The future of sport in a post COVID-19 world

The future of sport in a post COVID-19 world

One of society’s biggest pastimes is watching or following sport, sports teams and sports stars. Many peoples’ lives centre around weekend sports matches, for instance, a combined 3.572 billion viewers tuned in to watch the 2018 World Cup (FIFA, 2018).

The sports industry is one of the fastest growing globally and comprises not only revenues generated by major events and league games such as sponsorship, the sale of merchandise, TV rights, ticketing, betting and other expenditure made by spectators (e.g. food and drinks), but also sport clothing and footwear, health and fitness and participant sports, among others. For example, in 2017/18 the domestic European leagues’ combined revenues from broadcasting, sponsorship and ticketing were reportedly €28.4bn. 

However, earlier this year, society as we knew it changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with sport being one of the highest impacted industries.

The pandemic led to the cancellation or postponement of major sporting events, including the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the Euro 2020 men’s football championship and the French Open tennis championship.

Financial hardship 

And with cancellations there comes income losses, as if teams can’t play, there are no ticket sales, while sponsorship and TV rights deals start to be questioned.

In the UK the government agreed a £16 million bailout loan for Rugby League so the sport can continue in a post lockdown world. Rugby League operates on very tight margins, but the government approved the loan due to the positive social and economic contribution of the sport to society, highlighted in a 2019 report named The Rugby League Dividend. The report, led by Dr Nicolas Scelles, Programme Leader on our online Sports Management masters programme, shows the significant social return on investment in Rugby League, which makes a positive difference to people’s lives. In the report, Nicolas and his colleagues show how this authentic sport delivers a huge range of social and economic benefits, such as health benefits, reduction in crime, improved education performance, and improved life satisfaction for adults, amongst others.

The same but different 

Another sport under pressure is football. Anxious to avoid a potential £762m rebate on their broadcast income, the Premier League returned to action in June after a three-month postponement. With leagues in Germany, Spain and Italy also restarting, the game goes on.

For other sports though, it could be that they just need to ‘think outside the box’. In a recent article, Professor Jonathan Grix, an academic on our masters in Sports Management programme, commented that one area complimenting the rules of a ‘lockdown’ is the merging of esports and ‘real’ sport: that is, where athletes ‘compete’ virtually.

For example, cyclists can ‘compete’ against rivals in virtual races, offering entertainment that can be viewed safely from behind a computer screen with both shots of the athletes, as well as of their comparative progress in the ‘race’. Recent running events have attempted something similar, where instead of running a half-marathon together, individuals run alone for the specified distance using GPS in their locality and upload their times to see where they finished in the race.

More dramatic ideas include taking athletes who are healthy, quarantining them and then having them play matches, run races and compete to be viewed by an audience thirsty for sport and the uncertainty of outcome that makes its consumption so exciting.

What does the future look like? 

We do not know if it is realistic to assume that hundreds of thousands of people will be moving around Europe in a festival of football in the summer of 2021. But what we do know, is that even in such a challenging market, sports organisations are still hunting for leaders who can grasp new opportunities and steer them into unchartered territories, reshaping the future of sport.

As part of our online Sports Management masters programme, leading academics from our triple accredited Business School will help you to develop the expertise that sports organisations require – from events management and sports marketing to data analytics – without needing to travel to study. And unlike most other courses from the UK, you will also explore areas such as policy, politics, finance and law to understand how they apply to the sports industry and give you the confidence you need to take your career to the next level.

If you’re interested in studying the business of sport, head over to our masters in Sports Management course page to find out more.