At the beginning of the year, many hoped that by Fall 2020 we would be able to organize events again. However, this dream is at the moment only partially fulfilled with the virus still having a huge grip on the world and so, eventually also sports events. Despite many developments and tryouts between June and August, events with spectators in the stands or along a track remain limited. Even though spectators are often seen as an integral part of an event, countries that welcome spectators in the stands (in smaller numbers like for instance Japan or Russia) are seen as an exception. The vast majority of events are still organized without spectators cheering for their favorite athletes.

The presence of an audience at sports events is very often considered one of the success factors of an event. However, sporting events are not only about those 400 meters, a 90-minute match, or 60 laps. The most successful events are those that can offer a full experience and connect with their visitors in a meaningful way. Many events offer these extra experiences in cooperation with their partners for example via smaller side events and marketing campaigns before/after the actual match takes place. This way, sponsorship can be activated in a meaningful triangular way for the visitors, the sponsor, and the event itself. The current COVID situation brings extra complications to activating these partnerships on the spot during the events. The question remains what should event organizers and partners do in order to activate their partnerships in times that spectators are not allowed (or only allowed in smaller numbers)?

Partners or sponsors are an integral part of events for plenty of reasons. The most important aspect of an effective and fruitful partnership is that the event and its partners should be able to reinforce each other at any time. Right now, it’s the ultimate time for events and its partners to join forces, intensify the bond, support each other and work together for the same purpose of remaining relevant for shared audiences via alternative ways. The current situation forces both parties to move away from traditional activities on-site to new opportunities of activating the partnership in a creative and meaningful way.

One creative and very successful example is a partnership activation of SC Heerenveen. The Dutch football club utilized the empty stadium seats by having branded teddy bears placed in the stands in order to help their partner, a child cancer charity, to generate funds and gain visibility. The campaign became a massive success, benefitting from a wide coverage in traditional and new media, and generating extra funds by selling out all teddy bears.

The COVID situation has taught us that vast patterns and views can be broken. Focus on what you can do in offering the extra experience to your fan base while also strengthening your partnerships.