Covid-19 caught us off-guard, forcing the world as a whole, and the sports world specifically, to stop dead in its tracks and recalibrate.
With much of the world now “flattening the curve” things are slowly turning around as we enter an age of what may be seen as a ‘new normal’ and live sports are returning, albeit behind closed doors.
Sports fans are craving live-action, even if it means watching from afar. Unfortunately, the euphoria around merely watching from home won’t last long.
The return of sports amid COVID regulations is pushing the sports world into an era of quick innovation with an unknown expiration date.
Some teams and leagues have already implemented creative ideas. Mönchengladbach will return home to play its first match at Borussia-Park in front of thousands of cardboard cutouts of real fans. To solve the silent stadium issue, some clubs are in discussion with hack-CARE, which developed Myapplause, an app that allows fans to send cheers from their couches.
In Belarus, Taiwan and South Korea cheerleaders performed, robots played the drums, mannequins and cardboard cutouts of generic fans littered the stands, and fans were able to join the game on the jumbotron via Zoom.
All of these measures were designed to make the stadium feel alive, to give the players on the field the feeling that they aren’t alone. What they fail to do is bring the stadium feel to the fans at home.
Now more than ever sports need to focus on ways of keeping fans locked-in from their couches. Doing so can prove valuable financially for teams and leagues as well.
COVID measures may remain in place for two months or for a year. At present, we cannot predict how quickly, or slowly, things will return to ‘normal’ and what this ‘new normal’ will look like.
Innovation on an expiration date doesn’t have to be a complicated technological upgrade. As we navigate through the ‘right now’ COVID era, innovative ideas may best serve teams, leagues, stadiums and broadcasters.
Let’s take Union Berlin's concept of a virtual stadium menu as an example. The team has a virtual food truck, where fans can ‘order’ goods they would normally purchase at the stadium, without physically receiving the items. The donations are helping the team through financial hardships.
Why not take it a step further and partner with a delivery service, or hire people who may have lost their jobs due to COVID, to deliver these goods to fans? Or create “match day packs” with local supermarkets that can be picked up or delivered just in time for the game. These options give additional jobs for those in need, allow stadiums to generate revenue from selling goods, add monetisation opportunities for sponsors who may want to take part in packaging, and bring more of the stadium feel to the living room.
As for content, creativity and thinking outside of the box are key to finding new ways to deliver more content to loyal fans. Season ticket holders may get access to exclusive content and players who aren’t in the line-up can take over media accounts during the game to drive engagement on social channels. Teams can generate revenue by connecting content to new merchandise with QR Codes that lead to exclusive content or chances to win prizes.
When it comes to the broadcast, AI and new angles can offer a new experience for fans, even letting fans at home choose their preferred angle or letting them act like directors. And since we can already hear players yelling, why not add microphones to the field so fans feel as if they’re on the pitch with the players? These small additions and changes can make the game-day experience more immersive for fans sitting at home.
Covid-19 may have caught the sports world off-guard, but we must see this as an opportunity, and take advantage of this opportunity to innovate the at-home experience because even if there is an expiration date for COVID measures, there will always be fans watching from couches around the world.