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Sport after COVID-19: Propelling change in the sporting industry

A coach leading a team of young people in a gym
Copyrights: Lauren Schwaar

Sport after COVID-19: Propelling change in the sporting industry

Lauren Schwaar shares strategic tools for creating systemic change.

In an unprecedented worldwide time-out, the sports industry has come grinding to a halt and faces existential questions querying its nature, trajectory and purpose. This reset could afford an opportunity for the sporting world to emerge stronger, better, or perhaps even fundamentally different than it has ever manifested in history. This potential hangs heavily over those that have long attempted to draw attention to the problems within the sport ecosystem. Will we capitalise on it?

It has been claimed by many that the sporting industry around the world is unhealthy and flawed, perhaps fundamentally. Some argue that for every example of solidarity and congruence within the world of sport, fifty can be found of corruption, capitalistic preeminence, systemic inequality or abuse. The extraordinary circumstances in which we currently find ourselves could infuse that conversation with both urgency and clarity. But coordinating even an appropriate starting point to facilitate reform could prove impossible. How do we advance this conversation?

The world of sport is vast and filled with players large and small (pardon the pun) moving in very different directions. The metaphorical “pulling in the same direction” rowing analogy, often externally applied, makes an appropriate repatriation in this case. Sporting mechanisms built to fulfill capitalistic and for-profit aims can unfortunately squash more altruistic sport applications. The vastness of the industry makes it difficult to even define a table, much less wrangle its thought-leaders to engage around it in conversation.

Further, the real possibility exists that an event as cataclysmic as COVID-19 could create an even wider schism between established, high-level sport and emerging sport due to depleted resources prioritising established earners over fledgling movements. The fact that the large players in the sports world may monopolise resource allocation may dissuade many voices from bothering to attempt an upsetting of the status quo. However, whether or not the odds are stacked, catalysing fundamental change in the sporting world could cause not only healthy internal change but positively shift how the wider world perceives sport.

Strategic tools for creating systemic change

Current global trends could aid in a retooling of the sport industry on a more comprehensive scale than might have been possible even a decade ago:

  • Social media and influencer culture. The anthropological shift from a short list of powerful mass influencers to a diffused landscape of “micro brands” and small-scale influencers could lend strength to grassroots movements.
  • Disintegration of resources. In our current climate, significant resources (licensing, ticketing, merchandising, media and more, in addition to an incredible volume of human capital and effort) that would normally be pumped into premiere sports offerings will be diverted as virtually all mainstream sports leagues are postponed or suspended for the foreseeable future. These resources will end up elsewhere. It would be an interesting exercise to track the economic impacts of such a large resource reallocation, and it may be impossible to accurately tell how much of that resource remains in sport and how much leaves the industry over the coming year and beyond. However, strategic intentionality could funnel some of that resource to bolster emerging or alternative applications of sport.
  • Widespread value consideration. Though generational stereotypes can make for messy indicators, current global trends indicating value-driven choice are hard to dispel. Societal behaviours can be attributed to value-based awareness perhaps now more than ever before. People care about caring. The aforementioned point about micro influencers combines with this convergent trend to lend increasing agency to fans, communities and society as a whole to exert social pressure in order to foster positive change. The status quo is being closely scrutinised and has been found wanting.

Within the sporting ecosystem there exist plenty of individuals and entities that are willing to reconsider how the sporting machine ticks, and some are even willing to sacrifice personal interests to propel systemic change. However, the sporting world is far from establishing a cohesive front. Could the sport industry as a whole care for something beyond its own preservation and profitability? How do we harness the tremendous power and influence of sport in our world today to create more than entertainment and scandal, industry and money? This could be our opportunity to find out. And thanks to wider trends, never before has that prospect seemed more hopeful.

Lauren Schwaar is a passionate believer in the power of sport to effect change. She is a basketball coach, holds a master’s degree in sport policy from the University of Edinburgh and is the founder of Fathom Performance, an emerging mobile platform attempting to reenvision the measurement of impact.

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Monday, May 4, 2020 - 17:01