By: Dave Wakeman

The Bundesliga looks like they will be the first professional football league in Europe to return in the next few days. In Australia, the NRL and AFL are all moving towards resuming their schedules without fans. And, in the States, a tweet lit up Twitter with baseball’s Spring Training 2.0 being proposed to start around 10 June with 1 July Opening Day.

As teams and leagues around the world start to rethink and reopen, our attention to the business of sports is likely to start shifting from imagined opportunity to real opportunity…and that likely means that we are going to need to offer ourselves some new questions to deal with the aftermath of the coronavirus shutdown and our tentative steps back into public life…where possible.

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Here are 3 questions I’m thinking about and how I’m thinking through them:

How Do We Regain Folks’ Trust? 

To be rather blunt, the messaging and actions around refunds, exchanges, postponements, and cancellations has been a shit show.

Internally, I’m sure everyone is telling themselves some story that makes their actions seem adequate, reasonable, or necessary.

The truth is that if you put yourself in your customers’ shoes, would you feel like your response was adequate, reasonable, or necessary?

Again, not in your shoes, but your customers.

The real answer, whether or not folks want to admit it to themselves, is that most responses didn’t meet the smell test.

Why was this happening?

You have money. You have lack of knowledge. You have confusion. These are three ideas, but I could have gone on for 1,000 words.

Again, the reality is that none of these explanations and excuses matter to your customers and they are likely pissed.

What does that mean?

In the short term, it means people want to know how they get their money back, and just offering folks a credit with a bonus isn’t likely to stem people’s anger and irritation in the short or middle term.

It also means that because many of these policies aren’t customer-friendly, have been changing or confusing, and don’t really make people feel whole that people are likely not to trust you going forward.

That’s going to have unintended consequences up and down the industry from questions on the real reason behind digital ticketing, use of data, and on it will go.

So the first question to grapple with is how are we going to get folks to trust us again.

And, don’t just think because folks might tune in on TV that this means everyone is happy…that’s not the reality, TV audiences and in-game audiences really don’t have a direct correlation as real attendance before the crisis should have shown.

How Do We Get Folks Back?

I think people were shocked at how close to the edge so many entertainment businesses were operating before the shutdown.

I’d argue that it was pretty scary to see how many businesses in the economy as a whole couldn’t weather a week before asking for bailouts.

I only bring all of these things up because we see how important the in-game revenue sources are for teams and events.

Which raises even more questions.

The thing about it is that folks are going to be confronted with a number of things on their way back to life:

  • The psychological impact of the coronavirus on people’s feeling of security in groups.
  • The financial impact of shutting down the economy.
  • The number of events that were previously scheduled or that are normally scheduled at the time folks are going to be able to attend events.
  • And, more.

The situation that teams, buildings, performers, and other stakeholders were dealing with prior to the shutdown due to the pandemic is that getting people to attend a live event was becoming more difficult with each day.

There were any number of reasons that this was happening including:

  • Other entertainment options like breweries, vineyards, gaming, restaurants, and more.
  • Competition from the in-home experience with multiple screens, no restroom lines, and a better selection of F&B.
  • Costs because consumer spending in most western countries had been seeing reductions for a long period of time and the costs of attendance had been increasing.

All of these factors combine to create an even more murky environment on the other side of the pandemic because if we weren’t able to solve the challenge of marketing and getting people into the building in a “booming” economy with just normal levels of competition and no concerns about safety from gathering in large groups, how do we attack the problem in a new competitive environment?

There aren’t many easy answers.

Or, there aren’t many answers that aren’t going to take a lot of thought, innovation, and effort.

How Do We Generate Revenue Next?

I’m sure some ad agency has had the “Generation Next” campaign going before. I’m sure we will see it again, even.

The thing about what we are facing right now is that we’ve seen revenues evaporate like magic over the last two months. Lots of teams and leagues have had TV revenues to fall back on, but that’s not universal.

And, we’ve had to grapple with the idea that maybe we have to give some of the money back because we aren’t able to put on games or events.

In 2019, in Dallas at INTIX, someone took my notes for my presentation off of the speaker’s stand before I started talking…and when you have a packed big room with a couple of hundred folks staring at you to tell them how to make more money, it isn’t a great time to not have any ideas.

So as a way to tap dance myself into a little mental space to recreate my presentation in my head: I asked the question of how many folks feel like they are limited in the ways that they can generate revenue for their teams, buildings, or events.

Because I still needed a minute or two, I said…I’m going to prove to you that your choice between limit and limitless is a choice, I’m going to create a document with 101 ways to market, sell, and create revenue. Considering the circumstances, it still works.

That story about Dallas was a long-winded way to say that there will be revenue opportunities on the other side of this pandemic, but they are likely going to be a little different than they were before.

I’ll have plenty of time to think through this and share over the coming weeks, but let’s think about three ideas today:

  1. What about our pricing of tickets, parking, merchandise, and other revenue-generating products and services do we need to reimagine?
  2. How can we change our business model to reflect some of the short-term changes that folks are dealing with and also that reflect an understanding of the long-term trends that the pandemic highlighted and gave greater clarity to like consumer spending, needing to be better at marketing, and finding ways to attract new customers?
  3. Why do we need to change now when so much of the media narrative is about how things are just going to miraculously snap back to normal?

A quick preview of my thinking to all three:

  1. We need to revisit value, customer, and what we hope to achieve regularly. Now more than ever.
  2. I think we can look at venues, teams, and offerings around the world as a guide for how to grow our customer base, how to engage our audience, and how to generate the revenue necessary to create stability in our organizations.
  3. How can we assume things will go back to normal when we don’t even know what the plan for our businesses, industry, or country is?

I hope some of these questions will inspire you to ask tougher and different questions of your organization.

This story was originally published at and was republished here with the author’s permission.

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