COVID-19: Revisiting Our Predictions on “When Will U.S. Sports Return?”
Back in May, Navigate published our projections on when we expected major U.S. sports leagues to be able to return to play after COVID-19 shutdowns. In that blog post we included the following disclaimer: “It must first be acknowledged that making any such prediction is fraught with uncertainty. Plans will be made and unmade, start dates will be pushed back, and leagues will experience false starts.”
As we sit today in mid-August, there is still plenty of uncertainty, but with the benefit of time and 20/20 hindsight, we felt it worthwhile to revisit how our projections have fared as the sports world has gradually come to life over the past few months.
In our initial projection, we evaluated 11 major sports to estimate a range of dates that we felt each might return to a somewhat normal playing environment (playing in home stadiums with no fans). So, how did we do?
SWING AND A MISS:
- MLB: Major League Baseball was the first team sport to resume in home stadiums on July 23. Based on our analysis, we projected the earliest resumption of team sports to fall between August 29 and October 5. While our projection was certainly off, outbreaks throughout the league raise the question of whether the U.S. was ready for resumption of team sports outside of a bubble environment.
- ATP & WTA Tennis: Reports in April indicated that the global nature of the WTA and ATP Tours might derail competition through the calendar year of 2020, which our projections reflected that as the most likely scenario. However, WTA resumed play the week of August 3rd in Italy and ATP’s first open was relocated to New York City beginning August 20th.
HIT THE BULLSEYE (OR CLOSE):
- MLS: After a successful “MLS is Back” tournament in Orlando, MLS has officially initiated its “Phase 1” resumption of the regular season as of August 18, very close to the August 29 to October 5 resumption range outlined in our predictions.
- COLLEGE SPORTS: No one knows what will happen with college sports during the upcoming football and basketball seasons, which aligns exactly with our thoughts back in May. The de-centralized nature of college sports, the educational mission of the schools, and the amateur status of the athletes makes college sports much more complicated than pro sports. Our initial projection listed any time from September to January 2021 (or later) as possible, which still could be the case.
- UFC, NASCAR, PGA, & LPGA: Each of these sports had scheduled resumption dates prior to our analysis and given the individual nature of the sports we correctly predicted that each would resume by their scheduled dates.
TOO SOON TO TELL:
- NFL: As of now the NFL is scheduled to resume on September 10, its original start date, but without preseason games. Given the NFL’s clear desire to return and the fact that the September 10 start date fell within our range of likely start dates, we projected that the NFL would start as planned. Pending an outbreak within the league that likely still stand.
- NBA, WNBA & NHL: The NBA, WNBA and NHL have all successfully executed bubble environments to wrap up the end of their 2019-20 seasons. While these leagues resumed prior to our projected date range, neither did so in teams’ home stadiums so the criteria set by our projection was not met.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Plans continue to change month to month, week to week, or even daily. While this undoubtedly puts stress on the athletes and leagues, this uncertainty also leads to questions for brands and properties that they never thought they would have to answer.
For brands – How much of the value of our partnership has been lost due to the absence of fans or the loss of games? What creative platforms can we develop with properties to make our partnership whole? How can we have a tactful conversation with our partners to recover value while also staying committed to a long-term vision with that partner?
For properties – How can we go above and beyond for our partners? How should we strategically distribute any bonus inventory among our partner portfolio based on brand objectives and value? And how can we demonstrate that despite games being missed, we still add great value to partners through non-game related assets? These are the questions we at Navigate have been answering for our clients – often on quick turnarounds. Similarly, we didn’t expect to spend 2020 answering these questions, but we hope the results help ease the impact of the pandemic on the industry we love.
These are the questions we at Navigate have been answering for our clients – often on quick turnarounds. Similarly, we didn’t expect to spend 2020 answering these questions, but we hope the results help ease the impact of the pandemic on the industry we love.