):

  • Do you expect game costs–tickets, concessions, merchandise (i.e., Fan Cost Index elements) to…Increase, Remain flat, Decrease or Not sure?
  • When do you estimate you will be able to resume “normal” activities and interactions with staff and fans?

Over our four-part series, we summarize responses and highlight quotes of particular interest in four groups:

  • Part I: Immediate-term impact
    • Are/will you be furloughing or laying off staff?
    • How are you communicating?
  • Part II: Learning & Adapting
    • What is your biggest learning thus far?
    • What’s the biggest change to come out on the other side?
  • Part III: Appreciation (& Disappointment)
    • Who has impressed you?
    • Who has disappointed you?
  • Part IV: Staying fancentric
    • How are you staying fancentric?

This survey includes mid- to C-level execs working in amateur golf, esports, marathons, Olympics/Paralympics, tennis and professional teams across leagues such as AHL, MiLB, MLB, MLS, NBA and the NHL including an ownership group holding several large market venues and teams. Also represented are non-profits, sports management professors, financial institutions, logistics, gifting, arena displays and numerous agencies (creative, experiential, PR and sales).

Respondents were granted anonymity when requested in exchange for their honesty, as not all are “official” spokespeople or the information is sensitive in nature.

That said, we are not claiming this is a scientific, perfect representation of our industry, rather it’s an attempt to share some insights and spark discussion.

Part I: Immediate-term impact

TMR: Are you/will you be furloughing? Laying off staff? What percent? Part-time, full-time or all?

In a bit of good news, we saw 2-to-1 more No answers. Highlights of the comments:

No furloughs or layoffs as of now, and knock on wood that continues. -Pro Baseball Team

We have a relatively small staff and are doing everything possible to avoid staff reductions. To date we have been successful. -Agency

We have not made any staff changes at this time. We’ve established three triggers that would require us to re-evaluate and make changes to preserve organizational stability. Our goal is to avoid furloughs. We paid our part-time staff for work they were already on the scheduled for two weeks out even though those programs were canceled. We tell them its important that they don’t cancel on us. So we felt we would be hypocritical if we canceled on them when it benefited us. For our six full-time staff, while unemployment benefits can replace their salaries, we hope taking risks to retain staff will result in greater staff loyalty and increase staff culture in the future. -Non-profit

Our intention is to continue to employ as many people for as long as possible. At this time, there are no plans for furloughs or a reduction in staff. -MLB Team

Selected responses confirming cuts, furloughs and layoffs:

We’ve been fortunate to have been able to have most every staff member setup to work from home/remotely and stay busy. I would say 89% of our team are working remotely. The others we did have to furlough since we couldn’t provide enough work or hours for them (warehouse labor) and they would actually receive more from Unemployment Insurance than what we could provide as a company. -Property

As a sole proprietor, I sadly have no choice but to furlough myself, LOL. –Robin Monsky, Round Robin Sports

We likely will be furloughing a portion of staff for a period. Full time, maybe 50% of team. Don’t plan on layoffs. -Agency

Yes. We have had to furlough 100% of our staff unfortunately. All full-time. -Logistics Co.

Yep. Did company wide 50%. Also had eliminations. –Property

We have had to layoff a few people and cut salaries. Hoping that will be enough. -Agency

We have had to furlough 2/3 of our full time staff and lay-off 100% of our part-time staff. -Property

Laid off 5%, furloughed 10% and everyone remaining took a 20% or better pay cut. –Michael Verlatti, ISM Connect

I’m project-based and as of now all my projects have been canceled–I’ve been cut in order to make it easier to keep the full-time staff…which I totally get. I’m a luxury item to some degree working primarily on special projects, product launches, etc. So, I understand and just have to wait this thing out. -Consultancy

We have had a round of layoffs and every member of our staff globally have had to take salary reductions between 20%-50%. Our bonus and merit increases have been placed on hold and will likely be canceled altogether. Global % is hard to calculate at this time but our regional office saw roughly 25% cut in staff. –Agency


TMR: How are you communicating? Conference calls, video calls, emails, texts, Slack? Love or hate video calls? How has this ratio changed?

Video calls have exploded in popularity–Zoom in particular dominated responses to our survey–in part due to trying to recreate the live meetings we are all used to and in part due to a need to get “virtual face-to-face” time for the mental health of team members. Top responses:

Phone calls, video conference calls, text, email in that order. We went from zero video calls to a few per week, so I like the change of pace as we work from home. –MLB Team

We went from 100% face-to-face to 100% online in a matter of one week. Faculty are using a variety of tools; Blackboard Collaborate, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, etc. -Jason Rice, North Central College Sports Management

We are naturally set up to connect and work across multiple locations with offices in Chicago and N.Y. We primarily use Slack to collaborate within the organization and Uber Conference for calls outside the organization. Slack is a really powerful tool when used properly. We are using Slack for all interactions vs. the standard mix of Slack and in-person meetings. -Gabe Ottolini, Block Six Analytics

There was no huge learning curve for us as we generally work remotely. Emails, calls and texting are our main modes of communication. We have added more video calling–Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangout and our clients platforms. -Jeannie Goldstein, Chicago Sports Partners

Video calls and texts. Video calls up over 100% and texting almost as much as using email now. -David Paro, Deep Alliance

Zoom conference calls and Slack. We’ve set up every other day Zoom/brainstorms and we’ve been Slacking for a year but have gotten more efficient at it. Find its a great tool when we use it properly. We had been doing once a week conference calls but weren’t pressing Zoom or video but will continue as we go forward after COVID. It’s an authentic way to connect. -TJ Nolan, NewBridge Marketing

Zoom! It’s the best. All you need is a device and wifi. Oh, and a shower. -Amy Littleton, KemperLesnik

Microsoft Teams, Zoom and conference calls have become the norm throughout the day as well as full-staff organizational meeting once every couple weeks through Microsoft Teams. I like it and it’s allowed even more connection and interaction than I thought would take place. -Derrick Hall, Arizona Diamondbacks

For internal meetings we’re using Google Hangouts. For client meetings, we use either Zoom or Uber Conference. -Seth Gruen, Branded PR

Lots of video calls–we do three team Google Hangout sessions per day. We’re continuing to use Google Chat as well. Not crazy about all the video calls, but it’s good to somewhat connect face-to-face. -Steve Johnson, SJ Connects

More conference calls than video calls (though that will likely change). We used to do 0 video calls but are now going to make an effort. -Sponsorship Consultancy

We’re using Zoom, Workplace and These were already part of our normal routine, but we have certainly increased the number of video calls. Video calls are helpful, but if too many are on a single call, little gets done. The loudest person isn’t always the smartest person. Calls make it hard for everyone to contribute when one or two people dominate a call. We’ve had limited full staff calls, and focused on small groups and one-to-one. -Greg Hipp, Chicago Area Runners Association

We have a weekly conference call with the Senior Staff in which we use Zoom to review any important documents. We also communicate regularly via Instant Messenger, email and text messages. -Membership organization

We are trying to stay connected through all channels available; primarily though emails, Slack, text messaging, mobile calls, MS Teams, GoToMeeting and FaceTime. I have been very comfortable with using messaging and video conferencing apps and technology and it’s been great that our team has had to adopt these technologies and channels as we are all working from home. This will add to our consideration to increase our Work From Home/Out of Office policy. We had WOO’ing available before COVID, and it was challenging for team members to use messaging and video conferencing apps, however, everyone has been using and appreciates the capabilities to stay socially connected visually. -Mike Nishi, Chicago Event Management

Video calls mostly. I personally love it. I’ve also been taking time each day to call 3-5 friends or colleagues or clients per day just to check-in. -Ken Olsen, REV/XP

Phone calls, video calls, emails, texts, Slack. I don’t like video calls since I don’t like seeing myself on camera but it is good for “social interaction” that we are lacking in WFH circumstances instead of our normal work routines. -Non-profit

Pretty much through email but we have had some Microsoft Team video meetings. I’m ok with the video calls. I have to remember that people can see me so I have to look presentable. -Pro Hockey Team

Zoom weekly chats. And we are going to start a Slack channel. We only have six staff members, one is out on medical leave (his partner passed from COVID-19), and three older members; it’s been a challenge to stay in touch. -Doug Thurston, Big Sur Marathon Foundation

Mostly Zoom…we do this all the time as we have team members in 9 cities, so very normal for WTT operations. -Carlos Silva, WTT

Microsoft Teams for our department, Video Calls with colleagues and leagues. I like video calls for the most part, but conversation should be limited to no longer than 60 minutes. Don’t like conference call lines as people get cut off while speaking. -Pro Baseball Team

Work is mostly conference calls, but socially Zoom has played a larger role. I think video calls are mostly unnecessary, but also don’t want to underestimate the mental health value of seeing and talking to other people ‘face-to-face.’ -Financial Insititution

100% video calls and constant Slack messages. We operate a distributed workforce so this has been my default work process, just more prominent due to the decreased face-to-face meetings. -Michael Verlatti, ISM Connects

Microsoft Teams is getting a work out, but all other mobile communication is also in play. Definitely glad there is a video call option, allows us to stay connected–we’ve created regular check-in, virtual coffee breaks, etc…to make sure the water cooler conversations can still happen as well. -Agency

Honestly, we were a remote team before this communicating across continents so Zoom was already a big part of our day. It’s easy when there is a relationship to communicate in this way. You understand pauses a lot better that way :). I could see how newer teams would have their challenges with this format. -Consultancy

With all the chaos as people navigate mandated “work from homes,” I feel privacy is still at a premium, and people don’t need to feel the need to look their best and manufacture a background of calm when the reality for most of us (especially parents with two working adults) is far different! -Consultancy

We have 3 times weekly workouts, weekly co-working hours and pre-workday coffee hangs via Zoom. Trivia once weekly on Zoom etc. We are already a dispersed group so while we are doing more of it now, it wasn’t a huge shift. -Ryan Hatcher, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Team In Training

Zoom calls and text, with some email sprinkled in. I’m a fan of the video call. -Michael Myers, BirdieBox

All. Haven’t used Skype or Zoom technologies because we are small and FaceTime or Whatsapp Video works just as good. -Logistics Co.

To jump to…

Part II: Learning & Adapting

Part III: Appreciation (& Disappointment)

Part IV: Staying Fancentric

Chris brings deep sports business experience to his role as publisher of TMR. He first put his sales, experiential marketing, PR, sales and valuation skills to work in sporting goods retail in 1986. He has since worked for brands and agencies across all major league sports, plus golf, college athletics, marathons and motorsports. Chris is also the proud founder of Painless Networking.