By its very nature, the unpredictability and uncertainty of sport are why it instils such intense passion and emotion in all of us. It is also why we are driven as sports marketing and communications professionals to work in the jobs we do and dedicate our time to helping our clients grow by creatively addressing their pain points.
The global Covid-19 pandemic has accentuated unpredictability and uncertainty. We are all working hard to adapt and adjust to the world that we live in today, as well as apply our intellectual foresight to think constructively about the world into which we will re-emerge. We need to accept that things will be different in the sports industry but also understand that this is a time where we can, as a collective, disrupt, collaborate, co-create, and align to enhance the future.
At H+K Sport we have been tracking the macro trends influenced by the tectonic impact of Covid-19, finding three areas of importance:
Partnerships will have purpose at its core
Rightsholders will look to work even more closely with their partners to drive transformative business change through mutual collaboration. At the core of this will be a focus on purpose and how the property and brand align to construct a strategy and tactical narrative around areas including sustainability, social change, economic impact, equality and education.
An important example of a property that has worked very hard to articulate this is the Extreme E Series that will start in early 2021. The property has looked in detail at the challenges of the world and built their proposition by using sport as the conduit to demonstrate tangible change.
Two things happened at once in content marketing. Demand soared, with a vacuum of live sport and more consumers at home with time on their hands, and supply was limited, with many productions forced to shut down. That became a formula for innovation. Brands and publishers shifted to low-production remote-shooting creativity that saw some really smart social formats – such as live Zoom calls or at-home workout tips – which kept up a steady stream of content.
However, the real stand-out sports content of Covid-19 fit a very different mould. The piece of work that truly became a cultural talking point and travelled beyond its own platform was The Last Dance – a ten-part documentary series. A smart publishing approach certainly took advantage of the lack of live sports, but above all this showed that even in unpredictable times some things don’t change. Powerful human stories beautifully realised by great creators are still sport’s most bankable commodity. Even in a new reality, story is still king.
Athletes as Brands
In 2018, LeBron James was told by right-wing commentator Laura Ingraham to ‘shut up and dribble’. But that sentiment, that athletes exist only in the world of the sport they play, has never been more ridiculous.
We’ve seen it in the last week in the US, where American athletes have been a louder and more impactful voice on the subject of police brutality than their own politicians. We saw it in the UK response to Covid-19, where footballers were first criticised for not immediately pledging huge cash sums, and then lauded for taking their time to come up with a huge co-ordinated response.
In our connected culture, today’s athlete is considered a vocal and accountable part of our society. Some may not like it, but all must accept it. To have notoriety in our society is to be expected to have a voice on all sorts of issues. That change was already well underway, but Covid-19 and the recent protests have cemented it.
Covid-19 has accelerated significant change in the sports industry and this must be embraced to ensure that it continues to play an integral role in marketing and communications. What we are living through is challenging and uncertain but we must all rise to the challenge and ensure that we remain focussed on developing and evolving the industry that we are so passionate about.