Empty sports stadiums come with both challenges
and opportunities for the sponsorship industry

As sports leagues around the world return, empty stadiums beg the question: Now what?

Live sports events have traditionally taken up the vast majority of sponsorship deals globally. Last year, before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19, research from Two Circles estimated that global sports sponsorship would hit GBP48 billion by 2024. Football alone currently accounts for over one-third of major deals globally, according to data from Nielsen. The sports fan is one of the most dedicated, loyal and engaged consumers, and has historically been at the core of the success of sports sponsorship. So what happens when sports go behind closed doors? How will fans react and how will it impact the sponsorship industry?

The key to navigating the ‘new normal’ is to remember that while distribution may change significantly, the core of sports sponsorship – engaging with your target audience – hasn’t changed. Restrictions on live sporting events are not new either; geography, stadium capacity and private telecast services such as pay-per-view are already placing caps on audience attendance and viewership.

Although the effects of COVID-19 on live sporting events have been sudden and severe, the past 5-10 years have already seen a major shift in how people consume sports. Revenue from traditional channels such as TV have fallen as consumers move to other platforms. Case in point: According to data from the latest SportsBusiness Media report, Thailand’s TrueVision paid around 50 percent less for the rights to the English Premier League for the 2019-2020 and 2021-2022 seasons, which also covers Cambodia and Laos, than what beIN Media paid for the same rights from 2016-2017 and 2018-2019.

It may not all be doom and gloom, argue some experts. Simon Oliveira, Managing Director of KIN Partners, writes on that the relationship between football and its fans have long been strained, and that the pandemic could be the moment when the romance is rekindled. Ticket prices may go down, he writes, and away-supporters may play a greater role in deciding kick-off times.

Several creative ideas are in play. Video game company EA Sports is providing crowd noise for two of Europe’s top football leagues, England’s Premier League and Spain’s LaLiga. The audio has been captured over the years for its FIFA soccer franchise. In Germany, the broadcaster Sky Deutschland is supplying its own crowd soundtrack, using audio from games earlier in the season.

Similarly, in Aarhus, Denmark, football club AGF, which plays in the Danish 3F Superliga, opened the world’s first virtual grandstand when the season opened in late May. Using the video conferencing platform Zoom, AGF installed cameras and widescreens in 22 different sections of the stadium, allowing fans to choose their preferred view. The widescreens show the fans watching the game from home, allowing the players to engage with and feel the support from their fans.

Sky Sports introduced Sky Sports Fanzone, a new feature on the Sky Sports website and app allowing viewers to watch select matches with friends in a video room and interact while the action unfolds.

Similarly, and to the amusement of many observers, South Korean football club FC Seoul mistakenly sourced inflatable sex dolls instead of manniquins in an effort to fill up their stadium in a May match against fellow K League club Gwangju. Fans immediately took to social media, prompting the club to apologise for their mistake.

COVID-19 has accelerated digitalisation transformation and some experts are arguing that we have seen years of digital adoption in just a few months. Brands and rights holders who are able to adapt to these new circumstances in a fast and effective way will reap the rewards. Fans are still looking to engage with their favourite teams and whoever makes that possible while turning it into a joyful and engaging experience wins.

Paul Poole (South East Asia) Co., Ltd. is an independent marketing consultancy based in Bangkok, Thailand specialising in commercial sponsorship and partnership marketing, working with both rights holders and brands - acting as a catalyst by bringing them together and maximising the relationship.

We have packaged, sold and managed sponsorship and partnership opportunities for a wide range of rights holders and worked with many of the world’s leading brands to source and engage the right sponsorships and partnerships for them to maximise.

Please contact us for more information: Tel./Fax: +66 2622 0605 – 7 Email: