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BW Businessworld

The New Playbook For Live Sports

IP owners and brands remind that a new playbook must come into effect for live sports to stay relevant, e-sports becoming key

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Anything ‘live’, requiring a physical presence, is difficult in lockdown times. A fallout of this has been a rise of digital and virtual formats, necessitating innovation. The lack of physical nonetheless has impacted all sectors including live sports and participatory sports. An industry that has billions of followers and an economic ecosystem employing millions across the world has, in fact, been extremely adversely affected.

Rules of Engagement

While live sports remain suspended, indefinitely for now, the rules of engagement between fans and sport, and sports and sponsors is taking on a new direction. All the pent-up emotions for sports for now is getting directed to e-sports. It has in the interim become a convenient alternative for fans and brands to latch on to their favourite sports till live action resumes on ground.

Elaborating on the rise of e-sports, Akshat Rathee, Co-founder & MD, Nodwin Gaming, among India’s leading e-sports companies, shared how e-sports has come to be recognised as a part of the sports spectrum lately. 

According to Rathee, the company has received media support and sponsorships, and big sports players such as KL Rahul are now ready to get associated with his brand. “The only sport that did not stop during the lockdown is ours, because we are digital. The e-sports domain is massive. We have built our own ecosystem differently,” says Rathee.

He however, reminds that traditional sports and e-sports have not been able to come together. “There have been several attempts from the likes of FIFA and Formula One but it never really worked out,” Rathee observes.

Rules On Ground

It is hard to imagine that live sports will stay suspended till the vaccine is not found. One of the reasons is that billions of dollars are riding on live sporting events and there has to be a way out of this crisis, else businesses associated with live sports fear being out of play.

Some discussions have been afoot on what the new playbook should be like. In this, an important element is the nature of playing itself. According to Aashish Contractor, Head, Rehab & Sports Medicine, Reliance Foundation Hospital, while there have been concerns about live sports, if precautions are adhered to, there is a way out.

“There is no need to ban live sports or participatory sports. Instead, it can be conducted intelligently to the current requirements. For example, in participatory sports we must prevent high-fives and other contacts at the end of the marathon. Indeed, the need to maintain all the safety procedures have been paramount in sports, as in other areas, across the board,” Contractor added.

He also stated that India has the lowest Covid-19 deaths. In comparison to the size of the population, deaths per million is lowest so far among all countries. And, to improve the situation that India is in, experts agree that sports is a sound option, at least at individual levels. 

Sharing his thoughts on the new playbook as far as live sports is concerned, Nikhil Chopra, former international cricketer stated, “Hopefully live sports tournaments will start by September-October. From a player’s perspective, things will change. A player getting used to playing in front of 80,000 spectators and the corresponding adrenalin rush will have a different experience playing in an empty stadium until we get a vaccine, so it’s not just about safety but also the new mindset that is needed.”

Cricketer Jhulan Goswami added that certain on-ground rules for cricket will change post-Covid. She said, “Some rules are going to change post-Covid and it will be a challenge for bowlers. After 35 or 40 overs, all bowlers are taught by their coaches to use saliva or sweat to maintain the ball. This helps the ball to swing. We have to put conscious effort to not put saliva and sweat in these circumstances.”

It must be noted here that sporting events have four major revenue streams ---ticketing, merchandise, broadcast rights and sponsorships. When a live sporting event takes place, it also boosts local economies, and sports tourism is another sector that used to thrive because of live sports.

According to Raghav Gupta, MD, Fanatic Sports apart from ticketing sales even the sports tourism industry is also adversely hit by the pandemic. Even after the unlock phase, it will have to wait until it is able to regain the trust of consumers and get back on its feet. 

“Fans are most affected right now in terms of their passion for sports. The governments of the world and all the stakeholders are motivated to get this back stronger than ever. All the big events such as Olympics have been pushed back to the next year. I believe that next year will bring many new opportunities,” Gupta concluded.  

This article was first published in the print issue of (10 July - 25 July) BW Businessworld. Click Here to Subscribe to BW Businessworld magazine.

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