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

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 another 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 / disappointed you?
  • Part IV: Fancentric & Future Facing
    • 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 IV: Fancentric & Future Facing

TMR: How are you/your organization staying fancentric?

As frequent communication as possible with season ticket holders, corporate partners and our social media channels, where we are communicating on a daily basis. –Derrick Hall, Arizona Diamondbacks

Trying to deliver unique experiences via online experiences. We have moved speaking opportunities to online experiences which have given us a new perspective for the fan experience. Normally people see our speakers from 50-100 feet away, now they can be face-to-face and interact in the moment (see featured photo above of Paralympian Amy Stockwell’s recent engagement). -Jeannie Goldstein, Chicago Sports Partners

Finding new (virtual) options to engage fans with sport. -SJ Luedtke, IndyCar

Adapting boards as needed and building products that will welcome people back. -Robert Teinowitz, Live Action Media

Staying focused on what fans need now and how coronavirus will shape their actions on the other end of this. -David Paro, Deep Alliance

We have a content marketing business that connects people virtually. We are doing a lot of work with virtual events and content right now. -Amy Littleton, KemperLesnik

I’ve always felt that fandom doesn’t take breaks. It’s why the games themselves are only a sliver of the larger sports landscape. Sports talk radio and sportswriting exist because fans still thirst for knowledge regarding their favorite leagues, teams and players–even when the game aren’t going on. As these league literally hit “pause,” it doesn’t mean that fandom has done the same. So it’s important for us to explore how our sports-oriented clients and their partners are trying to reach fans during this time. Strategically speaking, that means examining the content leagues and broadcast partners are sharing. Much of that is re-airing and re-examining the most notable games in sports history. -Seth Gruen, Branded PR

This crisis is challenging for our organization, but we are staying focused on our participants first. We’re being empathetic, keeping them engaged, informed, and motivated through our communications. It is important to show them we are here for them, even when we don’t have an event for them to participate in. -Greg Hipp, Chicago Area Runners Association

We’re client-centric–more about managing current relationships with our properties and partners than anything else. Discussing business and personal situations. A lot less efforts from ‘selling.’ -Sean Wallis, W Partners

We are continuing to provide regular communication to our members through our usual channels (magazine, website, email, social media, etc.) but have also tried to implement some new products like “Quarantine Conversations” on our YouTube channel. -Andrew Louthain, Chicago District Golf Association

There is going to be renewed focus on optimizing the efficiency of partnerships. We are continuing to enhance our solutions that empower brands to reach the right fans the most efficiently. -Gabe Ottolini, Block Six Analytics

I’m telling my clients and collaborators that engaging their key audiences, customers, and fans is more imperative than ever, but to do so thoughtfully and humbly. -Tom Perros, Sponsorship Consultant

Similar to how we need to provide constant, concise and accurate information to our team, we provide constant feedback and information to our participants and stakeholders, even if there’s nothing new to report. We want to ensure that our partners/stakeholders are aware that we are working and processing requests, especially when they are asking about the status of an event taking place or not. -Mike Nishi, Chicago Event Management

Being thoughtful in the content we push out on social, having our ticket reps call to check in on season ticket holders, and having our supporter liaison keep in touch with our supporter groups and keep them updated best we can. -Pro Soccer Team

Using technology to make players available for fans interaction.We’re fortunate to have a great partner in CBS Sports HQ. While campuses were shutting down and it affected our CBS Sports Student Ambassador program they were open to us continuing the program as a digital  program. We’ve gotten creative in using social media in promoting sports; past NCAA basketball highlights, the upcoming NFL draft and engaging other students on sports research. Additionally, while March Madness came and went without brackets, we were able to push a CBS Sports Superfan sweepstakes to students around the country. -TJ Nolan, NewBridge Marketing

We pump out a lot of content on our social media accounts. We’ve also been airing Stanley Cup games on our new TV channel. -Pro Hockey Team

We are trying to stay engaged with our entrants; we have almost 10,000 registered for a sold-out weekend of events scheduled for the end of April. -Doug Thurston, Big Sur Marathon Foundation

We are attempting to maintain meaningful engagement with our community by developing new opportunities for them to participate in and communicating relevant information to them in a quickly changing environment. -Chris Hastings, Chicago Sport & Social

We just had our All-Star Match on CBS, thankfully we recorded this on Mar 1 before things got crazy. -Carlos Silva, WTT

