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The COVID-19 Impact on Sports Organizations

Introduction

The years 2020 and 2021 have been marked by the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic that has had a profound impact on various spheres of human activities. Sports entities experience additional pressure due to the high necessity of financial stability combined with severe restrictions on such activities. This report focuses on the Fremantle Dockers female AFL team in terms of increasing its fan engagement capacity under the current pandemic-conditioned circumstances. As public health concerns imposed unprecedented restrictions on the personal involvement of the fans, the team has seen a considerable decrease in supporter membership. As a result, Dockers’ link with the public has been compromised, negatively affecting the financial outcomes. In addition, the lack of fan engagement is theorized to have serious implications in terms of the player’s moral and corresponding game performance issues.

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The proposed initiative emphasizes the necessity of the readjustment to the new reality as opposed to waiting patiently for the prior status quo to return. Fremantle Dockers are encouraged to rely on the immense potential of the digital environment and remote communication strategies to promote fan engagement. Moreover, the key to improving these outcomes may lie in a stronger connection between the Dockers’ male and female teams. Forming a unity between the two fan bases through common promotional campaigns may result in better loyalty to the team. To attain these objectives, it may be wise to develop effective reward programs that will provide further impetus for the fans to engage with the club’s activities.

Problem Outline

Following the onset of the pandemic, local and global authorities sought to reduce personal contacts within the population through lockdowns and corresponding restrictions. While certain measures were taken to preserve the functioning of essential industries, either through remote work or reorganization of the workflow, leisure activities were less fortunate. According to Mastromartino et al. (2020), sports proved to be a highly vulnerable industry in the face of the pandemic. The restrictions disrupted the normal functioning of most athletic organizations, as tournaments were halted whereas normal training routines became disrupted. For a considerable period, the majority of sports events had to be canceled and stadiums were closed. Furthermore, even though certain competitions resumed by the end of 2020, they have been held either without spectators or with a limited number of them. As a result, the institute of fan support became undermined by the pandemic.

Under these circumstances, professional teams suffered from an immense financial impact instigated by COVID-19. Most sports organizations make profits from sponsorship contracts, tournament prize pools, and membership ticket sales. All of these revenue components could no longer be sustained in the new reality of the pandemic. The revival of sports activities in late 2020 and early 2021 amended the first two elements, but the lack of fan engagement persisted. From one perspective, the existing limitations prevent supporters from physically attending the venues (Su et al., 2020). At the same time, the prolonged absence of personal engagement may destroy the habit of being involved in sports some people. Accordingly, athletic organizations, namely the Fremantle Dockers AFL team, are to readjust their fan engagement strategies.

Fremantle Dockers participate in the AFL tournaments that were also affected by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Following the implementation of initial control measures, the team’s stadium had to be closed to the public. Simultaneously, the athletes continued their training procedures under serious restrictions to maintain their physical shape. As the situation became less adverse, the authorities decided to reopen stadiums and resume athletic activities. However, upon launching the operations, the team’s management observed a significant decrease in fan membership. More specifically, Dockers have both male and female teams, and the situation became more severe for the latter. Consequently, the lack of sufficient membership sales poses issues for the management. On the one hand, Dockers suffer from serious financial losses resulting in subsequent budgetary issues. On the other hand, the decline in membership signifies that the relations between the team and its fans have been damaged by the pandemic. This situation is a reason for concern, as it may result in the further deterioration of performance and morale.

Proposed Initiative

Considering the magnitude of the situation and its potential implications, it appears vital to devise a comprehensive initiative. The proposal aims to outline the primary avenues of increasing Freemantle Dockers AFL women’s team fan engagement. Generally, COVID-19 has been an unprecedentedly stressful experience for people across the globe. In this regard, experts from various institutions observe a major shift in the behavioral patterns of society. People of various ages initially found it stressful to remain confined to their homes (Gualano et al., 2020). Moreover, as the situation progressed, the lack of external activities prompted them to seek alternative means of a pastime, resulting in the formation of new habits. Many of these habits become related to the digital environment, which has become the main instrument of work, education, and leisure for the general public (Shah, 2020). Accordingly, the current proposal relies on academic research data in the field of fan engagement strategies in the age of remote digital interaction.

