Friday 12th June should have seen the start of EURO 2020 – a festival of football across 12 nations culminating in a Euros final at Wembley for the first time since 1996 (when football didn’t quite come home).

However, instead of the usual raptures associated with the start of a major international tournament, Friday 12th June marked three months without live football in the UK, during which a period of transformative change has happened to the sporting landscape we once knew.

As we now progress slowly out of lockdown, with major sporting organisations taking tentative steps to restarting – including the much anticipated return of the Premier League this week, ENGINE Sport wanted to ask the question ‘Has the pandemic changed the way we consume sport forever, and what have sports broadcasters, influencers and podcasters done to fill the gap and feed our need for sporting content?’

To answer this question, last week ENGINE Sport Managing Director Lisa Parfitt hosted the latest edition of the ‘ENGINE Sport Presents’ webinars. Joining Lisa were three guests with a wealth of sports broadcasting experience – all of whom have had to adjust in order to fulfil their audiences’ needs during COVID-19.

Ed Draper, Sky Sports News presenter, Kait Borsay, TV, Radio and Podcast host and Martin Gritton, ex-footballer and BBC radio pundit, all shared their insights, experiences and predictions of how the pandemic is changing the way sport will be consumed. Following news surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, our panel also spoke about the need for sport to change to fairly represent the black community through acknowledgement, education and ultimately action.

Demand will dictate the future

First on the agenda was how broadcasters have adapted to lock-down, with Ed Draper admitting ‘it’s been a big learning experience’. In response to how Sky Sports News’ content will change when live sport resumes, Ed said: “It will be interesting to see what stays and what doesn’t, based on demand. More fans watching games live will mean a more fragmented audience, whether that be through Sky Sports or on social media.”

Kait Borsay provided insight on the impact coronavirus has had on her podcast, The Offside Rule, highlighting the disruption of routines, such as commuting, going to the gym or walking the kids home from school as a key factor in lower listenership.

Kait said: “Podcast listening hasn’t gone up during lock down – in fact it’s gone down by around 50%, as there is no live action. Traditionally sport dominates the podcast world, but not during this period.”

Access and Authenticity

Despite the challenges faced during lockdown, the panel agreed that access to talent had improved, with Ed also highlighting the added space afforded to broadcasters to talk about wider societal issues such as mental health and the current #BlackLivesMatter movement.

But with players and coaches being more open to covering topics outside of live sport, Martin Gritton cautioned that authenticity still needs to be at the heart of everything. He said: “Relationships between clubs, players and brands often dictate how authentic activity is. However, the relationship between players and communities have been strengthened with the amount of online and social activity going on. This authenticity remains hugely important in a post-COVID world.”

Despite this connection between players and online communities feeling stronger than ever, and with free sport on offer when the Premier League returns, Martin also suggested that fans will have more power going forward to decide what they get to watch, having experienced free sport, and will be glad to get some power back.

Our panel also touched on the controversy surrounding the announcement of the early finish to the Women’s Super League (WSL) season.

Using the lack of backing of Liverpool’s Women’s team – who were relegated from the WSL last week – as an example, Kait said: “We need to use this pause to ask parent clubs to support their women’s team more. It’s not the players or the coaches’ fault. If clubs can’t find the money to support the women’s team, we might as well walk away.”

Sport and Society

The panel ended the discussion by focusing on what we as individuals and the world of sport can do to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Acknowledging the role sport can play as a vehicle for social change.

“Sport is powerful, but sport does need to change. It’s under-representation and misrepresentation of the black community needs to be acknowledged and acted on. Sport needs to have endurance and a positive mindset, so that when the cameras turn away from recent #BlackLivesMatter events, it can continue to make positive change for the black community,” Lisa commented.

With the Premier League returning this week we will witness goals being scored without the usual raucous celebration of fans in the stands. The coronavirus pandemic has shifted the goal posts, forcing changes to the way coverage and commentary are provided to fans. All eyes, including ours, will be on how those associated with the competition engage with current consumers and entice new fans to a sport that is heading into an era of unknown territory.

We hope you enjoyed this ‘ENGINE Sport Presents’ discussion; however, if you were unable to join you can view the webinar in its entirety below.

Watch this space for future episodes in the ‘ENGINE Sport Presents’ series.

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