Providing as much data on the COVID-19 pandemic as possible. Data related to fans opinions, their feedback on how much they miss sports and how they intend to consume sports once they’re made available again. -Chris Todd, YouGov Sports

Engaging socially/digitally as much as possible to bring some hope and excitement to fans in their isolation. -Pro Baseball Team

We’re looking for more digital ways to connect during this period and preparing for the right opportunities to arise. -Financial Institution

Few different ways. First and foremost, we’re working with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County to host drive-thru food drives in the Honda Center parking lot four Saturdays in a row. Two down, two to go and the need is strong so crowds are big. On the team front, esports is a big push right now, including sponsor integration. We’re also working with our broadcast partner to re-air some of our games. We’re staying busy on social, including the release of team-branded Zoom backgrounds. We’re also spotlighting what our players are doing at home with appropriate social distancing messaging. We’re also running a “Stronger Together” billboard campaign to spotlight–and thank–our sponsors on the freeway marquee next to our building. That’s had a great response. -Anaheim Ducks front office

We’ve established a program that collects and highlights great brand work under our #ExperienceGood theme. Internally, we’re meeting more as cross functional teams to make sure we are taking advantage of best practices across programs. Key learnings on one program or with one idea can have far reaching benefits. Our Social Impact team has also been very engaged and involved in more conversations. The subject matter expertise has been very useful during this time period. -Rick Cuellar, CSM

Since I work in higher education as a faculty member, we must find ways to deliver course and program objectives online. We stay student/fancentric by creating channels to listen to their issues and modify educational delivery to meet the needs of all our students. We truly are a no student gets left behind institution. -Jason Rice, North Central College

We have launched a webinar series every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as increasing our podcast distribution schedule from once per week to three times per week to help sports non-profits get through all this. -Roy Kessel, Sports Philanthropy Network

We are a fundraising organization. Through the month of March we went dormant on all social and digital ads and leveraged the passionate community we have around the organization to bring people together, listen, and do our best to meet them where they are and work to provide what they need. We aren’t actively pushing fundraising right now with our Team In Training campaign, but will do so when it’s appropriate to do so again. Our theory here is that if we show up for people (volunteers/fundraisers) in their time of need now, then they will show up for the organization in a big way in the future when we are through this. We have also worked quickly to bring together a number of corporate partners to fund a blood cancer patient assistance fund which launched this past week. We are already distributing funds based on need arising from COVID-19 impact, etc. -Ryan Hatcher, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Team In Training

While we were sorting out how we could best help our clients, it sort of happened to us. Clients began reaching out with ways that we could assist them. They essentially showed us where we fit into the new reality. It was an interesting experience…There is now this massive and real phenomenon of disconnection. That is a very dangerous thing for an organization to be disconnected from their clients, their employees and even potential prospects. They view our ability to create connections, to display importance and/or simply provide some positive emotions in a difficult time, as a solution or at least a mitigation to that issue. It’s a good feeling when you hear that…so we’re working with our luxury brands on COVID pricing, minimizing our margins, creating special programming and just doing what we can to help with our clientele. -Michael Myers, BirdieBox

Our fancentric = clientcentric. We communicate with all clients daily. In fact, we have had more time to connect with our clients than ever before and truly understand their situations. When appropriate, they have allowed us better insight into what we do and why it matters. Doubling down on client obsession is our only focus. -Ryan Peck, Transports Global

TMR: Any final thoughts?

I think this is a good time for people to get uncomfortable in the comfort of their own home. We have a chance to decompress from the stresses of every day life and should be taking advantage of that, while still looking out for our well being. Sports aren’t going anywhere, but we have to understand we might be the last thing to be back to normal in all of this, as I imagine 20,000 people in a space together will be low on the priority of health officials. -Jake Lenz, HomeField Alliance

This crisis has shown just how vital sports are to the mental and physical health of our society. Not sure what I miss more, watching my favorite teams battle on TV on a nightly basis or my weekly pick-up basketball game and trips to the driving range. Sports provide a unique release from the stress and pressure of our daily life. Having those outlets removed, during such a difficult time, has only made me appreciate sports more. -Andrew Louthain, Chicago District Golf Association

To jump to…

Part I: Immediate-term Impact

Part II: Learning & Adapting

Part III: Appreciation (& Disappointment)

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.