The Future of Sports: How the Roles of Athletes, Fans and Industry Businesses Will Change After COVID-19

Many live sporting events are now played in front of empty stadiums. Here are three ways the sports industry is being changed by the coronavirus


Air Date: October 2, 2020

Moderator: Carolyn Cawley, President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Michelle Russo, Chief Communications Officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Justin Hoyman, Product Director, FloSports, Angela Ruggiero, Four-Time Olympian, CEO, Sports Innovation Lab

Featured Guests: Laura Gentile, Senior Vice President of Marketing, ESPN, Miheer Walavalkar, Co-founder and CEO, Live Like, Christophe Dubi, Executive Director, Olympic Games, Kathy Carter, CEO, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Properties, Tom Farrey, Executive Director, Project Play at The Aspen Institute, Lydia Mihalk, Director, Development Services Agency, Office of the Governor of Ohio, Kevin Love, Power Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers, Gary Zenkel, President, NBC Olympics and Business NBC Sports Group

The world of sports has been in flux since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Not only have leagues had to assess how they'll play out their current and upcoming seasons, but the overall industry has had to make sweeping changes that will impact how sports are enjoyed and played for years to come — not only on the professional level, but within communities, too.

To learn about and understand these changes, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation recently dedicated an event in their Fast Forward series to the future of sports. We assembled a group of experts to talk about how the coronavirus has impacted sports in the short and long term. Here are three takeaways from our event.

Sports and Coronavirus: Fans Now Have a More Interactive Experience Than Ever Before

The coronavirus has been a catalyst for a new type of sports fan experience. Companies have created virtual environments for fans to watch and interact with their favorite leagues and athletes. Virtual watch parties, for example, have allowed fans to show their support while interacting with other fans, and in some cases athletes themselves.

Justin Hoyman, product director, apps at FloSports, says the sports streaming service has been prioritizing ways to help fans stay connected, both to their teams and each other.

"We want to help our fans be there, and this kind of helps really connect them to the event itself, even beyond just COVID," Hoyman said. "When we think about these events can happen anywhere worldwide, we want to help create this environment where fans are there, but also they're connected to the athletes in a way that they've never been able to."

COVID-19 Has Forced Organizations to Create Multiple Backup Plans for the Future of Sports

The world was shocked when the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were postponed an entire year due to the pandemic. With the now-2021 games rapidly approaching, the Olympic committee has had to plan for how they would deal with the virus despite all of its uncertainties.

While much of the existing infrastructure and planning had already been done, The Olympics and other sports leagues now have to place coronavirus regulations. Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi and his team have had to plan out not one, but multiple scenarios for how the games will proceed amidst the continued pandemic to ensure the event organizers and athletes are prepared for anything.

"What we do is plan according to four different scenarios," Dubi told CO—. "We have a baseline, we have a better scenario and we have two scenarios where the situation is worse than it is today."

Professional Athletes Are Expected to Use Their Star Power for Social Good

With so much societal unrest in the past year, professional athletes have no longer been able to sit on the sidelines about important social issues. Now more than ever, these sports stars will be expected to use their celebrity status for social good to talk about issues that are both important to them and relevant to their fans.

For example, NBA player Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers has long been an advocate for mental health, and has spoken publicly about his struggles with depression and anxiety. His outreach is nearly universally praised, showing that anyone can struggle with these battles.

He's expressed his gratitude that the NBA has supported his efforts and helped give him an audience.

"We have our social footprint," Love said. "If we wanted to do a PSA surrounding mental health, [the NBA presses] one button, and that's going to tens of millions of kids [and] hundreds and millions of people."


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