With less than 170 days to go until the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games, the IOC, the IPC and the Organizing Committee launched a series of playbooks that list the rules for different stakeholders (media, international federations, broadcasters, officials and athletes) to ensure safe and successful Games. With no handshaking, no singing, no cheering and no high-fives allowed, how are spectators meant to have an extraordinary Games experience?

Undoubtedly, Covid-19 has created a unique opportunity to accelerate digital transformation in the sports industry and several leagues, teams and international federations have been working hard to use technology to ensure the continued engagement with their fans. For example:

  •  NBA Video Technology: NBA partnered with Microsoft Teams to bring fans virtually into the arena and watch the games. Up to 300 fans can cheer for their team by using the “Together Mode”.
  •  MLB “Cheer at Ballpark”: The MLB cheering technology allows fans to virtually cheer, boo or clap using a mobile application. The cheering feature pops up along with the Gameday score graphics.
  •  Liverpool FC and Intel’s True View Technology: the British club and the American company have been working on a project that allows fans to view the matches from any angle or perspective imaginable on the pitch while seated comfortably on their couches.

While these new approaches to fan experience are proving successful and providing fans with a more immersive experience, they can also be expensive and seem unaffordable for many sports organisations. However, some sports are finding ways to generate revenue out of their initiatives and are finding that even more fans can be reached through new technologies than if the venue was actually full – making events even more attractive to potential sponsors. It takes some creativity – but now is the time to try something new and engage with fans like never before.

Although such initiatives will never replace the unique experience of being a fan watching sport live in a stadium, they are opening up new opportunities to engage with fans from behind their screens. In addition to the playbooks, such initiatives will for sure be needed for Tokyo 2020 – as one of the most-viewed sports events in the world will most likely have to take place with no, or very limited, fans in physical attendance.