10-04-2020 - Blog

Effective communication for sports events during times of crisis

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As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the global sports industry has been impacted in an unprecedented way, with events all over the world either cancelled or postponed.

Just last week in China, where the coronavirus crisis appears to be easing, the National Sports Bureau issued a directive to all sporting bodies, extending its ban on all mass-gathering sports events in fear of a second wave of coronavirus.

While many sports events – particularly mass participation events and those that draw big crowds - are facing major challenges for survival, and life as we know it changes, sport and being active is more crucial than ever to our physical and mental well-being. The World Health Organisation stresses that: “When so many of us are very restricted in our movements, it is even more important for people of all ages and abilities to be as active as possible.”

In the UK, exercise equipment sales are booming, with Will Butler-Adams, chief executive of the folding bike company, Brompton, estimating sales of bikes are up around 15% in a recent BBC interview.

It seems people are changing habits that will hopefully stick around long term.

Many businesses will understandably be focusing on operations – when can they reschedule their events; what is the financial impact of cancellation; how will staff be affected? But it’s important for these businesses not to forget their followers. Events that can effectively communicate with their fans during this period will be front of mind when things return to normal – and for a sports event that’s key, for participation numbers as well as spectators.

And while it is a difficult and strange period for sports events communications, those that are willing to pivot their approach to content and become a trusted source of information in their industries can form lasting relationships with their participants while attracting new followers.

From a purely commercial point of view, getting people to spend money when things go back to ‘normal’ will be challenging. But by focusing on people’s well-being, showing how you can add value to their lives and by being there for them, events can strengthen their relationship with their audience.

In short, sport matters. More than ever.

So how can sports events adapt their communication strategies? I work with many mass participation sports events, and this is the question they are all asking. The advice below has been developed with these events specifically in mind, but the principles can be applied across a range of brand communications.

Remaining authentic is key. Events shouldn’t stray too far from their original brand offering but should pay attention to what is going on and be aware of the landscape in which they now operate.

Be honest and take people on the journey. Be there for your followers. Show the human-side of your brand to create a community.

Focus on the well-being of others, not how it is impacting your company. While it is likely to be a difficult financial period for you, remember everyone is impacted by this in their own way.

Provide content that is uplifting, useful and informative. Feel-good stories can help spread positivity, and sport can play an important role in providing escapism.

Become a trusted source of information for your industry. Do you have insights or statistics that genuinely fit with the issues? Back up what you are saying with data.

Address people’s concerns. In the case of mass participation sporting events, there will be a clear need to help participants with their training. Travel restrictions across the globe will also be a factor. Make sure you’re aware of the latest guidelines and can offer sound advice.

Keeping brand awareness up is more important than ever. While there may be little point in spending on marketing your events right now, make sure you have a long-term plan and strategy.

Adapting your content strategy without a live sporting event at the centre can be daunting but it’s also an opportunity to create new content and think outside the box.

When it comes to communicating with your audience social media is fundamental with more people online than ever.

Provide relevant content that adds real value to your followers. For mass participation events, this could be a series of training tips or access to high-profile athletes. Think about how you can help your participants prepare for the event with physical experiences online.

Letting people see each other and facilitating human contact is key. Tools like Instagram and Facebook Live make it easier than ever to do this, and it can help followers stay connected to the wider world.

If you’re speaking about something that makes people’s lives better, speak as loud as you can. Why not create a hashtag campaign if your adding value and use this period to build your reputation as an industry leader?

Think about how your partners fit within your strategy. Although it’s challenging, you can still deliver value to your commercial partners by engaging them within your new content strategy.

Be concise. There is a lot of noise right now on social media, so be sure you get your message across in a punchy way.

Be available. Perhaps more so than ever, human interaction and talking to your audience is important. Make sure you respond as quickly as you can to any queries.

The nature of mass participation events means it is very relevant for organisers to speak about the current situation, but don’t attempt to capitalise on what is a difficult time for everyone. With effective communications that stays true to your brand you can genuinely add value to your followers. And long-term, you can strengthen your relationship.

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