Sport’s New Normal – A Story of Innovations



This year had started with big plans, as the world was bracing itself up for one of busiest years for sports. Be it cricket, Tennis, Football or the biggest quadrennial sporting extravaganza the summer Olympics, world over all fans, athletes, officials and national governments were eagerly awaiting to get started with 2020 – a year of a lifetime.

Just a few months back in February the English Premier League was racing
towards Liverpool as the runaway champions and India gearing up to kick-start the cricketing season with the Indian premier League slated for a March 29 th , 2020 start.

But who would have known the lord had other plans and now as we stand, the world has been on perpetual lockdown for over 60 days, and trust me it feels like eternity. A year that had big promises for many has suddenly turned an eye sore for every single human being alive on earth.

While it’s not hidden how the deadly Corona Virus A.K.A Covid-19 has had its disastrous impact on human kind directly effecting the global business &
economy, one of the worst hit industries of this deadly pandemic has been sports.

The first quarter of 2020 hadn’t even finished and the world suddenly had no sports that existed in any manner. With major sporting activities coming to a complete standstill the athletes, clubs, sponsors, broadcasters, national
federations and every stakeholder has faced the economic brunt of the situation. Some shops have shut while the best of the best have had to incur losses like never before. Manchester United- one of the most famous football clubs in the world saw an increase of over a 100% in their debt during the lockdown – 127.4 million pounds to 430 million pounds, forcing them to can their annual revenue targets.

The good news however has been that the industry is slowly coming back to life with new standard operating procedures in place. This new normal in sports is something that fans, officials, governing bodies and the athletes have never experienced and in order to reduce this uneasiness of the new normal organizations have resorted to some creative modes of restarting operations some interesting in nature while a few more as a forcefit.

The return of some prominent leagues like Bundesliga and K-League 1 without spectators but with interesting innovations like virtual fans, fan cut-outs in stands have only re-iterated the belief in the old adage – Necessity is the mother of all Inventions.

This new avatar of sports is no less than a new invention.

Not just the old leagues but the post Corona life of sports has already seen the start of some new leagues like the Vanuatu Blast T10 League, a cricket league played in Vanuatu, one of the newest members of ICC, along with the start of the Vincy Premier T10 League in the Caribbean Island adding a new lease of life to the deeply hit business of sports.

Now coming to the new format, which includes no fans at the stadiums all the leagues have resorted to innovations in order to ensure the match atmosphere, can be created as much as possible. Taking cue from the old adage “Necessity is the mother of all Invention”, starting with the Korean Baseball League who have resorted to huge banners running from one end of the stand to another with pictures of fans on them so that the stands don’t seem empty also adding that tiny motivation for the athletes who do not end up celebrating in thin air.

The Taiwan Baseball League on the other hand went all tech as they had robots playing drums for them at the stadium trying hard to keep up an alive environment in a spectator less stadium.

In Bundesliga, a number of clubs opted for artificial crowd voices to ramp up the atmosphere during the matches. One of the clubs who have led the innovation process has been Monchengladbach who have resorted to crowd sourcing in order to get 50,000 cardboard cut-outs to fill the stands.

At Gladbach, the fans now have the option to order a “life-size cardboard cut-out” of themselves — complete with photos of their faces — to occupy their usual spot on the terraces. For 19 euros (USD 21), Gladbach fans can buy the cardboard cut- out, which FPMG-the company manufacturing the cut-outs said would actually be made of “weather-proof plastic“.

The latest news and to our ears probably the most innovative of all innovations, comes from the Danish Club AGF Aarhus. As the Danish Superliga gets underway from May 28, 2020, AGF Aarhus will be using technology to bring fans back to the stadium and have a crowd in the stands.

Image Credit : Getty Images

The club will use the video conference service Zoom to beam fans into thestadium through “seats” in a virtual grandstand. To create this, screens will be placed in different parts of Ceres Park, the home stadium of AGF, and fans will populate those screens through their web cameras. There will be 22 sections available to choose from, and they will all be free. The sections will include a home section, an away section, and one for neutral fans to view the game as well.

With all this is good news for the fans and how clubs are resorting to fan
engagement, there’s a grey side to the story as well. Not all innovations turn out to be rewarding, some just end up being Bizzare.

Something similar happened in K-League 1 in South Korea where FC Seoul has been fined $81,300 for filling up the stands with sex dolls. The club humbly accepted their mistake and received a lot of criticism from the online community who believed that it has ruined the opportunity for K-League to be broadcasted to a global audience and rightly so. This turned out to be one of the biggest controversies since the resumption of sports post the covid era.

As time goes by and the new normal becomes a norm, more such innovations will become commonplace and it will be interesting to see the extents to which the teams will go in order to keep the athletes and their fans happy, because no matter what without the actual fans in stand and without the constant cheer and jeers we just wonder if this new normal in sports, really worth all the effort?

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