COVID19 is having the sports events industry in a firm headlock. Regardless of which sport, hundreds of international sports events around the world have been cancelled, leagues have been postponed and our beloved stars are forced to stay at home.

Regardless of whether we are talking athletics, tennis or football, there is a ‘holy trinity’ of any sports organisation’s revenue structure – consisting of broadcasting revenue, sponsorship revenue and matchday revenue. The problem here: All of these conventional revenue streams are primarily built around the live event – i.e. the showtime of the sport.

The million-dollar question now is how on earth are sports organisations supposed to generate revenue while having their showtime banned?

Theoretically, the response is simple: change your revenue structure! The industry’s eagerness to find innovative revenue streams has already brought a lot of interesting new approaches: Virtual cycling races were carried out – and football stars fought their local derbies on the PlayStation. However, innovation under considerable time and resource pressure barely brings sustainable progress.

What is often forgotten in sport is that the main target group – the fan – would be deemed as ‘irrational’ in other industries. They do not behave like other ‘consumers’ of products, as fans have a special bond to the product – a bond that transcends common supply and demand considerations. Moreover, they have got an especially big appetite for being part of a sports event: a recent cricket game in Vanuatu which was broadcasted online during lockdown has attracted viewership of over half a million(!) people.

Existence-threatened German 2nd tier football club VfL Bochum, followed by a few other clubs from Germany, have shown how to use their supporters’ special bond to their own benefit after their games had been cancelled: They just kept on selling the tickets of their home games. For Euros 18.48,- (based on the self-claimed founding year 1848) the fan could buy a so-called quarantine ticket, getting in return a souvenir for the time when he or she helped the club to overcome a crisis. For only a few cents more, fellow “Ruhrpott” club Borussia Mönchengladbach even installs cardboard placeholders of their fans on the stands.

Many loyal fans, it would seem, would rather pay for an event that is cancelled than risk having no such events in the future. While sports organisations should not seek to exploit fans’ loyalty and generosity, finding creative ways to enable fans to be part of the solution might just help many organisations to escape COVID19’s firm headlock.

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