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The Ball Game | Pandemic challenges and opportunities

Ciaran Bradley
Ciaran Bradley

19:16 10 Nov 2020

On OTB Sports' new show 'The Ball Game', we ask market leaders about their experiences in the business of sport.

In episode one, we look about the challenges and opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

OTB Sports' Adrian Barry was joined by Jill Downey, Managing Director of Core Sponsorship; Matt Mooney, Head of Digital and Innovation at AIB; and Noel Quinn, Senior Marketing and Media Rights Manager at the GAA.

The Ball Game

Downey spoke about the change in fan experience with the onset of the pandemic.

"The challenge there is as we get used to being able to watch what we want, instead of what is served to us by a broadcaster, how will we come back from that if things return to normal?

"I think that sporting bodies have maybe accepted the status quo - I wouldn't include the GAA here. They have been at the forefront with things like GAA GO, but I would include bigger [bodies] including ones in the UK as well. They have been a little bit guilty of accepting the status quo; they always thought that fans would be in the stadium and took that for granted.

"You can see now that the experience is very different without the fans. In Liverpool-Atalanta, you sure Diogo Jota score and not even celebrate. It was purely because there was nothing to really make it a big deal for him. You could tell in that moment that he was really missing the fans.

Missing fans

"You could tell in that very moment that he was really missing the fans, so everybody has recognised the importance of fans if they didn't before. It is so important and integral to the overall experience.

"I think that [sporting bodies] will look at the fan experience, and we will see a step up in trying to add to the fan experience.That is where brands can really step in because brands can help facilitate those things and improve them.

"There will be a big shift into tools and technologies that will help that fan experience. On the other side, for brands and rights holders themselves, they are going to need to invest in tools that help them understand these fans better.

"Enhancing that fan experience is going to become a greater part of how all the sporting bodies react to this."

Fan experience

Downey also thinks that fans without the stadium are integral, too.

"Then there is the question of the fan experience outside of the stadium, and how we add value to that experience when watching at home. How can we tap into that passion, and how do brands do that?

"The key is adding experiences while the fan is at home, and it is an exciting challenge for anyone in the industry to see where this could go."

Mooney believes that we are witnessing a change in the way athletes are viewed as part of sporting organisations.

"The athlete is going to win, because I think that we're going to head into an even more important era of the athlete brand. Now, more than ever, sporting organisations need the fans to really associate and identify with the athletes.

"Those moments when they score or do something phenomenal, they actually need their teams to perform and feel connected to the fanbase. It is going to work both ways.

"It will be an interesting dialogue now between sporting organisations, they are going to be a lot more open to allowing their players and athletes access to brands.

"It actually might become a part of their performance - making sure that they feel connected to the fanbase and to the people that really count when it comes to sport."

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