2020 was one of the most difficult years in history, impacting every corner of the globe, including the sports and entertainment industry, which was particularly hard hit. Travel was restricted, events were canceled, fans were stuck watching at home, and staff around the world were furloughed or outright laid off. It was not what anyone had envisioned after years of growth in the sector and excitement around major events and modernizations. As we all know, sports do have the power to unite, and to a certain extent, heal people. We did witness some great moments in the year, including a rally around first responders and the community, providing a platform for social justice, and spurring innovation. We asked some our colleagues in the industry what stood out to them in 2020, and wanted to share those highlights, along with the takeaways we think will play a critical role in the recovery of 2021 and beyond.
- NBA Bubble
- Safety, technology, and entertainment converged in Orlando in an incredible way to complete the 2019-2020 NBA season
- ESPN’s The Last Dance documentary
- A perfect storm of never-before-seen footage, a once-in-a-lifetime superstar, and everyone starved for content led to massive viewership and cultural appeal
- Social Justice movement
- Athletes used their platform and voices to push for civil rights after societal unrest; teams and leagues responded in remarkable ways
- Stadiums & arenas serving as voting centers
- A direct response to the social justice movement, teams volunteered their facilities to serve as voting centers during the 2020 election
- Nike’s “You Can’t Stop Us” Commercial
- Featuring striking side-by-side imagery and a message of hope and overcoming challenges, this ad resonated throughout the world
- Acceptance, Emergence and Growth of Sports Gambling
- After years of being shunned, sports gambling was approved in a dozen states, leading to billions wagered, widespread acceptance and increase content
- NASCAR rallying around Bubba Wallace
- NASCAR’s only African American driver helped to foster a conversation about the importance of diversity in the sport as other teams and drivers stood by him
- The Phoenix Suns having family members intro players in the bubble
- One of the most fun innovations from the aforementioned NBA Bubble was having family members who were far away from the players introduce them
- Virtual NFL Draft
- The typically gargantuan NFL Draft setup was divvied up and scattered around the country as players had hat lockers and broadcasted reactions from home. The first major “event” in the U.S. amid the lockdown was a tremendous virtual success of the NFL, its fans and its broadcast partners.
- ICC Women’s World Cup featuring Katy Perry
- The ICC crowned the host nation, Australia, as world champions in front of 86,174 adoring fans in the best-attended and final major international sporting event of 2020 before the pandemic.
So, what did we learn from some of these great moments and innovations in 2020? How will 2021, and the recovery we all hope will come, be influenced by the preceding year?
Partnerships That Go Deeper
While most partnerships still emphasize the usual assets (use of marks, entitlements, in-venue signage, social media, etc.), more and more companies are looking for deeper integrations and connections that emphasize mission, vision, and values above just eyeballs. When it comes to the partnerships of the future, cultural fit, creativity, and measurable engagement and ROI are going to key, for both the organization and the brand.
The pandemic forcing all venues to move forward without fans meant that most partnership assets were no longer viable. This forced teams to rethink their partnership strategy for the year ultimately leading to re-evaluating how they are measured and executed moving forward. One thing we expect to see in 2021 is an increased emphasis on what gets measured and how when it comes to partnership elements such as new TV visible signage, uniform marks and digital content. The way fans engage with teams has completely changed and most teams were caught off-guard, but these new revenue streams should be utilized in conjunction with the return to full venues to boost the bottom line in the years to come. Revenue generation and protection are as important as they have ever been.
Content is King, Especially on Digital Channels
One thing we all learned this past year is the importance of digital communication tools when it comes to getting work done remotely. Along the same lines, we now know the importance of reaching fans when they’re not at stadiums and arenas, with endless possibilities for engaging content. The opportunities are truly limitless in this space and it will behoove sports properties to think of their fanbase as truly global moving forward.
- How can we engage with fans who might never come to our home venue?
- How can we monetize people hundreds and thousands of miles away?
- How can we reach and target different demographics in unique ways?
- What parts of the experience can we enhance in our venues too?
Creating content that your team controls has incredible benefits on the brand, partnerships, sales and so many other areas that it can no longer be seen as a throw in or item to check off the list, but one of the main drivers of revenue moving forward.
Stand for Something
2020 taught us that sports teams are a huge part of society and have the power to shift conversations and perceptions of incredibly important topics. While athletes have always had a platform to speak out on issues important to them, teams finally understood that it wasn’t enough to stand on the sidelines anymore. Whether it was access to voting, racial justice, or gender equality, sports organizations threw their support and social prominence behind important social issues. In 2021 and beyond, we should continue to see athletes, teams, and leagues strategically continue to push significant matters forward and utilize their outsize roles to impact positive change.
While 2020 was a very difficult year for our industry, we know how strong and resilient all of you, our friends and colleagues around the world, are. As we come up on 12 months of this reality, we thought that it was important to look back and celebrate some of the accomplishments that we have seen while also keeping a steady gaze around the corner to anticipate what may lie ahead.