Coronavirus is the big bracket-buster, the most unexpected spoiler, and without a doubt, the most formidable opponent organized sports has faced in our lifetime. Cities are at a loss and the hospitality industry is hurting. It is the biggest game changer the industry has seen.
From suspended pro seasons to youth sports being put on hold, COVID has become the force to be reckoned with. The changes have already been well documented in the news, and likely will continue to increase before officials are able to get the establish control.
However, it is apparent sectors of the market are likely to be able to find a way to work around the uncertainty. Here’s who they are what they’re doing, and why they just might have an edge in these tumultuous times:
Virtual Events: Already having established a firm footing in the marketplace, virtual events have become a force to be reckoned with. From the loopy (the Royal Wedding 5K) to the races and rides benefitting Australian bushfire victims to the serious (many marathons now offer a virtual participation option), the D-I-Y event might help salvage at least a portion of the bottom line for event directors in the era of social distancing.
USA Triathlon’s Time to Tri Virtual Triathlon is an active program that preexisted the coronavirus and has already seen excellent participation. It is free for individuals to participate and to register and upload their results; however, those who choose to make a $35 donation to the USA Triathlon Foundation will receive a finisher’s package that will include a finisher’s medal and a race T-shirt with 100 percent of the proceeds being directed to the Foundation.
Another iteration of the virtual event was discussed by Chad Hoover of Kayak Bass Fishing in a recent issue of SDM. Because kayaks lack a live well, it is up to the angler to take a photo of his or her catch on the bump board and send the photo to tournament judges. Count on other fishing events to take similar steps if coronavirus continues to force cancellations into the summer.
Online Gaming: Okay, everyone loved hearing about the big numbers the Fortnite World Cup Finals racked up when they were held at the grounds of the U.S. Open in New York. For now, though, esports events that take place online are being favored. Activision’s Call of Duty League switched its live Home Series events to an online format only – and it’s hardly the only event to do so.
Online events have long been in use for many mind sports such as chess, bridge, Sudoku and match poker; expect these to continue in popularity.
Streamed Events: If events are still held and no crowds are allowed in, expect streaming to become even more popular. SDM Contributor Jeremy Waller, Vice President of Business Development for Sports Channel Media and YourGameCam, stated his company has already seen increased inquiries from high schools about the potential for streaming.
“Live streaming is, in fact, already being leveraged further specifically because of the health risks surrounding large crowds,” he adds.
Remote Participation: In some cases, such as with performance sports, athletes may find it possible to create a recording of themselves and submit it to judges as part of a remote event.
Life Goes On: Some events are still being held. The Iditarod, unarguably Alaska's signature event, has moved forward. You can follow the action here. And, says Sports Illustrated, The NFL draft will no longer be held in Las Vegas over growing concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak and consultation with medical experts, according to multiple reports. The league is still planning to proceed as scheduled from April 23-25 but will make modifications to how the process will be conducted and broadcast.
Finding the new normal may take some time, but aided by technology, it’s likely that many sports will find a way around the pandemic – at least on a stopgap basis. Already, the performing arts, from Broadway to high school musicals, are responding.
While much has changed, the essential point is that all changes are temporary and that when the threat is contained, the country will need its sports as much as, if not more than, ever before.