Numerous sports are successfully stepping up their efforts to move forward
The postponement or cancellation of sporting events due to COVID-19 has had a major effect on numerous individuals, communities and sports organizations across the United States. While the country faced uncertainty amid the pandemic, several sports business groups have created innovative solutions, enabling them to maintain some semblance of normalcy.
Getting involved in recreational or competitive activities safely is the main goal for leaders at all levels. With various organizations finding ways to adapt to the new normal, event organizers established their own guidelines that would assist individuals and competitions.
From Surviving to Thriving in Golf
While many organizations placed operations on hold since the beginning of the outbreak, golf industry leaders had seen an uptick in demand, with the National Golf Foundation’s report noting that 91 percent of clubs across the U.S. have reopened its courses. As industries have stepped up their safety measures, NGF also reported that golf courses have flourished due to increased participation, which went up from approximately 6 percent in May, 13 percent in June, 19 percent in July to 20 percent in August.
Because of the industry’s ability to control physical separation within the social distancing recommendations, local government officials endorsed organizers to reopen courses with precautionary measures on the course. Randy Ballinger, director of Golf Courses at Walnut Creek Golf Complex based in Marion, Indiana, elucidated how his organization instituted guidelines to revive the course and promote safety practices for golfers.
“Our golf packages were pretty slim early on, we are getting some now but we did discourage some packages early because of the uncertainly and because we did not want to bring people into our area from areas where infection rates were bad and where golf courses were forced to close,” Ballinger said. “We were able to open and stay open with specific guidelines from our national association and the Indiana Golf Course Owner Association. We were proactive in writing best practices for opening with safety and the Governor approved with our practices. We have continued these practices.”
Additionally, in May, leading organizations – such as the United States Golf Association, Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, the National Golf Course Owners Association, the PGA of America, the PGA Tour, the LPGA and the Club Managers of Association of America – announced the establishment of Back2Golf, an industrywide program that provides safety recommendations for golfers getting back to the game. These organizations have implemented details of the three-phase guidelines for participants to follow.
The industry-supported organization led by example in taking action towards goals and urging participants to follow prevention guidelines for returning to a recreational event safely.
Months after golf organizations resumed operations worldwide, club managers gradually relished its success in reopening. This year, Walnut Creek, hosted a First Tee program that offered youth golf sessions to inspire young athletes to develop more interest and embolden their parents to participate in a recreational and competitive sport.
“It was a terrific success. We now have one of the best golf professionals in the state giving lessons this year so that has helped spark more interest in kids and ladies and occasional players,” Ballinger said. “Early on we did space tee times out more and with that and the increased play, online tee times have more than doubled from last year. People are booking online and reserving carts to be sure of being able to ride.”
The reopening of businesses that sell golf balls, irons, wedges and gloves for outdoor social distancing recreational activity had already skyrocketed golf equipment sales. Golf Datatech, a market research firm based in Orlando, has released its recent report indicating that the total of equipment sales has reached $388 million in July 2020, which marks a record-breaking sales month, exceeding the previous two highest sales month in June 2007 with $368 million and June 2006 with $364 million.
Escaping COVID-19 to Outdoor Sports Activities
Despite restrictions, outdoor enthusiasts find ways to enjoy nature and its health benefits by going outside and participating in various forms of outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, camping, fishing, biking and more.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), a membership-driven trade organization that specializes in analyzing data and information for the outdoor industry, the number of people participating in recreational activities has grown since its shutdown, which began in March. The OIA’s report says activities such as running and bicycling have become a safe and favorable option for consumers.
Participation in outdoor activities can have a positive impact on physical and mental health in the midst of a public health crisis. One of the most significant benefits of outdoor recreation activity is that it gives participants, who seek to managing and reducing stress in their daily lives, the ability to maintain good physical and mental health through workouts or exercises in the surrounding natural spaces.
American Trail Running Association (ATRA), a nonprofit corporation based in Colorado, has revealed its RunRepeat study in April displaying that average athletes who typically worked out or played sports 1-2 times a week have increased their exercise by 88 percent. Although mountain, ultrarunning and trail running are trendy leisure-time physical activities among runners, the level of interest in Fastest Known Time, grows among trail enthusiasts who are eager to compete with others, chase a competitive goal and set a new record on trails through FKT.
“Many of our constituents in the trail running, mountain running, and ultra-trail running space are posting Fastest Known Times or going after FKTs as there aren’t many trail races as in the past due to the restrictions from COVID-19,” Nancy Hobbs, executive director of the ATRA, said. “I believe the participation in the trail running is increasing on a recreational level as well. More people are exploring the outdoors and this is a wonderful, healthy endeavor during the pandemic.”
