How do sports rights holders pivot during COVID-19?



17 March 2020

As we enter further into unchartered waters with the spread and global response to COVID-19, no industry sits unaffected, certainly not sport. For the last few weeks the BBC Sport timeline has shown the daily impact as rights holders take the sensible decision to cancel and postpone their events. The challenge for rights holders now, after the safety and wellbeing of their employees, partners and stakeholders, will be to quickly get clarity on the objectives they will set themselves in this period to ensure when business as usual returns, they are prepared. It is highly like that perennial metric centred on the engagement of their fanbase will remain at the heart of things, just now they must do so without a live product.

This weekend saw a number of rights-holders successfully responding in different ways.  

Only requiring mass gatherings in the virtual world, Esports is uniquely placed to weather the virus storm. Smart decisions activated at breakneck speeds saw at least two events capitalise on the void left by the cancelled Australian F1 GP. Torque Esports ‘The Race – All-Star Esport Battle’ and Veloce Esports utilised F1 drivers Max Verstappen, Lando Norris and Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, in a move that would have opened them up to many others inside and outside of F1.

In League Two, Leyton Orient took to Football Manager™ to complete their fixture against Bradford with the added twist of opening up tactics and selection decisions to their fans via Twitter polls. Leyton Orient are also championing a 64 team FIFA 20 knock out tournament across the leagues. Meanwhile In the Premier League, Southampton challenged Norwich City to a game of noughts & crosses to give their fans something to cheer about. After a no show from the Canaries social team, Manchester City stepped in to secure a hard-fought point. A great example of the benefits of your social team being ‘always on’.

What next

The most successful rights holders must approach these next few weeks or months by dedicating time to thinking how to keep their fans engaged and interested. Those who do it best may even grow their fanbase and those who invest time to prepare for when the sanctions are lifted will be ready for what will inevitably be a crowded marketplace.

For the best performers to succeed however, they will need to truly know their fans. Not just through traditional demographics or profiling, but emotionally and behaviourally. Key will be understanding how their fans interpret, perceive and feel the world around them, to deliver actionable and measurable insights. What makes them tick? What drives their love for the sport, for their team or for an individual? It’s not the same for everyone, why should it be? Segmenting fans by their emotional triggers and what defines them as a fan will lead to better creative, stronger cut-through, more accurate targeting and more importantly, stronger fan relationships.

These are the day to day essentials which are now paramount in the current climate, especially as digital will be the go-to channel in these uncertain times. With the breadth of content at their fingertips; 100+ years of historic, iconic moments, banks of video content, the ability to offer unrivalled access to their players, coaches and back room staff – engaging fans should be easier than ever for rights holders. Once a rights holder embrace that extra level of fan understanding, they are set-up to succeed.

This article was written by Lee Gibbons, MD Sport Unlimited.


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