Op-Ed: Why 2020 became the year of sports communications

09 Sep 2020

By: Sport Industry Group

The coronavirus and ensuing lockdown had a major impact on the world of sport, with events cancelled, postponed and moved across the spectrum. These tidal shifts in the sport industry, and the importance of clear information, have placed a greater value on communications. Here, Scott Branch, Business Director, CSM Sport & Entertainment discusses why and what the future might hold.


The value of communications has never been higher. At a time when many across the world have experienced isolation in some form or other, we have been more reliant than ever on the power of communications to connect us.

Whether we are sharing messages with family and friends, searching for the latest public health information or seeking education and entertainment, we have never been more exposed to the benefits of good communications and strong narratives.

COVID-19 has sent shockwaves through the world of sport. For years our industry has benefitted from the luxury of extensive live TV coverage, mainstream media reportage and the ‘live experience’, but that exposure disappeared overnight.

Rights holders and sponsors can no longer rely on the halo effect of major events to deliver a return on their investment and must earn attention. There is a need, more than ever, to innovate through content and storytelling, with many traditional tactics of partnership activation currently impossible and, in some cases, unlikely to return as ‘normal service’ resumes.

As with other sectors, the coronavirus crisis has been a catalyst for change, accelerating trends that have been emerging in the sport and entertainment industry over the past few years. The sponsorship badging exercise has evolved as brands seek a high-profile platform that they can leverage to tell their stories. The emphasis and the opportunity is to work as part of a mutually beneficial partnership with leading organisations that share the same values. 

In times of shock, the knee-jerk reflex has always been to cut lines of communication, streamline marketing budgets and put activation plans on hold. However, those brands that adapt their approach and pivot to communicate more effectively with their audiences stay true to their brand values and prepare to emerge from this crisis stronger.

Times of crisis like those we continue to experience are where communications people excel.

We are an agile collective that add value to the businesses we work for through our creative, our relationships and our ability to communicate strategically. We are experts at safeguarding reputations, earning attention and creating exposure from a good story or a simple asset.

Those skills have never been more important.

Over the past couple of months our agency has seen a rise in interest from brands seeking to redeploy budgets away from more traditional activations in favour of a pivot to digital or maintaining their awareness and credibility in trusted, traditional media. 

We have seen that, despite these tough times, there is an opportunity to cut through with extraordinary work.  

Since this crisis began, we have helped Formula E maintain media momentum with a new esports series, launched new fitness content campaigns for Rexona and Lucozade Sport and connected the Rajasthan Royals and Panasonic Jaguar Racing to their fans through coaching videos and a new podcast.

We’ve also welcomed new communications clients to our roster in Umbro, Chiesi and Betfair. Strong global brands who recognise that by investing in good communications now, they can help their businesses flourish in the future.

We have long believed in a capability-first communications approach, and COVID-19 has accelerated the need for sports-specialists to be marketeers in sport, not sports marketeers.

That’s why we feel it is the right time to formalise our dedicated communications offering, building on the extraordinary work we’ve delivered for our clients over recent years. 

Doubling-down on specialist services, we are expanding our offering across three core areas of capability: Strategic Communications & PR, Communications Consultancy and Digital Communications, with a team of dedicated communications specialists now established by CSM in multiple locations globally. 

For us, 2020 will be remembered as the year when sports communications became less about sport and more about communications.