How sports has become a victim – and a symptom – of these times

Unlock 4.0 brought with it the prospect of a formal restart of live sports from September 21 2020 – even if the number of people is restricted to 100, along with mandatory scanning, distancing, sanitization and safety measures. 

Sports ranks among any number of other “industry sectors” such as hospitality, aviation, tourism etc that were excessively badly impacted by the pandemic. 

There was hardly any mention of the loss of revenues and diminished prospects being mentioned about this sector. But equally – the anguish among sports fans (and marketers!) about the lack of live sports was real. 

It got me thinking about why Sports is different, and yet so integral to all our lives… in a way that it is almost a symptom, a reflection of our times

  • Sports isn’t something people want to watch on delay; there’s a sense of urgency for both consumer and advertiser. The return of IPL has breathed new life into car, beverage, deodorant and myriad other product marketers. Why – you may ask. Because watching your favorite sports is a serotonin & adrenaline high… like your best friend sitting next you on the couch and telling you that all is well with life
  • Time was when sports meant radio, then it moved to TV – and now its gone (somewhat) digital & mobile. Not just the live action – but also the during-and-post match analysis. Sports was / is one of the last major categories of content to have gone digital & mobile – but, with the advent of 5G, 3D, immersive… sports will also be the one segment that will see the most exciting & revolutionary change in viewing experience
  • In sports…what is least shareable is the final score. It’s a glance at most – and a sigh or a hurrah that follows. What is most shareable, rather, are the stories that make athletes relatable or exceptional.  The exceptional moments, the assists or the clever tactics. Remember Dhoni’s advise to Kuldeep Yadav to get Trent Boult out in Jan 2019… that clip was seen more than the match was, in all probability. 
  • In sports – as in life – it is the images and video with words overlaid that makes up so much of the consumption. There is no need to turn up the volume. Many sports fans watch videos on the go, for example when they are waiting in line at Starbucks or clinging to the metro overhead bar — and in a whole host of other situations, where sound just doesn’t work. So Bleacher Report or ICC or Champions League produce short-form video content without sound, and partner up with advertisers to make sure that their message doesn’t get lost when the earbuds are out. 
  • Although live sports will command large audiences for a long time, the right home for news and analysis probably won’t look like one site for 100 million people. It will probably look more like 100 million feeds for just as many individuals—not sports as one-massive-size-fits-all, but rather something that feels close, individualized, and personal enough to love… just like our own life! 

To close – on a sober note. 

Sports, in our time, is also afflicted with all that is wrong, unethical and disruptive about our society. Integrity of athletes, match fixing, fraud & unfair competitive practices are real issues that rear their ugly head all too often. Security, contingency planning and response was always a concern at sports venues – now we add safety, sanitation and resilience to the mix. Sports management has become high-stakes poker not only because of the huge salaries that celeb-sportspeople command but also because of the regulatory & compliance liabilities that lack of adherence threatens. 

Proactive planning and conducting comprehensive all-hazards risks assessments is now a part of our Sports as well (not just life). The game – after all – must go on, much like life.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Amit Narayan
Partner & Managing Director, South Asia at Control Risks
Amit manages consultants who design, develop and implement risk-mitigation strategies for companies across South Asia. He has advised clients on political and regulatory risk, pre-investment risk, reputational DD, forensic investigations, public policy and stakeholder mapping. Amit has worked in Edelman in India and Burson-Marsteller in Singapore. He has also worked in-house at Vodafone in Singapore and The Walt Disney Company in Hong Kong.

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