The Coronavirus was declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation on the 11th of March 2020. With no regard for geography, the virus has had a widespread impact on societies, economies and politics across the globe. The response to cancel sports competition has unarguably been the right one, but how has this affected the most important stakeholders in sport – the fans?
1788 members of our Sports Fan Panel shared their views on the impact that the Coronavirus pandemic has had on their lives and the wider sporting world. They were a hung jury when casting their vote on how current competitions should finish, but most were excited to re-immerse themselves in live sports. It seems COVID-19 has dealt a significant blow to sport, but fans are ready to bring it back to life.
The sporting world
There is speculation that the Rugby Football Union could suffer a £45 million loss in revenue due to the pandemic, and the Premier League a staggering £1 billion. Two of the biggest sporting competitions every year, the Six Nations and the Premier League, therefore face pressure to finish their campaign whilst minimising disruption to the fragile, cyclical sporting calendar. At an unprecedented time for sport, this is no easy task.
This struggle is compounded by the fact that fan opinions are split, meaning any decision made is bound to cause upset. 24% of the Sports Fan Panel want the Premier League season to end immediately and current standings to remain, whereas; 22% agree that the season should finish now, but argue that points be void. The remaining fans want the season to finish, with 22% wishing this to be from behind closed doors, but 19% arguing that fans should be in attendance.
This concept of fixtures and events taking place from behind closed doors has been discussed in sports news frequently in recent weeks. Finishing the season and hosting sport events with crowds in the foreseeable future, may not be possible until a vaccine for the virus is widely available. Who knows when this will be? With 43% of the panel agreeing that behind closed doors games should occur in the event of a pandemic, live games without fans would help fill the void for many supporters, but can they be deemed a panacea?
There is consensus amongst fans on how the pandemic has been handled so far. On the 11th of March, the same day COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, over 52’000 Atletico Madrid and Liverpool fans mixed in and around Anfield. Unsurprisingly, around 3 in 5 of our Sports Fan Panel agreed that the match, as well as Olympiacos v Wolves and the Cheltenham Festival – all of which took place as the potential scale of the pandemic was becoming apparent – should have been cancelled or postponed. But who do fans think are responsible for softening the impact of the virus on the sporting world?
84% and 79% of fans believe that governing bodies and the Premier League respectively, have a duty to support lower league clubs in the fallout of the pandemic. This will be welcome news for the Premier League, as their advancement of £125 million to EFL clubs, is likely to be supported by fans. Conversely, this may be deemed by clubs as a short-term adhesive for the impact of the pandemic, which will have long-term implications. But, the spotlight has turned to players, for now.
Our Sports Fan Panel have been doing less exercise during lockdown, which may be indicative of efforts to avoid transmission of the virus. However, 39% have been working out at home, with 23% of these individuals looking online for help. Evidenced barriers to exercise such as cost, time and inspiration are no longer as prominent, and the likes of Joe Wicks, Gym Shark and Tyson Fury, have taken note. Clearly, exercise habits are changing.
The Coronavirus has evidently impacted fans’ relationship with fitness, but what about their relationship with sport? With an entire roster of mega-events and elite competitions postponed or cancelled, a void has been opened in fans’ lives. The Olympic Games, Euros, Premier League season, Six Nations, Wimbledon, T20 World Cup and the Open, form just part of an extensive list. Unsurprisingly, 3 in 4 of our Sports Fan Panel agree that they are impacted by the loss of live sport.
So how can sports stay connected? Across broadcast, social media and other digital platforms, archive footage has been instrumentalised to drive fan engagement, even leading to a temporary re-naming of Match of the Day to ‘Match of Their Day’. This was the most popular method amongst fans to drive engagement, with 49% outlining highlights as the way to do this.
However, the majority of the Panel have cast their attention away from sport for a replacement, with only 16% choosing to spend time they usually use to watch sport, with consuming sport in a new way. It seems re-living moments of glory will bring joy to many fans, but nothing compares to experiencing it for the first time.
Hearing this, sports organisations may feel helpless, but, a standout finding from the survey will offer some comfort. 89% of fans plan to attend the same number of events once sport resumes and 72% will be no more anxious than before the pandemic. Although the way in which fans consume sport from the comfort of their own home is quickly changing, attending live sport events offers something that can’t be matched during this period.
Hopefully this will act as a turning point for sports rights holders, who can use this time to review and improve the live sports experience, which on the whole, has been neglected.
The sporting world may be changing rapidly, but the time-tested emotional bond between fan and club, team and athlete, seems resolute in the face of the pandemic. The reliance sports organisations have on traditional broadcast revenue may be changing as new channels come to the fore, but the prospect of attendance revenue upon sports return represents a light at the end of the tunnel for sports organisations. More so than ever, fans will be relied upon as the heartbeat of sport.