Sport is rightly not the first priority when faced with a global pandemic.
One year on, Covid-19 has destroyed lives and disrupted our daily routines beyond recognition. Yet sport has the unique power to help us all rise from the pandemic’s weighty burden.
As fans, we cannot wait for sport to get back to something more ‘normal’.
Sport connects people through shared experiences – whether in-stadia, crowded around the TV at home or gathered at your local bar – like nothing else. Whilst elite sport has ably adapted and continued, it has been diluted. The action is there, but the magic is missing.
As participants, fitness regimes and grassroots sports clubs, often at the heart of our communities, are hanging by threads.
Mental and physical fitness have become even bigger issues in the last twelve months, yet the conditions we find ourselves in – closed gyms, reduced contact and greater juggling of responsibilities – has forced them down the agenda. An indirect health crisis is building and it needs an antidote.
So, what role can the world of sport and its partners play?
Firstly, we have adapted during the pandemic. We found new ways to connect, we developed new passions and fans and brands have been connected in ever-more innovative ways. The pandemic for all its tragic impact acted as a long-overdue catalyst for change.
Work such as our Heineken Champions League livestream opening party with Defected helped set us out on a path that we have been advocating for some time. Digital-first, content-led, data-driven activations, bringing together new collaborators and new storytellers to create something altogether more powerful, relevant and meaningful.
Secondly, the postponements of 2020 have offered us a bumper sporting calendar to enjoy in 2021.
A men’s EURO 2020 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic & Paralympic Games have joined 2021’s existing events, annual mainstays like F1, the UEFA Champions League, the Tour De France and emerging global events like the League of Legends World Championship 2021 – an event that attracted 200m viewers to the Super Bowl’s 103m in 2018 and is planned to be held, serendipitously, in Wuhan, China later this year.
Thirdly, women’s sport. Many decision-makers took a short-term view under commercial pressure and deprioritised women’s sports. Yet there is growing momentum for the still vastly under-represented 50%, often those who have suffered the biggest burden in lockdown, to have a release as both fans and participants. Sports need to urgently cater to this opportunity, and the smarter sponsors will understand the long terms gains too.
Fourthly, there is now a Covid-shaped imperative to be fit and healthy. The need for exercise and desire for a return to the endorphin rush it provides will fuel the fitness lifestyle that has already ballooned in the last decade. Endemic brands will need to be ever-bolder, more relevant and meaningful as other entrants muscle in on their space.
Finally, it’s a buyer’s market. Rights holders need the revenue after a year marred by difficult compensation discussions and lost income. We are already seeing new entrants to sports sponsorship – TikTok, eToro, Dettol to name a few – as sport continues to attract growing brands looking to differentiate.
Whilst we excitedly wait for all passions to re-emerge – music, cinema, festivals, theatre, the arts, restaurants, travel or new, emerging hyper-passions – sport remains the passion point with the biggest reach, deepest connections and biggest opportunity for brands to connect.
So, with cautious optimism towards a route out of this, roadmaps in the UK and vaccine rollouts gathering pace, we are on the cusp of a sporting explosion at both a grassroots participation and elite fan level. Add a fan-base starved of their action and we have a powder keg of potential.
Much has been mooted of a potential new summer of love, but to paraphrase Hal David, I would offer a counterview. What the world really needs now is not just love, sweet love – but sport, sweet sport. And thankfully, there is plenty of it for those who are brave enough to capitalise.