As sport organisations deal with the coronavirus lockdown, and the fact that much of the sporting landscape has seen events postponed or cancelled, one obvious consequence has been a pivot to digital.
The quickening of esports’ march into the mainstream, glimpses into the lockdown home lives of athletes and celebrities and the rise of some new social media stars have all come out of the quarantine as everyone - whether that’s teams and league engaging with fans or families connecting via video call - embraces online platforms.
“It’s obviously a challenging time for sports organisations in terms of creating the volume and type of content that allows them to not only keep fans engaged, but also continue to execute a sustainable content strategy,” said Nick van Rensburg, Communications Manager, PTSportSuite, a digital platform provider that unites players, fans, sport organisations and clubs into digital communities.
“We’ve seen a heavy reliance on old content - matches, interviews with past players for example – but that will only take you so far and sports organisations should be looking at ways and processes of curating new, fresh player-driven content for their digital communities to consume.”
Fresh content is difficult to come by when sport is at a minimum, and sport organisations are grappling not just with the task of filling the void of live action, but also the entertainment void as a whole with large swathes of the population put on furlough or out of work and finding themselves with more time on their hands.
But organisations shouldn’t rush to plug those gaps without factoring in how that fits with their existing content strategies, according to Charlie Beall, Consulting Partner, Seven League.
“I would caution against going headlong into content ideas that you can't sustain over the long term,” he said. “If it fits your wider strategy to invest in esports for example, or to launch on a new platform, or develop new formats with athletes, then now's a great time to do that.
“Now's not a great time to do one-off activations in esports and then leave a dormant channel three months later, or whenever the regular programming of matches comes back.
“The analogy we use at Seven League is of fixing an airplane when it's in mid-air. In sport, we traditionally struggle to think strategically because of the constant stream of matches that need covering, we never get the opportunity to fix the plane when it's on the ground. Now is that time.”
The digital and content strategies that some were putting in place long before the lockdown can be developed further in this period, and indeed the public may well be advised to stay at home more often even when the most severe restrictions come to an end.
Beall continued: “Even under normal circumstances, the most forward thinking brands in sport tend not to be driven solely by match schedules.
“In many cases, for them, it's about becoming a broader entertainment brand and having different verticals of content that extend beyond and around live matches. Now’s the perfect time to develop those.
“It’s important not to get sucked up into the knee-jerk reactions that take place around any kind of disruption. There will be those saying ‘okay, well everyone’s self-isolating and remote, so we need to do esports or jump on this content meme’. For some, those tactical decisions will be the right ones, but in many cases they can come across as ham-fisted. Now is the time to hold firm to your strategy and identify opportunities within that framework”
Indeed, clubs, teams, and leagues within sport all have opportunities that many other sectors don’t have: a vast array of athletes with celebrity appeal at their disposal. In many cases, they also have fanbases hungry for behind the scenes content and a glimpse into the home lives of their heroes.
These were assets sport organisations were attempting to capitalise on anyway, but they appear to be a flourishing avenue during lockdown and could be for some time.
“If I could give any advice, it would be to find a platform that empowers your internal community of players, coaches and staff to become content creators for your organisation in a standardised manner,” added van Rensburg.
“Right now, sports clubs find themselves in the situation of having their - in some cases expensively assembled - playing squads sitting at home, not adding value to their organisations, due to the suspension of games and through no fault of their own.
“But if there’s one thing sports fans love almost as much as the action on the pitch, it’s the unseen, authentic player media that lifts the lid on the life of pro sportspeople.”
Despite most areas coming under pressure from the postponement of events, a sudden lack of footfall, or the drop in advertising and media spend, online content is more relevant than ever and this is still an opportunity to build and foster communities that will outlast the pandemic and its restrictions.
“Fan engagement and digital communities can still grow,” said van Rensburg. “Even in these challenging times, player-generated media can really be the driving force in your content strategy.”