Membership Sales

Fan membership sales remain one of the primary metrics indicating the success of the public engagement strategy or lack thereof. Dockers’ management already pays considerable attention to this matter, but it deserves additional emphasis. According to the current initiative proposal, the team is to implement additional measures aiming to provide a more in-depth analysis of the membership sales. In this regard, it may be useful to rely on the prominent sales tracking strategies on a deeper level (Kolsarici, 2020). The responsible department is required to execute the comprehensive monitoring of the current sales procedures, providing the leadership with accurate numbers. The first sub-metric will be the number of memberships sold within a specific period, namely the pandemic. More specifically, Dockers will track the percentages of first-time and returning fans, which would reflect such a team’s attributes as loyalty and appeal to the public. These cases are to be studied rigorously to put them in a broader context. This way, the management will know the factors behind each decision, namely the enablers and barriers to the final membership purchase.

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Increasing Merchandise Sales

In addition to direct membership sales, the financial performance of a team relies heavily on other channels of revenue. In the case of sports management, the amount of sold merchandise remains a matter of paramount importance. This area of business has inevitably been affected by the pandemic for several reasons. First of all, most fans purchase team merchandise to attend games in person. Supports were deprived of this opportunity for a long time, meaning that they had no impetus for buying or updating their merchandise. Second, lockdown procedures had many stores closed, making it physically impossible to attend them. Based on the best practices from other industries, the implementation of advanced electronic commerce tools proved its effectiveness amid the pandemic (Bhatti et al., 2020). Moreover, the convenience of this format is promising, and it will remain relevant even when the outbreak is over. Accordingly, Dockers need to concentrate on the remote purchases of merchandise via an online store. This way, expenditures will be lower, and fans will be able to enjoy lower prices, thus buying more merchandise.

The Use of Local Data

When the future of the club is on the line, it is essential to utilize all relevant data for positive development. In this context, Fremantle Dockers need to determine the value of each kind of information and benefit from its correct implementation. It appears promising to collect local area postcodes from membership fans. This way, the management will have an understanding of the geographical distribution of Dockers’ supporters. The areas with higher fan density will yield better results from community outreach programs, meaning that most efforts should be channeled there. In addition, these locations are more favorable for the placement of advertisements and billboards. At the same time, the underrepresented areas may be targeted with other campaigns, serving to increase the public’s awareness of the team. Once new fans are attracted through these channels, word-of-mouth will spread, thus significantly enhancing the geography of the club. It is advised to collect only the postal codes without extra information regarding home addresses because it will allow Dockers to avoid any accusation of unwarranted personal data collection.

Fan Reward Program

In most areas of business, customer loyalty is the pillar upon which sustainable development is built. However, this notion acquires an additional degree of importance in sports activities. As stated by Vale and Fernandes (2017), “sports fans develop unique and engaging relationships with their favorite sports teams” (p. 37). This idea suggests that the depth of the connection between supporters and athletes is required to be unparalleled and comprehensive. Various loyalty programs have long been recognized as the key to building loyalty and rapport. Fremantle Dockers are advised to utilize these instruments to stimulate the engagement of long-term fans while providing newcomers with sufficient impetus to remain invested in the team. Dalakas et al. (2021) refer to tiered season ticket packages as the main tool of fan loyalty rewards. For example, Dockers can implement a progressive reward system, meaning that the benefits will correlate directly with the length of consecutive, uninterrupted memberships. As a result, supporters will feel encouraged to remain engaged even in a time of crisis. The public will enjoy tangible benefits, whereas the team will see better financial returns through increased loyalty.

Social Media Presence

In today’s digitalized environment, social media has become a tool of immense value. An active and positive online presence serves as the cornerstone of the proposed initiative. According to Hayes (2020), “new media technologies, such as social media platforms, have provided an avenue for sports organizations and athletes to continue to engage with their consumers” (p. 1). In other words, amid the coronavirus pandemic, professional sports teams recognized the potential of effective social media interaction with their fans.

Fremantle Dockers are encouraged to engage in active discussions with their fans on all leading social media platforms. At the same time, the subscriber base can be expanded through a more active distribution of account names and links, for example, through QR codes. The research by Santos et al. (2018) suggests that social media presence contributes to the positive engagement on fan-to-team, fan-to-fan, and fan-co-creation levels. At a certain point, online content generation becomes self-propelled, as fans feel invested enough to become creators themselves (Majumar & Nada, 2020). Additionally, social networks may be a cheap, yet effective marketing tool. As suggested by Su et al. (2020), TikTok is especially valuable in this regard, as teams can stay connected with their fans through short video clips. For instance, Dockers can use TikTok to launch viral flash mobs involving team merchandise. This way, the sales levels of this merchandise will also see major improvements. Overall, the sphere of social media interaction is to be the key to the further development of fan engagement for Fremantle Dockers.