As more people are eager to spend more time in nature, a recently formed organization of 650 nonprofits, outdoor businesses and land managers created “Recreate Responsibly,” an initiative aimed at providing appropriate health and safety practices for consumers. In efforts to advocate safety, this group shares how-to-stay-safe guidelines to individuals, families and communities.
“The outdoor industry understands why Americans are clamoring for the many health benefits for getting outside, and we are hard at work to ensure they can access the outdoor safely,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of OIA. “We strongly believe that ‘together we are a force’ should be the motto for protecting the outdoors, and it is great to see so many national groups come together to shape the conversation about responsible recreation during this public health crisis.”
Subsequently, the demand for outdoors equipment is exceptionally high, as more consumers are seeking a getaway from the pandemic and buying outdoor sports equipment for activities closer to home. As of June 2020, the NPD Group, a market research company, had seen a significant increase in year-over-year sales of leisure and recreational products, including bicycles (63%), paddle sports (56%), golf equipment (51%), camping gear (31%) and binoculars (22%).
Digital Transformation of Traditional Fitness Industry
While the COVID-19 crisis creates schedule instability, exercise remains top priority for many.
In the past months, gyms and fitness centers have been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, which severely limited access to the physical areas. To overcome the risk of patrons contacting the virus, companies sought innovative ways to keep their fitness businesses relevant by offering services where patrons can exercise through digital channels at home.
Instead of attending brick-and-mortar gyms, where people usually worked out in training facilities such as dance studios, fitness businesses around the world provide workout classes online as an alternative for customers. To stay fit and physically active at home, some of the major fitness brands such as NordicTrack, Planet Fitness and Peloton offered customers the opportunity to take workout classes through a variety of online platforms like YouTube or Zoom.
Consumer spending on at-home exercise equipment like stationary bikes and treadmills from several fitness companies has accelerated enormously. Peloton sales reportedly have leaped 172 percent to $607.1 million (compared to last year with $223.3 million) and it possesses more than 1 million subscribers for streaming classes.
A research firm determined technology has changed the way the fitness industry operates by providing customers access to video-on-demand content more than ever before. According to the data conducted by wellness technology platform Mindbody, 73 percent of participants who exercise daily use pre-recorded video compared to 17 percent in 2019 and 85 percent of those use livestream classes per week, compared to 7 percent of last year.
In addition to online classes, some clubs also offer outdoor fitness classes for those who do not plan to go back to gyms. As long as people maintain more than 6 feet of social distance, fitness professionals designed creative and interactive workout ideas and programs that could tailor to participants’ needs or preferences, including Yoga, Zumba, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or boot camp.
The Growth of Online Gaming Amid Quarantine
Thanks to the availability of the state-of-the-art technology, video games have expanded consumers’ access to computer or devices (such as PC gaming, console gaming and mobile gaming) at home. Amid quarantine, million people around the world have currently turned to online gaming to interact and compete in a virtual environment.
While some traditional and physical sporting events restricts the amount permitted to participate in recreational activities and entertainment events across the sectors, esports, best known for online competitive gaming, are on the rise. As of June 3, 2020, the survey, conducted by global market research firm Nielson, has indicated that 82 percent of esports consumers spent time playing video games and watching video game content under stay-at-home orders since March.
Playing video games online is a unique opportunity to foster social connections and engagement between players, celebrities and fans during the period of self-isolation. In April, online gaming developer and publisher Epic Games teamed up with Houston-based rapper Travis Scott to participate in a musical journey in Fortnite, widely regarded as one of the most popular games with 350 million players.
John Stainer, managing director of Sports at Nielsen, noted that playing video games or watching gaming content helped esports consumers stay focused in a world of full distraction from COVID-19.
“Consumers are looking for ways to pass the time and to help distract themselves from what is going on in the real world. Video gaming and esports have helped create a much-needed distraction for many consumers,” Stainer said. “Since the start of the pandemic, the industry has experienced massive growth with 82% of people playing video games and watching gaming video content.”
The online game has the power to bring people together as a community through an increasing social interaction between gamers and spectators. As a result, largest electronic game companies like Activision Blizzard and Twitch formed a partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) to launch a promotional campaign called #PlayApartTogether designed to emphasize the importance of social distancing while bringing special events, activities, reward and inspiration to gamers around the world.
Looking Toward the Future
Due to the pandemic that has shaped customer demand amid the shutdown of public spaces, sports organizations are determined to lay out key social distancing and reopening strategies that will resume operations and bring customers back to the new normal. Looking toward the future, responding to the global health crisis is more important than ever for the sports industry as organizations continue to confront challenges and creatively adapt so they can recover and thrive in a post-COVID world.
By Jamaal Brown