Sporting clubs and leagues are used to competing for fans and chasing ticket sales, however in the COVID-19 era a new race is on as the sports industry seeks to adapt to competition without fan attendance.
For sports in some parts of the world, such as the AFL in Australia, lower COVID-19 case numbers have allowed leagues to proceed with fixtures with a limited number of fans, which has given club members, ticket holders and TV viewers something at least close to normality.
Other sports are less reliant on the atmosphere created by fans, such as combat sports. The UFC was one of the first major sports businesses in the US to return to fixtures by having fighters compete in empty areas and relying entirely on pay-per-view revenues. They also built a new arena in Abu Dhabi so that international fighters can meet and compete despite the travel restrictions currently imposed by many countries.
For most fans of competitive sports, the atmosphere created in packed stadiums is one of the central elements to their enjoyment of sport, whether they are attending in person or watching a broadcast.
Fan attendance is also a crucial pillar in the business models of sporting clubs and leagues. The average gate receipt alone for an NBA game is $1 million to $1.5 million. The absence of fans also impacts teams and leagues ability to sell packages to advertisers and sponsors.
As with any major disruption, the need for fan engagement has created opportunities for innovative businesses. New app Hear Me Cheer is addressing the lack of atmosphere at sporting fixtures by inviting its users to record themselves watching a sports event, combining the recording with that of all others using the app and playing the sound back, allowing fans to hear themselves and thousands of other fans cheering along to the action in real time.
There are also opportunities in the visualisation and presentation of player stats and data as a means of driving greater fan engagement when other elements of their normal experience may be missing or lacking.
Clubs, teams and leagues are also turning to technology to help drive fan engagement in other ways.
The NBA has been trialling a new technology in collaboration with Microsoft that enables fans to attend games ‘virtually’ via a live stream. Fans seated in front of cameras at home are beamed on to screens court-side so they appear to be attending in person. It boosts the atmosphere for TV viewers, and also for players, who can see family, friends, and diehard fans cheering them on. The NBA also brought forward the release of their 2K esports league to whet the appetites of fans while the season was suspended.
Pro cycling teams are also using technology to stay in touch with their fans, even when races are not taking place.
Doug Ryder, the Team Principal for the NTT pro cycling team, said riders have been connecting with fans through the virtual cycling platform Zwift.
“(Through Zwift) teams have been able to connect with an audience in a third dimensional way, because the audience can actually ask them questions,” Doug said on The Stanley St. Social Podcast (in collaboration with Lumin).
“We understand the power of that platform where you can engage with people from all cultures around the world and bring them into a team like ours.
“I think now going forward, those teams that continue to embrace the platform, even though we are able to get out, those are the teams that are going to benefit from it and offer something uniquely different.”
Despite the challenges, technology is providing enormous opportunities for sporting teams and leagues at all levels. Lumin Sports builds technology to advance high performance teams all over the world. Find out more about Lumin products here.
"As a professional cycling team we have athletes based all over the world, and at times we don’t see them in person for several weeks during the season or months during the off season, and even longer in the current climate. The Lumin Arc platform and Phila app allow us to simplify and centralise both qualitative and quantitative data on the athletes and is a valuable tool for us both for helping with team selection decisions, but also for general monitoring of the athletes health and well being.">
"We joined Lumin early in the development of their Arc platform as we believed that Arc has tremendous potential in the AFL. As a decision maker in the club, I need key player data presented and available to me at any given time, this is something that Arc has shown extremely strong potential.">
“As an athlete I find it incredibly powerful to have the access to my data that all of my coaches also see. It allows me to understand the importance of training and trends in a visual form. The relationship between Dimension Data now NTT and Lumin has been very powerful for athletes and the team as a whole.”>
"Lumin's ARC platform is a game changer in professional cycling. Arc has given our team real insights into the athlete’s performance and how they are feeling and training every day. This has and will continue to improve our decision making in a globally disparate team.">
"We have been working with Lumin since early 2018. Working with our purpose built data collecting tool, Lumin have given our Head Coaches and Key Decision Makers in the team access to visualisations of key performance data in near real time.">
"We are a sport and a team with such a diverse work force which is geographically dispersed. Keeping in touch with each other is critical , every day that a rider is not able to train is a day lost to the team and to the rider. Technology and the partnership with Lumin has enabled us to be more connected than ever in a meaningful and relevant way, keeping us on the road.">
"I can comfortably say that Lumin has saved us well over 40% in time spent collecting and preparing data, meaning we can spend more time putting the data to use.">