The government's new framework for managing the risk and damage of COVID-19 has given us more clarity on the immediate future of the sports industry, with the welcome news that our current Level 2 status allows for some fans to be allowed back to sports events. However, as we await a vaccine, what will the sports landscape look like into 2021 and beyond?
Sponsorship analysts ONSIDE's survey of members of the Sport for Business industry group - published this week in advance of the government's new framework - found that 7 in 10 sports industry stakeholders expect major sports events to be hosting 26-50% attendees by the first half of 2021, while just 1 in 4 expect venues to be more than 75% full before 2022, unless a vaccine for COVID-19 is available.
The publication of the 'Plan for Living With COVID-19' gives us a little more clarity on whether those attendee numbers will be achievable, and, while Level 1 status allows for crowds of up to 500 in stadia/outdoor venues that have a capacity of 5,000+, both Level 1 and Level 2 status also include a note that: "For very large purpose built event facilities (for example: stadia, auditoriums, conference or event centres) specific guidance will be developed with the relevant sectors to take account of size and different conditions for events such as large national and international sporting events."
On the other side of the coin, should we move to Level 3, then all but a select few sporting events (professional/elite/inter-county/club championship/horse-racing) will be cancelled and those that go ahead will do so behind closed doors.
With the upheaval of the last six months, the area of sports sponsorship is also one that has been hugely impacted. The ONSIDE Covid-19 Sports Impact Monitor research found that although 8% of sponsors said they had already dropped out of existing sports sponsorship as a result of the pandemic, with a further 17% saying they are considering stepping back from current deals, 17% have already entered into new sponorships since COVID-19 began.
John Trainor, founder and CEO of ONSIDE noted:
Sponsors have been increasingly looking to renegotiate a revised fee as the impact of empty stadia becomes more evident. The numbers of industry practitioners considering fee adjustment approaches to sponsorship arrangements that are affected by Covid-19 have jumped from 27% in June up to 43% in September. All sides are sensitive to the unique nuances and evolving nature of the situation and the importance of managing an approach to this challenge that recognises the established and long term relationships required to make the sponsorships work effectively in the recovery phase and beyond.
Reacting to the findings, Rob Harnett, CEO of Sport for Business, said: "On the field, the majority of the sports industry surveyed by ONSIDE are optimistic that most scheduled events in Q4 2020 will conclude, and also encouraging was the significant 35% of sports sponsors that claim their organisation is likely to invest in cause-related sports initiatives and women’s sports in the next 12 months."
While there are huge challenges facing the sports industry, there remains a strong level of optimism, with 7 in 10 industry practitioners expecting a good recovery for sport in Ireland across the next 1-2 years.
Of course, there is also the exciting prospect of busy sporting calendar for fans, should all currently planned events be able to go ahead, including the rescheduled Olympic Games, Euro 2021, the 2020 and 2021 All-Ireland Championships, the new rugby Autumn Nations tournament, the Six Nations, and the rescheduled US Open and US Masters - just to a name a few of the occasions we have to look forward to across the next 12 months. Here's hoping that the drama on the field can continue to lift our spirits.