Sport Industry Spotlight: Fan Engagement in a Post-Covid World

19 Jun 2020

By: Sport Industry Group

Sport Industry Spotlight kicked off its new phase of covering bespoke topics with partners from across the sector with a special session yesterday, hosted at Beyond Sport’s Workshop Week, and taking a look at fan engagement in a post-Covid world. 

Bringing together a global panel of experts to discuss how the pandemic will change the way sport reaches out to spectators and supporters, as well as looking at what we can learn from the current situation the session welcomed Christophe Dubi, Olympic Games Executive Director, IOC; Sanchit Garg, SVP, Global Head of Sales, ONE Championship; and NFL pair Laura Lefton, the organisation’s Senior Director of Club Business Development, and Melissa Schiller, its Senior Director of Corporate Responsibility.

As with all Sport Industry Spotlight sessions, the panel was hosted by Alex Coulson, Managing Director, Sport Industry Group.

All About the Experience

The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is one of the most high profile events to have been impacted by the global pandemic, with the IOC announcing the Games’ postponement just months before it was due to begin.

The event will now take place in the same city one year later, but Dubi spoke about how those Games will now look different to what was originally planned.

“Next year is all about the global community gathering together to celebrate humanity overcoming Covid,” he said. 

“It’s where we come together and celebrate what we have collectively achieved - with something we’ll reveal on 23rd July, with one year to go, but it'll be different from our intial plan to make this the 'resilience' Games.”

Dubi was also clear that both the fan and athlete experience were at the heart of IOC thinking about any changes the Games will have to undergo because of the pandemic - it's likely to be a simplified Games in order to ensure everyone’s safety and that that the organisation doesn’t overspend in a time of economic uncertainty.

The IOC, he said, would attempt to reverse engineer the Games it wants by thinking about what the finished experience - for both fans and athletes - should look like and then putting in place the processes to get there.

“With everything we do we ask ourselves ‘how will this affect the experience’”, he said. “The experience is at the heart of everything."

Localising Content

That approach to adapting the processes to the objectives was echoed by Garg, who spoke of how the ONE Championship ensures maximum cut-through to its fans across the world.

According to Garg, the organisation sees itself as a media company rather than a traditional rights holder, something he attributes to the company coming of age in the digital era and understanding that fans in different locations consume content differently - allowing the company’s digital team to localise content for greater impact.

“We’re in a unique place,” he said. “We were born in digital and think of ourselves as content factory, from producing live sports and esports events to reality TV general entertainment content.”

“This allows us to attract younger audiences, and in our content we lean a lot towards social and emerging platforms. So we have a lot of non-live content, highlights, workout content and things like that.”

Garg also spoke about how the pandemic has shown his organisation about the power of collaboration, where martial art athletes have collaborated with its esports talent, showing a new side to both sections of its output.

It has also shown ONE Championship that there are significant overlaps in its esports and martial arts audiences, with Garg saying that the organisation will double down on its data and analytics focus, finding ‘pockets of demographics’ they didn’t know existed before - such as finding an emerging female esports audience.

Humanising Effects

The lockdown has also provided an opportunity to show athletes, managers and organisations in a different light - and that humanising effect is something that has been visible throughout the Sport Industry Spotlight series so far.

With audiences confined in their own homes and many looking for both connection and entertainment, sport has been able to shine a light on its human side.

The NFL Draft took place virtually for the first time ever, with managers and team executives taking part digitally from their own homes, something the NFL says showed off a new side of its participants. 

Despite taking the decision to do a fully virtual Draft with just two weeks to go, both Schiller and Lefton agreed that the organisation will be able to take some positive aspects from the 2020 version into future events, even if they plan to go back to the live edition again from next year.

“Connection will look very different, but it’s still key,” said Schiller. “We’ll be leveraging technology and ensuring we’re flexible and adaptable. Being able to create plans that have flexibility and can take shape in different formats will be key for us moving forward.”

That humanising effect, as well as the need to adapt to circumstances that are beyond your control, was echoed by Dubi.

“You never have enough humility,” he said. “You can come very close to something immense and then suddenly it feels remote and full of risk.

“But in all these efforts you have no passengers - you’re either a fan, an owner, or an organiser, but you have no passengers. Everyone can contribute, and technology allows us all to contribute positively.” 

“Sport belongs to all of us.”


Sport Industry Spotlight will return with a wider remit of casting a light on the industry itself, reaching out to different organisations to create new, bespoke sessions with timely and exciting panels and topics for the sector. Find out more here.