Sports 0, Coronavirus 2020

Pranav Jalan
Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Sports being one of the worst-hit industries, the impact is just not financial, but it also has a mental impact. For many across the world, sports is a way of life. The very thought of not being able to catch live action is agonising.

Missing your usual spot at your favourite sports bar? What happened to those sports weekend with your gang? Just like our plans, the future of sports seems to be uncertain. With the COVID-19 affecting almost every possible commerce, the sports industry too has faced the brunt of this, which has resulted in the cancellation of several sporting events around the world.

Sports being one of the worst-hit industries, the impact is just not financial, but it also has a mental impact. Apart from losing out money from the sponsors, and advertisers, the main loss is the postponement of the sport itself. For many across the world, sports is a way of life. The very thought of not being able to catch live action is agonising. Many athletes have taken to the virtual gaming to keep fans entertained.

Filling the void

Esport has done its bit to fill the void with virtual races. The all-star sports battle of Torque Esports that took place at the end of March was attended by some of the world’s best riders, ranging from the Max Verstappen Red Bull F1 Hotshot to Simon Pagenaud, winner of the Indy 500.

This is not all; many other sports like the MotoGP, Football, Cycling, tennis and many others have filled the void by virtual gaming, which seems to be the only immediate alternative.

La Liga’s FIFA tournament on PlayStation sees one player from each club compete for a championship. NBA have done something similar.

However, is the gamification platform relatable to everyone? A lot of sports personas are creating workout videos or keeping fans engaged through live-chat sessions.

What about those whose routines and existence revolve around the sports calendar that’s torn apart by the dreadful virus?

With the pandemic which has caused the most significant disruption to the worldwide sporting calendar, spectators are left with no content to consume. But just like the knight in shining armour, Germany’s Bundesliga have taken a step forward for its fans and is starting the league on the May 16. It will be the first major sports league to resume amid the pandemic.  

In Spain and Italy, football players are back to individual training. Team training sessions might be allowed in the coming weeks. The league has sent a list of safety guidelines on how to return to practice which includes measures to be taken by the players and the clubs while practicing. If the conditions stay favourable the league is also planning to resume games in June in empty stands.

In France the league has been declared over whereas, in the Netherlands, the league stands cancelled.

However, we have to remember that in all the leagues, players come from different countries and most of them have gone back to their homes. With the lockdown restrictions easing down in every country the international travel still seems to be a far-fetched luxury, hence there is a lot of confusion on what can be done.

Tennis activities have been cancelled till September; online championships are taking place with a very few players present. French Open that was supposed to take place from May 24 to June 7 has now been postponed to September 20 till October 4. But there are high chances that it could be held without fans. "Organising it without fans would allow a part of the economy to keep turning, (like) television rights and partnerships. It's not to be overlooked,” FFT president Bernard Giudicelli told French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.

“We're not ruling any option out.” He added. French Open organisers have also said that they will refund the ticket amount back and will start the booking process again.

World’s most prestigious tennis championship Wimbledon has been cancelled for the first time after the Second World War.

Let’s talk money

In India, sports contribute in between 1-5 per cent of the country’s GDP.

Tokyo’s decision to postpone the Olympics 2020 has been met with a mixed response. While the step was much required, the financial repercussions of the same have met with criticism around the world. The postponement has left several countries in a perpetual cash crunch. While the event may take place as per schedule in 2021, experts are predicting a substantial amount of time before the travel ban can be lifted from every country in the world. The losses incurred due to losing out on ad revenue will also play an important part in shaping the sports industry in the future.

According to Forbes, NBC is currently losing out on US$1.2 billion in ad revenue due to the Olympics. NBC, which was already struggling after losing out on some signature events such as Kentucky Derby, French Open and Stanley Cup, will now have to consider 2020 a lost year, as will other global media companies. Companies have already begun to focus on promotional aspects instead of running traditional advertising, which is completely out of question this year.

For sport’s governing bodies, there are three verticals from where they can generate revenue: Ticket sales, broadcast permissions and sponsorships and licensing of merchandise. With ticket sales vertical being completely eradicated, and looking at the drowning businesses and economy they will also have a very tough time to find themselves a sponsor.

For India, the Indian Premier League (IPL) supports the cricket and many allied industries. IPL’s popularity even forces distributors to not release major films during the peak summers. If the IPL doesn’t happen this year, India will lose out on Rs 3000 crore. Although, the Sri Lankan Cricket Board and UAE have expressed interest in hosting the cash-rich league, the BCCI hasn’t commented positively.

Apart from this, IPL is also contributory to creating various job opportunities across several sectors. It impacts everything beginning from the advertising industry, merchandising, hotel as well as restaurants that are also a part of this large-scale event.

Australian cricket board stands to lose US$174 million due to the coronavirus outbreak. With a six-month ban on international travel, this could also affect the T20 World Cup and India’s tour to Australia later this year. Plans are being chalked out to allow travel for the athletes in this corridor.

Up in the air

The biggest question arises that even if the organisers plan on hosting the matches in closed doors, will the international travel restrictions imposed by almost every country make an exception and allow the players to travel?

If that doesn’t happen then what will be the best next alternative? Are virtual sports the way ahead?

If the countries allow the international travel of their athletes, will it be convenient for the players to maintain the norms of social distancing while playing? These can be possible for certain sports like billiards, sprinting, rowing and many others but what about the rest?

How convenient will it be for the players to follow the social distancing norms? For once we can imagine a golfer or a snooker player to wear a mask and also maintain the social distance regulations, but is the same possible for sports like cricket, football, basketball? Can you imagine Virat Kohli on the field wearing a mask? Forget masks for moment. What will team sport be without the unified celebrations? Despite all the precautions there is bound to be contact between players, sometimes coughing, sneezing, and spitting on the pitch. What can be done here?

Also, in a sport like cricket, what will be the alternative to shining a ball? Some alternatives like using a wax applicator or maybe ball-tampering. Yes, you heard it right, for the first time in the history of cricket, ball-tampering, something that is illegal and many profound players have been accused of, might become a legal aspect of the game. Even Australian great Ian Chappell has suggested the same.

Wondering when will you be able to watch your dream match at Lord’s? Looking at the spike in the number of cases, it is only practical to suggest that watching sports on screen at home is the only way forward for at least a year, which means there will be no revenue from match tickets. Then what will happen to the stadiums which have a very high maintenance cost?

Waiting to see Lewis Hamilton pop up the champagne again? Sports would seem scripted without players celebrating their victory. However, does the current scenario mean there will be a question raised on players getting together for celebration?

The other major concern would be the lower-ranked sides/athletes, who have lesser income and revenues; how does their future look like?

As the media industry across the world continues to struggle, how will the exclusive sports media cope up with this crisis? The world will probably have to learn living alongside the virus. With little solutions available, there’s no clarity when there’s a definite end to the pandemic. Alongside hoping, the administrators need to collaborate to chalk out a Plan B to keep sports and its allied industries afloat.

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