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Sports industry adaptation to COVID-19

The English Premier League was one of the last major championships to resume after the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the coming to an end of summer, traditionally known as the quieter months in the sports industry calendar, major leagues are on the verge of starting off their respective new seasons, with some already having commenced operations.

However, the new season will be anything but an ordinary one, owing to the wide-ranging impact that COVID-19 has had on the sports industry across the world.

Social and physical distancing measures, lockdowns of businesses, closure of schools and overall impacts on social life have disrupted many regular aspects of life, including sport and physical activity. 

At the time that COVID-19 began to spread to alarming levels and brought to a halt of major sports competitions, nobody knew exactly how far reaching the affects of such virus would be on the sports industry and whether competitions would ever resume at all in the foreseeable future.

Take the initial decision by the English Premier League to halt the championship for a two-week period.

The Premier League quickly realised that its initial plans to resume matches on the weekend of April 3-5, 2020, were not feasible or logical, with the Premier League ending up being one of the last major European competitions to resume season 2019-20, 100 days after being suspended.

The return of those sporting competitions that were paused came at the expense of not having any fans allowed in stadiums and strict protocols in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The pausing, cancellation or  postponement of sporting competitions has come at a hefty cost.

FIFA’s coronavirus steering committee have put the cost of COVID-19 on the global football industry alone at a whopping $11 billion in lost revenues.

Sport organisations had two choices to make; either halt their respective sporting competitions until the virus ends and for certain face further irrevocable consequences as a result of such decision or attempt to kick-start sporting competitions albeit in different circumstances than normal.

With the majority of major sporting organisations opting for the latter option, they scrambled specialised COVID-19 steering committees with the stakeholders involved working cooperatively as a team with the objective to address the current challenges and to facilitate the return to play of sports events.

Many of these return to play protocols run into tens of pages, detailing all the procedures that must be adhered to from pre-match to in play and even after a game has finished.

One must understand that sport is a major contributor to economic and social development. It contributes towards the empowerment of young aspiring athletes who look up at their sporting heroes to one day make it to their levels.

It provides significant contributions to communities as well as plays a key role in the health, education and social aspect of one’s life.

Sport also contributes significantly to the world’s economy by providing thousands of jobs across the world and paying taxes to national coffers. The global value of the sports industry is estimated to be valued at a staggering $756 billion.

The effects of COVID-19 on the sporting industry can be seen in a domino effect.

Athletes and their respective clubs have had to adapt to a more demanding match-day schedule with matches played in surreal surroundings, fans have had to accept following their favourite team/athlete from their TV’s/social media platforms and clubs have had to think outside the box to get as much income as possible in order to sustain their operations.

The sport ecosystem, comprising of producers, broadcasters, fans, businesses, owners and athletes among others, needs to find new and innovative solutions to mitigate the negative effects of COVID-19 on the world of sport.

This includes finding avenues to engage with fans to ensure safe sporting events while maintaining the workforce, creating new operating models and venue strategies.

Whilst nobody can ascertain for sure how adversely effected sports competitions will be, one hopes that those sport competitions that have resumed or are set to continue will be completed in a fair sporting manner.

Sport is seen by many in these uncertain times as offering a glimmer of hope for better days ahead.

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