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In the midst of the global Coronavirus outbreak, Brandwave Founder & CEO, Daniel Macaulay offers some practical marketing advice to the sports and fitness industry on how to adapt and survive…

The situation

Last week it was something happening the other side of the world – worth keeping an eye on but nothing to get too concerned about. Afterall, we survived SARS, Swine Flu, and Zika virus. Chances are, this will all blow over soon enough…

This week, the picture looks very different – it’s here and everywhere we look. It’s all everyone’s talking about. The effects are immediate, serious, and touch every aspect of our personal and professional lives.

As the news headlines worsen and our movement are increasingly limited on a daily basis, we collectively realise that COVID-19 is no joking matter. It is a major new global disease outbreak and has now been ruled a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation. According to the experts, the worst is yet to come. This will likely result in the largest restriction in human movement in history and the effect on the global economy will strike a devastating blow to many industries.

For clarity, I am no expert on Coronavirus or any other medical issues for that matter. Like everyone else, I am struggling with misinformation – what to believe and what not to believe. What I do know is the negative effects on the sports industry are very much real and tangible.

People in all professions are waking up and asking themselves ‘how do we do our jobs in the face of this new challenge’ and as marketeers in the sports industry, we are no different.

The challenge

Aside from the obvious serious health risks and the basic ability to keep our businesses liquid, we also face multiple new challenges to our ability to continue delivering effective day-to-day marketing.

Mass gatherings such as tradeshows and conferences are being postponed.  Across the board, major sporting events are being cancelled, and the gyms are emptying out. At the top end, there is a very real possibility that the Olympics won’t go ahead in July.

Blanket corporate travel bans are being implemented and many large and small organisations are already insisting all employees work from home.

Resultantly, many businesses are finding themselves in a situation where the classical marketing channels that they have relied on since their inception are suddenly closing to them.

If we are all to stay in business – in some shape or form, the show must go on. So, what should we do?

The opportunity

They say, ‘all change brings opportunity’ and long story short, I think this remains true. Some of the greatest developments in human history have come directly as a result of adversity. I believe that as serious and frightening as this situation is, it is also an unprecedented opportunity to test our abilities as marketeers to evolve and adapt; to try new channels and focus on new opportunities that are now presenting themselves alongside the challenges. People are spending more time at home so in my opinion, the largest and fastest gains to be had are around digital…

Remote working – Geography has always been one of the largest limiting factors in recruitment. We live in the digital age, yet most companies are still slow to adopt a truly international and functional remote working policy. That’s all about to change and change for the better. A forced period of remote working will break down negative assumptions and bring about a shift in attitude that will outlast the crisis.

OTT media – Over The Top media platforms such as Netflix, Facebook, and Amazon Prime have been steadily stealing away the juiciest cuts of sports content from traditional terrestrial media for the past few years. Sports fans now expect to be able to view both niche sports and major sports events anywhere, anytime, and on any device. You may not be able to bring tens of thousands of fans to the event right now, but you can bring the event and associated content to the fans in ways that were never before possible. We’ll see a rise in ‘watch party’ viewing experiences as people seek that shared experience, whether that’s just in a messenger app or natively through the OTT platform.

Online shopping – There’s clearly going to be a rise in online ordering as the public seeks to avoid crowded places. While the incumbents will benefit, it’s time for more targeted vendors to capitalise on their targeted social marketing expertise. People seeking their health food kick will be more open to home delivery subscription offers, creating a great channel to reach a wider consumer base.

Streaming fitness – Most of the leading global fitness brands such as Les Mills have been providing highly successful D2C ‘at home’ streaming fitness options to their customers for the past few years. Peloton and Zwift have built some of the most successful global brands in the fitness industry on this very concept. While the interpersonal experience of a group fitness class can never be fully replicated online, many fitness fanatics will now be looking for new ways to get their daily fitness fix. For those fitness brands with the right product and the right marketing communications, the next twelve months could see an exponential increase in D2C subscriptions.

Influencer marketing – The most effective type of sale has always been a word of mouth referral. To this end, social media influencer marketing models have seen a huge increase in popularity recently. Although there are plenty of cowboys out there, finding genuine digital influencers with an active fanbase can provide a very cost-effective opportunity to attain fast mass-market reach and engagement.

Dark social – Many industry experts estimate that as much as 70% of all online referral purchases come via dark social channels – encrypted social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. We use them to manage everything from our kids’ birthday parties to five aside football teams. While accurately measuring ROI is always difficult with these channels, they provide a new and exciting opportunity to activate micro influencers and engage clearly defined and engaged sports fans in their own digital eco-systems.

Clearly, if the media are to be believed and things are as serious as they maintain; there are going to be a lot of challenges in the coming months for us all, both personally and professionally. With regards to sports industry marketing, there are going to be many negatives. With regards to the positives, it is my hope that we all emerge from this situation with a stronger, more resilient, and further technologically evolved industry.

Daniel Macaulay