Six months ago, the coronavirus wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen and since that time, it has shaken our economy to the core. (Who would have suspected a cancellation of March Madness and a postponement of the Olympics in Tokyo?)
Some sectors of the sports economy, however, are doing their best to weather the storm. Some you might expect and others, not so much:
Professional bull riding is thriving. And despite being held in empty (or nearly empty) arenas, the extreme sport/rodeo hybrid is providing a welcome adrenaline rush. It’s no bull. Last weekend, the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) brought their show to Duluth, Georgia’s Infinity Energy Center. There were no spectators, but there were camera crews. The CBS Sports Network broadcast the action nationwide – where it was gobbled up by a sports-starved public.
“We are so proud of our partnership with CBS,” PBR CEO Sean Gleason said in a statement. “They’ve been a great and nimble partner in bringing more PBR action to fans this weekend.
Virtual Events: Already having established a firm footing in the marketplace, virtual events have become a force to be reckoned with, meaning a D-I-Y event might help salvage at least a portion of the bottom line for event directors in the era of social distancing. As an example, USA Triathlon’s Time to Tri Virtual Triathlon is an active program that preexisted the coronavirus and has already seen excellent participation. It is free for individuals to participate and to register and upload their results; however, those who choose to make a $35 donation to the USA Triathlon Foundation will receive a finisher’s package that will include a finisher’s medal and a race T-shirt with 100 percent of the proceeds being directed to the Foundation.
Another iteration of the virtual event was discussed by Chad Hoover of Kayak Bass Fishing. Because kayaks lack a live well, it is up to the angler to take a photo of his or her catch on the bump board and send the photo to tournament judges. Count on other fishing events to take similar steps if coronavirus continues to force cancellations into the summer.
Online Gaming: Okay, everyone loved hearing about the big numbers the Fortnite World Cup Finals racked up when they were held at the grounds of the U.S. Open in New York. For now, though, esports events that take place online are being favored. Activision’s Call of Duty League switched its live Home Series events to an online format only – and it’s hardly the only event to do so.
Online events have long been in use for many mind sports such as chess, bridge, Sudoku and match poker; expect these to continue in popularity.
Streamed Events: If events are still held and no crowds are allowed in, expect streaming to become even more popular. Jeremy Waller, Vice President of Business Development for Sports Channel Media and YourGameCam, stated his company has already seen increased inquiries from high schools about the potential for streaming.
“Live streaming is, in fact, already being leveraged further specifically because of the health risks surrounding large crowds,” he adds.
Remote Participation: In some cases, such as with performance sports, athletes may find it possible to create a recording of themselves and submit it to judges as part of a remote event.
Life Goes On: Some events are still being held. The Iditarod, unarguably Alaska's signature event, went on with the show. And, says Sports Illustrated, The NFL draft will no longer be held in Las Vegas over growing concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak and consultation with medical experts, according to multiple reports. The league is still planning to proceed as scheduled from April 23-25 but will make modifications to how the process will be conducted and broadcast.
While much has changed, the essential point is that all changes are temporary and that when the threat is contained, the country will need its sports as much as, if not more than, ever before.