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Don’t forget your customer

There is no doubt that the COVID pandemic has been extraordinarily disruptive and harmful to the physical and mental welfare of society overall, to economies, and specifically to individual businesses in all shapes and sizes. All forms of hospitality, transport, travel, certain classes of retail, and the entertainment sectors have been significantly disrupted and harmed in a way that has never been seen before outside of war times. In this environment one of the most hard hit areas is the sports industry. Almost overnight and with little or no advanced knowledge it has been thrown into turmoil and has suffered the devastating consequences of the loss of sports events, and fan attendances due to lockdowns and the subsequent restrictions. The immediate prospects for the sports sector are not good and how it responds is vital to how quickly it will be able to get back to something approaching normality in the future, and indeed start to grow again.

Sports bodies have reacted quickly to this pandemic and many unpalatable decisions have had to be made by sports bodies at both the elite and the community levels. Costs were cut as radically as possible while still ensuring that the sport can still survive. Sports seasons were looked at to see how they were affected and what impact this will have on scheduling and events taking place. All the commercial arrangements have had to be reviewed and revenue sources considered to see how they were affected. Revenues from a variety of sources such as sponsorship, media, government, licensing, fan attendance and hospitality have all had to be reviewed. Bigger sports can to some extent rely on media revenue but this tends to be very small or non-existent for most sports. Most of the remaining sources of revenue have also been hit hard but particularly fan attendances and hospitality.

In this environment good management of key stakeholders can significantly assist the response of each sport to the pandemic. Two key customers need to be catered for and handled correctly, particularly the commercial partners (sponsors) and the sports fan. Depending on the relationship that exists between a sport and their commercial partners the risk of revenue shortfalls can be mitigated by an honest discussion between the parties. In general commercial partners want to be part of the solution for sports and indeed if they are included in the process early can add very considerable assistance in helping sports bodies react to the situation.

It is easy in these very difficult times, and with all the whirlwind of change and difficult decisions that have had to be taken, that the fan and their concerns are lost in the mix. The most important customer is the sports fan who has supported the sport, the team, or the activity for years, and they now feel that they cannot access their sport enough, or at all, any longer. It is vital to the long term welfare of the sport that new ways are found to engage with the fans. This is where good cross fertilisation with the commercial partners can be very helpful. Thankfully the digital world also presents such an opportunity and can be used in many ways to continue to allow fans feel that they are important to the sport and keep them on board. A new direct relationship needs to take place where the sports body can contact and engage directly with fans. Perhaps completely new content on non-match/event days or new ways to encourage fans to engage with each other needs to be put in place. The precise fan solution will vary from sport to sport as well as depending on the capability and willingness of commercial partners to assist. If done correctly the rewards are that the fans, and indeed commercial partners, will still feel part of the sport or team and be willing to give their ongoing long term support to the sport as it rises from the ashes of the COVID pandemic with an even stronger bond than before.

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