Sports call a timeout but marketers can still hustle

Never, in the history of the modern world, have sports not been around to distract us and allow for the sense of community and connectedness that we all thrive on.

It’s been a hell of a year in sports and we’re just 3 months in. Any other year, we’d be enthralled by the feats of March Madness underdogs and upsets. Casually humming "One Shining Moment" while reminiscing on our favorite teams’ progression through the rankings or early demise. Instead, athletes, fans and the world are reacting to the impact COVID-19 is having on humanity as a whole.

You’re probably sick of hearing it, but these are unprecedented times and for more reasons than one. 

As a society, we’ve been through a thing or two. We’ve experienced unexpected trials and tribulations but never, in the history of the modern world, have sports not been around to distract us and allow for the sense of community and connectedness that we all thrive on.

To add insult to injury, the industry of sports and the impact of the cancellation of sporting events reaches far beyond the competitors on the court, pitch or in arenas. These multi-million-dollar games, matches and tournaments are in large part funded in partnership with products and services that invest millions to have their brand exposed to fans all over the world.

With the cancellations, postponements and suspensions, brands that shelled out big bucks to advertise during these events have been forced to shift gears. Sports organizations themselves are left without their primary revenue drivers and fans are longing for the content they know and love.

However, like any great athlete, sports marketers and organizations are stepping up to the challenge. They are keeping their head in the game and showing resiliency and resolve perhaps learned from the mentality exemplified by our beloved heroes and icons.

Without traditional opportunities to reach target audiences, marketers are mimicking the characteristics that athletes show when met with seemingly insurmountable challenges. They are evaluating the playing field, re-strategizing their game plan, taking inventory of their strengths and pivoting their approach to align with their competitive advantages.

For example, instead of Major League Baseball’s previously planned Opening Day game schedule, the MLB presented "Opening Day at Home" where they aired 30 classic games across the league’s digital platforms.

NASCAR set a record for the most-watched eSports televised event in history with its inaugural eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, a pandemic-induced concept that has proven eSports ability to drive TV viewership in large numbers.

Sports teams are transforming their business models from that of live sports providers to social content and connection providers.

As for brands, many are shifting to PSA messages encouraging social distancing and promoting free access to networks, apps and services that enhance our new homebound lifestyles.

Nike has taken that exact approach with their "Play Inside" initiative endorsed by athletes like Tiger Woods and Cristiano Ronaldo. They’ve also dropped the subscription fee for their NTC Premium service that provides streaming workout videos, training programs and expert tips from trainers. And these tactics are working, seeing as how Nike’s recent valuation increased 11% after online-order growth helped sales exceed Wall Street’s earlier estimates.

An athlete’s mind is primed for thriving in organized chaos and in this new space, marketers must operate like athletes by addressing unexpected situations and pivoting to overcome them.

25 years ago, Michael Jordan sent a simple faxed message announcing his return to the NBA. The fax contained two simple words, "I’m back".

Sports will be back. And when they are, the teams, leagues, brands and even athletes that use this period wisely will have cemented an even stronger bond with their fans.

Celeste Hubbard is EVP, group account director at Chemistry

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