It is sometimes hard to imagine sports before the pandemic; with crowded bleachers, standing hand in hand with your fellow sports mates, or friendly banter with the opposing fans. When it all stopped, many of us lost that social feeling. Sports were simply not the same always watching from the couch in your living room. Furthermore, players felt the void of the empty arenas. With no fans to cheer them on, or scream hilarious banter in their face, many athletes seemed lost.
Many found out, and others simply reassured, that the fans are the lifeblood of any sports organization. Without fans, the entire atmosphere around sports seems fake, fabricated towards an unknown audience. The glue that seemingly kept it all together was the organization’s willingness to adapt and react, especially when it came to arenas and fans. This adaption during the pandemic maintained the best experience possible for fans.
Sporting venues have often been a place of refuge in times of need. This can be said about both a place of sporting refuge and non-sporting related. During Hurricane Katrina, the Superdome was labeled a “shelter of last resort” for residents of New Orleans who were unable to leave the city. Stories of this nature highlight the fact that the world is much bigger than sports. Especially a world where a deadly pandemic is ravaging the world. With that said, sports united us all and became a way to fight the pandemic, even if we were not in the arenas.
Similar to the Superdome, many sports venues opened their doors during the pandemic for a variety of positive reasons. The NFL and MLB offered up their sports stadium spaces to clinics to offer the vaccine. These American professional sports venues have administered millions of vaccines, contributing heavily to the overall vaccine rate.
These vaccine initiatives happened throughout the world including France were Stade de France, their largest stadium, turned into a “vaccinodrome”. The pandemic showed us that people went where they felt safe, and sports venues were one location of this nature. Whether sports fans or not, people felt a sense of familiarity in stadiums.
One of the toughest adaptations through the pandemic for sports venues was the changing regulations. Of course, organizations wanted fans back in the arenas as soon as it was safe. The major adaption stadiums, and all of us, had to make was improved cleanliness. The days where stadiums could turnover from basketball to hockey overnight are gone. Now, a full sanitation crew is tasked with spraying, wiping down each seat, often tens of thousands of seats.
With the everchanging regulations, sports organizations were often left wondering, waiting for the next set of guidelines to emerge. More proactive organizations sought variances for extending the capacity of their local jurisdiction. Early in the pandemic, the state of Ohio allowed professional sports organizations in Ohio to apply for a variance to extend their capacity to 30%. The application for this capacity variance included a full plan to deal with sanitation and all concerns with the pandemic.
Throughout this process and many throughout the world, outdoor facilities were more easily accepted due to their ability to naturally ventilate the space. It is a credit to the organizations for being proactive to gets fans back while implementing safety measures.
The post-pandemic sports scene is going to look different. Many fans canceled their season tickets or paused their premium seats. For some fans, going back to these amenities is not a wish of theirs. During the pandemic, they found other hobbies or a different way to enjoy sports. For those fans that want to return, offering incentives like seat upgrades or a certain percentage of seats for year one are ways organizations have gotten fans back in the door. The fact is, if fans want to return these seats/boxes, they will return.
The new, post-pandemic market for sports fans may look different. For example, the aging population who have owned season tickets for decades may find the pandemic is their time to stop going. The younger population of fans has shown they are willing to safely return to games. Different marketing strategies will need to be used for that fan base.
Additionally, many sports organizations have looked to creating a diverse range of fan experiences. To further this point, the proposed Oakland A’s stadium has a reduction of capacity by more than 37% decrease in capacity. The owner cited a more flexible space with other amenities and experiences for fans as the reason for the decrease. The future of sports is shifting post-pandemic and so will the fanbase.
Is the pandemic behind us? Likely not. Each day is a remembrance of all those affected by the pandemic. Are fans ready to return to a sense of sports normal? Absolutely.
The reality is the pandemic is still upon us. Many of the sanitation practices must be kept in place to remain safe. Fans must continue to practice social distancing as much as possible and stadiums help to maintain this. The world is opening back up and sports are at the forefront. The void the pandemic left us has nearly subsided and sports are back and are going to be better than ever.
Our hands-on executive recruiters have experience working with private, public, pre-IPO, and non-profit organizations. Clients are typically $50 million in revenue to Fortune 1000’s or have assets between $500 million to $15 billion. Successful placements span the entire C-Suite – CEO, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and include vice president, general counsel, and other director-level leadership roles.
Learn how we deliver top talent, no matter the need, with our industry-leading research and resources. Discover the strategy that made Cowen Partners a leader among the best sports executive search firms in New York, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Portland, St. Louis, and beyond.