I know what you’re thinking, ‘not another article about Coronavirus’, but we wanted to make clear for current and future clients, our thoughts and plans amidst these peculiar times.
As a sports marketing agency who focus and specialise in the global world of motorsports, the pandemic became a reality to us the moment rumours appeared that Coronavirus was to affect the up and coming Formula E race in Sanya, China. Within what felt like lightning speed, hearsay turned into reality and drawing comparisons to the virus itself, it spread to other disciplines faster than anyone expected, with Formula 1 aborting the opening of the season in Australia at the last minute too.
In a digitally connected world, it was easy for us to keep up to date on the devastating effect of the virus, but hard for us to foresee the impact it was eventually going to have on our all daily lives, not just those of us in sport.
Given the passion and loyalty of sport fans as they frequently travel far and wide in their tens of thousands to support their chosen team or individual, mass sporting events that were affected brought the severity of the situation home to many. Initially, football games were held behind closed doors, a scenario usually used as punishment for the teams and their fans.
Embroiled in a title race, Juventus and Inter Milan played in front of an empty stadium. A tantalising fixture that could have normally filled the stadium twice over. Days later, French champions PSG were playing the second leg of their Champions League tie with Borussia Dortmund behind closed doors too, only for thousands of fans to congregate outside of the stadium and show their support with singing, flares and fireworks. This cauldron of close contact with strangers now seems frighteningly unsafe and was perhaps the final straw as we began to then see full postponement or cancellation of sports events to limit the spread of Coronavirus.
The landscape changes daily but as I write, the Euro 2020 Championship and Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 have been pushed back a year, which, specifically in the world of sport sponsorship is a logistical nightmare for all involved. BT and Sky have shared the eye watering figure of £1bn, which is the figure they expect will hit their bottom line if sport is postponed until August. In rugby, The RFU have announced they expect a loss of over £50m across the next 18 months as a result of the pandemic, highlighting again the economic impact it has to even the strongest and oldest sporting institutions.
So, in a world with no live sport, where does this leave an agency like Blackcastle? If there is no sport for brands to be involved with, then there are no partnerships or campaigns to be delivered, at least in the short term, we could easily be facing our own unfortunate full-time whistle. However, thanks to our dynamic and flexible approach, and not to mention a trusting and optimistic board, we still have a valuable service to offer our clients and believe that foresight now, will pay dividends.
With a recession looking more and more likely, comparisons are understandably made to 2008 however, I would do so with caution as the root cause is entirely different and so the marketing strategy should be too. During these times of uncertainty, it’s a natural instinct to analyse your P&L forecast and cut all costs that are seen as discretionary, with marketing typically first in the firing line.
British stalwart John Lewis has put its spring campaign on ice along with reducing marketing spend across the board to coincide with the closure of all it stores for the first time in its 155-year history. The Premier Inn has said it will be ‘eliminating’ its marketing spend for the time being as it looks to shelve spending in other areas too. Coca-Cola, partners of the affected Euros and Olympics, has also announced it will pause all British marketing activity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These three recognisable and trusted brands have made the move to use this time to take a step back and plan a long-term strategy for a post-Coronavirus world. A world that will undoubtedly be different than what we knew before however, with one cast iron guarantee; that sport and the involvement of its fans will be stronger than ever before, with most supporters currently sobbing to themselves and the old adage of ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ ringing very true.
This long-term planning is exactly what we at Blackcastle Sport support and are encouraging our clients to do. The world will recover from this pandemic and when it does, and sport becomes ever present again, it’ll bounce back with a vengeance and a passion that has never seen before, like an emotional reunion at the arrivals terminal of an airport, vowing never to take each other for granted again and being wrapped in cotton wool forevermore.
But there are some brands who are in the fortunate position of being able to undertake some activity during these dark hours. Rights holders have turned to their virtual equivalent to give fans something to cheer on. Leeds United were one of the first to respond to fixture postponements by live streaming a FIFA 20 version of their planned game vs Cardiff City on Twitter instead. Since then, we’ve seen others jump aboard the eSports bandwagon as Wolves launch their own virtual tournament for fans to get involved with and Spanish giants Real Madrid have also just started their own Twitch streaming channel. One thing is for sure, necessity is the mother of innovation, and right now brands and rights holders alike are having to think outside the box.
In racing, we saw Formula 1 replace their weekend of racing in Bahrain with a start studded line of simulation racing, shown live on Sky Sports and MotoGP have recently used their eSports version to align with global health advice with their #StayAtHomeGP virtual racing series.
Digital marketing is the very obvious front runner in terms of where to spend what’s left of your marketing budget as people up their screen time under lockdown. Apps like Tik Tok and Houseparty are seeing a huge influx of new users, fuelled perhaps by various famous faces trying to practice their keepy uppies with a loo roll or dancing to fill the time. Whilst sport stars may not be actively doing their day job as it stands, they still have a healthy, engaged and loyal fan base who want to know what they’re doing during their down time.
As a result, this creates a unique opportunity for brands to start building a connection with sport fans by creatively using an association with someone like George Russell and tap into his growing global fanbase of Formula 1 fans.
We are very much still open for business and would be happy to help you and your brand navigate through these tough times. Give us a call on +44 (0) 207 099 9900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org