Expected Impact of the Initiative

The proposed initiative synthesizes the best practices from both within and outside the sphere of sports management. From the team’s perspective, this initiative has the chance to double its membership throughout the upcoming ten-match season. This way, Fremantle Dockers will enjoy better financial outcomes, thus accumulating additional resources for the further expansion of its strategy. In addition, the implementation of the proposed measures will put the team in the spotlight, contributing to the due recognition of women’s sports in the country. Most importantly, this initiative does not focus on the immediate improvement of the situation. On the contrary, it emphasizes the importance of sustained growth in the long term. This effect will be obtained through building stronger relations with the existing fanbase while attracting new supporters. At the same time, this initiative will enhance the Dockers’ influence on the public. Therefore, the team will be able to channel positive values and practices through its social media outlets, contributing to the development of society, as a whole.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the novel coronavirus outbreak has entailed serious repercussions across nations and industries. Following several months of closure and inactivity, professional sports organizations are now required to revive their operations. This idea is tightly related to rebuilding and enhancing the level of fan engagement, which has decreased significantly for Fremantle Dockers’ women’s team. The proposed initiative aims to address this issue from various perspectives, utilizing the experience and outlining new avenues of development. In this context, the digital environment should be the cornerstone of the changes, as its already colossal potential has been expanded by global lockdowns. If the proposal is implemented, the team will see better financial outcomes, whereas the fans will benefit from meaningful loyalty rewards and more convenient means of engagement.

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References

Bhatti, A., Akram, H., Basit, H. M., Khan, A. U., Raza Naqvi, S. M., & Bilal, M. (2020). E-commerce trends during COVID-19 Pandemic. International Journal of Future Generation Communication and Networking, 13(2), 1449-1452.

Dalakas, V., Tseng, M., & Melancon, J. (2021). Encouraging and Rewarding Customer Loyalty: Key Considerations for Sports Teams. Association of Marketing Theory and Practice Proceedings, 32.

Gualano, M., Lo Moro, G., Voglino, G., Bert, F., & Siliquini, R. (2020). Effects of Covid-19 lockdown on mental health and sleep disturbances in Italy. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(13). Web.

Hayes, M. (2020). Social media and inspiring physical activity during COVID-19 and beyond. Managing Sport and Leisure. Web.

Kolsarici, C., Vakratsas, D., & Nalk, P. A. (2020). The anatomy of the advertising budget decision: How analytics and heuristics drive sales performance. Journal of Marketing Research, 57(3), 468-488. Web.

Majmudar, B., & Naha, S. (2020). Live sport during the COVID-19 crisis: Fans as creative broadcasters. Sport in Society, 23(7), 1091-1099. Web.

Mastromartino, B., Ross, W. J., Wear, H., & Naraine, M. L. (2020). Thinking outside the ‘box’: a discussion of sports fans, teams, and the environment in the context of COVID-19. Sport in Society, 23(11), 1702–1723. Web.

Santos, T.O., Correia, A., Biscaia, R., & Pegoraro, A. (2019). Examining fan engagement through social networking sites. International Journal of Sports Marketing and Sponsorship, 20(1), 163-183. Web.

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Shah, S. G. S., Nogueras, D., van Woerden, H. C., & Kiparoglou, V. (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic: A pandemic of lockdown loneliness and the role of digital technology. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 22(11). Web.

Sibley, C. G., Greaves, L. M., Satherley, N., Wilson, M. S., Overall, N. C., Lee, C. H. J., Milojev, P., Bulbulia, J., Osborne, D., Milfront, T. L., Houkamau, C. A., Duck, I. M., Vicker-Jones, R., & Barlow, F. K. (2020). Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide lockdown on trust, attitudes toward government, and well-being. American Psychologist, 75(5), 618–630. Web.

Su, Y., Baker, B. J., Doyle, J. P., & Yan, M. (2020). Fan engagement in 15 seconds: Athletes’ relationship marketing during a pandemic via TikTok. Human Kinetics Journal, 13(3), 436–446. Web.

Vale, L., & Fernandes, T. (2017). Social media and sports: Driving fan engagement with football clubs on Facebook. Journal of Strategic Marketing, 26(1), 37-55. Web.

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