As the world begins to de-globalise, we now face restrictions on movement and how we interact with one another.  With uncertainty and unprecedented changes to our daily lives one form of communication remains intact – social media. Everything as we know it has changed and so has social media engagement, not only for consumers but also brands.  So what impact has this had and how does the future look? 

Many sectors have been impacted by Covid-19, we all now find ourselves at home including athletes. There has been a systematic shift in marketing campaigns prompting innovative thinking and ways to engage with fans.

The sports industry has seen high profile disruptions, cancellations and suspended seasons. There have been reported cases from Premier League footballers to basketball players, moving away from the glitz and glamour to health and wellbeing, an area brands have capitalised on.

With self-isolation comes more spare time which means more time on social media. Athletes also find themselves stuck at home, miles away from their regimented routines. This has increased their use on social media providing more opportunity to engage with fans and promote brands from home. This shift has provided a more personable approach, bridging the gap from the absence of live sports. The absence of live sports has caused concern for clubs and brands, how can you recreate the thrilling atmosphere of the Premier League from home? More so, how can you keep fans engaged during this period?

Covid-19 is a global epidemic, the lives of athletes now don’t seem dissimilar to ours.  Social responsibility is a core component of flattening the curve; athletes and brands have adopted an educational approach to help. The way to engage fans has been through entertainment, in an era of doom and gloom this has been a great form of escapism. The #stayathomechallenge including players such as Marcus Rashford and Lionel Messi, involves people videoing themselves doing as many kick ups with the most coveted item of 2020 – a toilet roll. This has been particularly popular giving fans a glimpse of their homes providing a personal aspect, and allowing them to compete with their favourite athletes. This has gathered momentum on all social media platforms, which has enabled a wide reach and allowed athletes to use whatever platform they prefer to engage with.  

There has been a focus on unity and a sentiment of “we’re all in this together”. Premier League players have put aside their rivalries to create “Players Unite” providing monetary support to the NHS and those other key areas of need.

Corporate social responsibility has also accelerated in this period, with companies and brands responsible for the welfare of their employees. Brands have also used this as an opportunity to promote their brands to demonstrate their strong mission and values.  Corporate social innovation strategies have a positive impact on society as well as business bottom lines. This can be achieved by philanthropy or using resources to fulfil unmet societal needs. Nike and Adidas announced the repurposing of its footwear and merchandise to create personal protection equipment (PPE) for healthcare staff.

Instagram still appears to be the social media channel of choice for the top sports brands, with SocialBakers (analytics) finding an increase of weekly posts since March 2020. 

Source: SocialBakers

Brands now find themselves in an isolated world trying to find creative ways to reach people, with the absence of psychical stores. The focus has now shifted from short-term targets to brand building, in order to maintain some sort of stability in an uncertain fragile market. 

It is apparent that social media has played a huge part in reaching consumers for sports brands, but the question is how will brands navigate themselves long term in the future?

It is expected that brands will refocus on their expenditure, this includes cost cutting be this employees or marketing spend. One would expect lower demand for paid for ads. However, this can also provide an opportunity for those who have extra spend to make use of the lower cost of ads. The current focus has been on organic content with a surge in creative innovation, in order to tailor content to the current pandemic. Post Covid-19 it remains doubtful that brands will be able to sustain their high levels of social responsibility and content. Self-isolation has meant people have more time to consume social media and as a result supply has trended up. With society returning back to every day life, the demand for social media will decline which will have a knock on effect on demand. People have used social media to also keep up to date with Covid-19 related news, which has directed engagement to brands as well. 

It is clear to see there has been a societal shift with more people spending time with their families. After the pandemic, people may begin to view life differently, choosing to disconnect from the social world, which can sometimes appear superficial to focus on “real life”. 

On the flip slide with live sports returning this may increase brand spend in order to provide fans with their sports fix. However, it is difficult to say how fans will react to content. Will they still want to see organic personable content or long after the glitzy campaigns? Brands will need to think carefully about their expenditure on marketing whilst also maintaining interest and engagement – which is a tough task.

From an era of uncertainty comes concerns about authenticity and trust from people, it will be interesting to see how brands will maintain their philanthropic and social endeavours that we have become so accustomed to whilst also juggling their spend and profitability. 

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