Coronavirus brings sports as we know it to a screeching halt

When you turn on the TV to watch a sporting event, you often see thousands of fans cheering wildly. Is it real or a mirage?

That was how I began this column before the coronavirus recently brought the sports world to a halt. This time March Madness actually was madness. I mean, people hoarding toilet paper? Seriously? We’ll live without sports for a time, but in some respects, there has been a decline in fans attending sporting events for a while now.

There are undoubtedly many fans who attend games in person, but even before COVID-19, more and more consumers were choosing not to attend live sporting events.

Have you ever watched a sporting event and commented, “Wow, those stands sure look barren. Either that or a lot of people came disguised as empty seats.”?

It’s not unusual for a game to be called a sellout, even though there are thousands of empty seats. The problem is, in part, attracting those who bought tickets to show up.

Maybe fans are smarter than they’re given credit for. Season-ticket holders at NCAA Division I universities know that there are some rather uninteresting home games on the schedule, and they may simply decide not to attend what may be a non-competitive game.

Professor and consultant David Wyld wrote: “With precious few exceptions – and those being only the most important of games and events (i.e., the Super Bowl, College Football Playoff, The Masters, The Final Four, The Kentucky Derby, etc.) what you see occurring is an unmistakable trend. That is the fact that attendance is off, in some cases way off, at almost all live sporting events. And this is a national, even global, happening. Indeed, the “empty seat phenomenon” is not just limited to American sports.

“You can even follow Empty Seats Galore on Twitter, which, you guessed it, posts pictures of empty stadium sections – and increasingly empty stadiums as a whole – from all of sports,” said Wyld.

If this is indeed a trend, one wonders if the public has reached a limit with its obsession of attending live sporting events.

Attending sporting events takes a significant commitment in time and money, not to mention the inconvenience of traffic, and the cost of parking, tickets, and food at college and professional sporting events.

In addition, the language and behavior at some sporting events is salty enough to make a sailor blush. Drunkenness is an issue, and the games themselves get longer and longer, thanks, in part, to TV commercials, and / or how many video reviews officials review during the game.

“Try selling folks with shorter and shorter attention spans on watching – let alone going – the average baseball game or a 4-hour college football game, that is not a winning proposition,” said Wyld.

Technology is a major reason for the decline. You can watch almost any sporting event from the comfort of your home with your own snacks and beverages.

Wyld suggests going back to basic marketing, which means making the experience the best it can be, as convenient and affordable as possible.

“If you go back to basic marketing, make the customer feel that they are getting a good bang for their buck and an enjoyable experience, they will be positive on your brand, your team, and good things will come from that positive sentiment,” said Wyld.

Simple translation: The game itself isn’t enough for fans. You have to provide entertainment during every game break, not just halftime in basketball and football. In baseball, that means coming up with entertainment during the 90-second or so break between each half-inning.

Once the coronavirus pandemic is in our rearview mirror, we’ll see how quickly fans return.