“Can’t believe I watched a marble race all the way to the end. The lack of live sport is clearly getting to me. Withdrawal symptoms.”

This quote from Gary Lineker describing a video of marbles racing each other down a hill accurately sums up the situation many sports fans find themselves in currently. Football gone, rugby gone, cricket, athletics, tennis all gone… it’s a tough time for sports fans at the moment, with a constant stream of postponements and cancellations to the spring and summer sporting calendar.

Fans who have become spoilt by sport on tap now have to suffer an enforced ‘break in play’. MTM Sport has taken a look at how fans, sports teams, organisations, and associated media are adapting to this new reality.

Football teams are harking back to glory years in creative ways through their social channels

This week Goodison Park was due to host the 236th Merseyside derby but, with that fixture postponed, Everton instead aired the 1984 version via their YouTube channel at the same time that the real match would have been played. To complement this the EFC Twitter account live tweeted the match with team news, updates and goal alerts. Arsenal have also introduced ‘Arsenal Reloaded’ where once a week they’ll be streaming the full 90 minutes of a ‘classic match’.

Other professional clubs have taken a different approach, challenging other teams to games of virtual Connect 4 in order to entertain fans. Leyton Orient have taken the most ambitious approach by organising a FIFA 20 tournament with 128 other clubs across the world in order to raise funds to support clubs over the next few months

The players themselves have been using their social media platforms to encourage good hygiene by challenging different players to do ‘kick ups’ whilst washing their hands for 20 seconds. A similar trend has taken place in the NBA, with players in self-isolation taking advantage of their spare time to practice their shooting with a variety of household items and sharing the results online.

COVID-19 has left sports broadcasters with hours of airtime to fill with pay-tv customers keen to ensure they get value for money

TV broadcasters like Sky and BT are in the unenviable position of having a demanding customer-base and little-to-no live sport to meet this demand. So far, they have tried to satisfy this by providing highlights of historical sporting events and matches. Although sure to placate sports fans for a short period, re-runs and debate shows are unlikely to be a long-term satisfactory replacement for the real thing. Sky have already moved to address this and are offering customers the opportunity to freeze their Sports subscription until the live sporting calendar is up and running again.

Sports from across the Atlantic have also been hit hard by COVID-19 disruption. Both the NFL and NBA have taken a similar approach by making their ‘Game Pass’ and ‘League Pass’ OTT services free during this period (usually £145 a year and £24.99 a month respectively).

From a radio perspective, TalkSPORT have been proactive in dealing with the lack of live sport and have been discussing video game Football Manager 20 instead. On the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast Show this Wednesday they ran a segment which featured Darren Bent offering players tips and advice on how to build the best team.
The game has long been associated with something people play when they have lots of free time and so now seems as good a time as any for TalkSPORT to be covering it.

Betting companies are also feeling the pinch, with the majority of upcoming sporting events cancelled. So how are they dealing with COVID-19?

Currently, most are in a similar situation to broadcasters, due to the dwindling number of sports that are available. This has meant that customers are now being presented with markets, leagues, sports and products that they may not have considered too much before.
Punters are now being pointed in the direction of Turkish football, or horse races in far flung places, in order to continue to provide them with the opportunity to have a flutter.

The lack of traditional like sport is also having an impact on new markets being created. E-sports growth in recent years has been well documented, but the outbreak of COVID-19 is predicted to trigger a significant increase in the volume of betting markets available around e-sports.

Sportsbook betting in the USA is also likely to be hit particularly hard by the current situation. Many anticipated that 2020 would have been a landmark year for this developing industry Stateside, as the number of states in which this activity is legal has been growing rapidly.

Positively for betting companies, there’s a silver lining to be found and that’s the opportunity to migrate sports bettors to other products such as Casino or Poker. Customers who in normal circumstances might only bet on sports now have the opportunity to experience other types of gambling entertainment. Betting companies are also visibly making a larger push on their ‘virtual betting’ products like horse racing and football in lieu of the real thing. Will this be enough to placate sports bettors hungry for the thrill? It will be interesting to see if longer term behaviours are affected, once live sport becomes available to bet on again.

What will the long-term impact be on the sporting entertainment landscape?

There’s no doubting that the next few months will continue to be tough for sports fans, brands and organisations. This lull in activity could, however, offer a rare period of reflection for those involved and opportunities to try something new.

We are likely to see football leagues around the world coming up with novel ways to try to finish seasons and decide league positions. Imagine the possible excitement and viewing figures for mini-tournaments to decide relegation, European places, and titles.

With time to think and get creative, broadcasters and sports streaming companies have the space to innovate around new formats and viewing experiences for fans. Players are using Virtual Reality to keep sharp, could such experiences come to the fore for viewers too?

We’ve seen the marble racing hype but we’ve also seen people diversify into other areas such as chase tag, pro Arm Wrestling, and even 10-pin bowling. Does this period present an opportunity for newfound love for more obscure sports, and their respective stars, as audiences begin to discover them online?

For sports teams, organisations and associated media, this is an opportunity to identify new areas of growth and work out how they can adapt their offer to better meet the needs of audiences.  Certainly, sports fans out there will be desperate for content and something to engage with.

Now, what time’s that Marble Championship on?