Lessons from the coronavirus pandemic

For the first time in history we are seeing sport played in empty stadiums (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

The world did not see the coronavirus pandemic coming and was not prepared for the impact it had, causing fear and insecurity probably not seen since the Second World War. The impact on community life, business and sport has been devastating with the real impact still to come, especially economically.

Professional sport has learnt two valuable lessons from the coronavirus impact, the one financial planning and the other its continued value and role for television networks.

Professional sport has found itself in a commercial and financial battle to survive as events, tournaments and tours have been cancelled or postponed due to the virus. We have seen players’ salaries cut and fulltime staff retrenched to try and make ends meet. For the first time in history we have seen sport played in empty stadiums to create product for the television networks to generate much needed income for the various sports. This very factor once again proved that paid television is the life blood of all professional sport.

The first lesson to be learnt out of the coronavirus pandemic is that professional sport must realise that it might not always be business as usual. They need to build emergency contingent funds for times of crisis, especially now that insurers have stated that in future they will not be insuring sporting events against pandemics.

Wimbledon was insured against major disasters like the pandemic and was paid out millions of pounds. Cancelling the 2020 tournament was not a financial issue for them compared to other big tournaments, like the Indian Premier League that has been postponed indefinitely and can have dire consequences for Indian cricket. Sport has historically gone through challenges like the Second World War when all representative sport was suspended. But the difference is that sport in that era was amateur and today it is professional with a very big cost base.

The other factor that the virus has highlighted is the need for new sporting content for the pay channels. With no new content there was a limit to the showing of past events. The virus showed how important sport content has become to the pay channels. In the past, with the plethora of sporting content, there had been a feeling for a while that the rights fees could be negatively impacted. However, the absence of live sporting events has laid this matter to rest. The returning of professional sport to the television channels has been received with unexpected enthusiasm, even without the crowds. It has been proved that professional sport and television networks need each other.

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