On Friday, the World Health Organization announced that COVID-19 no longer constitutes a public health emergency. The Biden administration will end the U.S.’s emergency designation on Thursday. But in the sports industry, the pandemic-created crisis feels like a thing of the more distant past. Given the state of uncertainty sports businesses entered just over three years ago, athletics adjusted to the “new normal” shockingly well.
By this time in 2020, it was clear that any return to play in the NBA would be done without live fans. Concerns of when, or even if, fans would come back in full force followed the bubble-hosted playoffs that summer. But this season, the NBA set a total attendance record, surpassing 22,200,000 attendees for the first time.
Sports look even better when compared to similar industries that have been shaken by COVID-19 as well as the last 15 years of social and technological change.
In Hollywood, corporations continue to be pummeled for streaming losses while an ongoing writers’ strike has shown how differently creatives and companies view the path forward. The NBA and its players, on the other hand, quietly agreed to a seven-year CBA deal last month.
Three bank failures have brought adversity to the finance industry. At the same time, Josh Harris and his co-investors were comfortable committing $6 billion to buy the Commanders. If the preliminary agreement goes through (and there is still work to be done before then), the NFL will remove one of its most reviled owners while simultaneously boosting the valuations of every other club.
The deal would shatter the mark for money spent on a sports team, one year after the Broncos went for a record figure. When exactly was the last time you read a headline asking, “Is Football Dying?”
MLB seems to have put off its own existential questions with viewership and attendance bumps. For once, the grass seems greener on this side of the fence.
Of course, trouble still lurks, namely in the form of Diamond Sports’ ongoing bankruptcy and the potential dissolution of the cable TV business, which has played a big part in filling sports’ coffers. But at least owners see that issue coming. Smart executives will use lessons learned over the last three years.
COVID-19 upended consumer routines. For the first time since pro sports boomed in the U.S., leagues couldn’t rely on audiences to come to them. Instead, teams were forced to be more proactive, extending beyond their cement-and-concrete homes to interact with fans around the globe on new platforms. The same strategies will prove critical when the streaming shakeup fully hits sports. And if original video investments continue to struggle for distributors, live game inventory will remain as in demand as ever.
Sports quickly bounced back from the pandemic’s unprecedented shutdown. What could possibly slow them down now?
WHAT ELSE I’M WATCHING
Last month, Panini and Hasbro released an intriguing collaboration: a Monopoly game using NBA sports cards that turns participants into NBA coaches collecting a squad of players and attempting to win games while circumnavigating the board. Instead of properties, each space represents a game that players can take control of.
Panini also released new packs and cards with the game, including Monopoly-themed parallels. Mr. Monopoly got his own card in the set—a rookie card, naturally, even if Rich Uncle Pennybags is more than 80 years old.
“Based on fan insights, we noticed a unique crossover opportunity between individuals who love classic gameplay and card collecting,” Hasbro Gaming SVP Adam Biehl said when the game was announced. (Sportico covered the opportunity for sports IP in the board game space earlier this year.)
While the game has been available exclusively at Target, Panini set up a preorder that sold out in two hours, according to the company. A follow-up online exclusive sale sold out in 20 minutes. On the secondary market, retail boxes of additional cards are now selling for more than $40. Some Mr. Monopoly cards have gone for more than $1,000 each.
“We’re already planning on another release for a series two update,” Panini of America SVP of marketing Jason Howarth said.
IN OTHER NEWS
- The NHL’s blockchain collectible platform, Breakaway, is set to launch in Beta, offering packs of highlight NFTs.
- Washington State University president Kirk Schulz recently cited the ongoing wave of media and tech layoffs among the reasons why the Pac-12 has yet to announce its next TV deal. “If you said when would be the worst time in the last six years to try and negotiate a media deal,” he explained, “probably the last five months is pretty close to the worst.”