A World Without Sports: Engaging Fans in a Time of Isolation

Fielding Jamieson and I talk to R/GA’s FutureVision podcast about the path forward for sports in 2020.

Originally published by R/GA’s FutureVision Conversations on April 1, 2020:

Sports lovers worldwide are in mourning. The regular seasons of baseball, basketball, golf, football, hockey, soccer, tennis and countless other live sports are all on hold. What’s a fan to do?

Many (no surprise) are doubling down on streaming eSports, with a record number of Twitch users in the first quarter, while traditional sports are exploring eSports too—including Major League Soccer’s eMLS competitive gaming league and the NBA 2K Players tournament that starts April 3rd on ESPN. 

Other fans are finding new alternative sports online, from Australian Rules Football to marble racing (yes, marble racing).

As fans adjust to the new (or current) normal, it gives sports leaders an opportunity—and the imperative—to innovate and test new models of engagement, as highlighted in the latest FutureVision podcast.

As Kyle Bunch, VP and Managing Director of R/GA’s Global Sports Venture Studio, asked on our latest podcast, “How can sports leaders, innovators and startups come together, collaborate, and shape the future of sport in a post-COVID-19 world?”

“It’s a really fascinating moment where billionaire athletes all the way down to the 13-year-old fan are in the same boat,” he added. “All at home, all missing sport—and missing the opportunity to come together, to play, to watch.”

It’s vital to maintain the bond between the athlete, the fan and sport, he added. Another challenge facing fans (and opportunity for brands): how to stay active and participate in sports when most people are staying home?

“How do we all collectively stay in shape and ensure that this time away from some of our typical routines doesn’t have a long-term negative impact on fitness,” asked Bunch, “whether we’re competing for a championship or just trying to stay healthy and happy?”

“Nobody does comebacks better than sports—and now is the time for an all-time legendary comeback.”

Kyle Bunch

The global pause on live sports is also impacting youth sports, said Fielding Jamieson, head of strategy for R/GA’s Global Sports Venture Studio, on our podcast.

“It’s a critical time for young athletes and, frankly, kids everywhere,” she noted. “Exercise and sports are essential to mental health, physical development and cognitive development for kids.”

She gave a shout-out to professional athletes who are engaging young fans on platforms such as TikTok and creating content to inspire kids. “They’re posting fun and engaging content for reaching that younger generation. This is the time for brands, leagues, and athletes to engage kids in a really different way.”

Both are optimistic that the fans and the industry will rebound. “Nobody does comebacks better than sports,” Bunch said, “and now is the time for an all-time legendary comeback.”