Planning for the other side – community sport post COVID-19

In the context of the current global Covid-19 pandemic, sport simultaneously appears both significant or insignificant depending on the perspective you take.
Both professional and community sports have been shut down across Australia and the world, and like all sectors, is going to face challenges from the economic fallout as authorities try to get ahead of a global health emergency. To give some scale of the impact to community sport, research by SportWest measured the impact on winter sport in Western Australia alone to be:
• 735,812 participants impacted (players, coaches, officials)
• 118,827 administrators and volunteers
• 40,500 matches cancelled or postponed
• 1,560 community sport competitions cancelled or postponed.

This crisis will pass, and when it does, sport will play a critical role bringing back a sense of community to those who people who have and will be facing challenging times. It is essential that community sport is supported and that planning commences as to how it can adapt to a changed environment to the one that existed only weeks ago.

Here are a few of my thoughts on some of the trends and changes that might impact community sport post COVID-19.

The governance and management culture of associations and clubs will arguably be the most significant factor that will determine the success with which they recover in the post COVID-19 world. Organisations will need to be agile and be able to respond to rapidly changing situations. Planning for multiple contingencies as well as different ‘re-start’ scenarios should already be well underway. The ‘normal’ way of operating doesn’t exist at the present time and it will be those organisations where the culture allows them to respond and adapt as the situation requires who will be able to capitalise on new opportunities.

The value of governance models which support local level decision making will be more important than ever. Connecting at the local level will be critical for all sport to re-engage with their communities and this works best when decisions can be made to respond to local needs. Governance models need to be fit for purpose and empower those organisations who are directly connected to their communities to respond to their needs.

Technology will play a greater role in how we can service and support members and volunteers. Almost everyone has increased their use of technology for communicating with workmates, colleagues, friends and family. While many of these tools were already in existence, we have had to embrace them in the current state of lockdowns. What opportunities does this provide for communicating with members and stakeholders? Servicing regional members has long been a major challenge for most sports with limited resources. While online delivery will never replace the face-to-face delivery and there are still very real internet connectivity issues in many regional and remote locations, organisations have been forced to adapt and will continue to improve what they are able to offer regional members and how they can engage them.

Sporting organisations are having to re-think how they engage with their members and broader communities. While live sport has ceased, the uptake of online content has increased during the first week of the shutdowns. According to Nielsen’s Social Content Ratings, sport related video content was up approximately 10% when compared to the week prior when live sport was still being played. Amongst community sport organisations, a number of State Associations have generated content providing online training classes and tips, while some have provided content highlighting historical aspects of their sports which is a great way to showcase past stories and help keep connected and engaged with members. These new methods of connecting with members while likely be part of the service mix offer by sports once the crisis is over as an additional way in which to continue to engage with their members and communities.

The current crisis provides an opportunity for some sports who have been grappling with their traditional membership models which have been in decline in recent years. This break in play may provide the catalyst for sports to re-think their membership models. Tied in with the point above, many sports are now thinking about different ways to remain engaged with members and their broader communities. How this may extend to alternative membership offerings should be at the front of thinking for sports at the present time.

There will be an increased focus on hygiene, wellness and cleanliness. This will require clubs to consider changeroom hygiene and cleanliness, as well as equipment and facilities used at events which will come at a cost. There may also be changes, at least in the short term to some of the traditional celebratory customs amongst players and teammates.

All sports have had to streamline and cut back their operations during this period of ‘hibernation’ and it is likely that a lot of sports will not be able to re-start at the same levels of operation when competition resumes. Associations and clubs are having to make decisions on what are the critical and core services that need to be delivered to members. The increasing cost of sport is an issue that has been bubbling under the surface for some time and will likely become more critical for many households post COVID-19. State and National bodies will need to review their cost drivers and ensure that they are able to deliver the critical services and support needed by clubs and their members as efficiently as possible.

These are just a few of the likely changes and impacts to community sport – it is no means an exhaustive list and there will be many other challenges and opportunities emerge as we move through this crisis. While it is unclear what the post COVID-19 world will exactly look like, sporting organisations need to be flexible to explore and respond to new ideas, opportunities and innovations that will present in the coming months. It is critical that sport is seen as a vital part of the recovery phase to deliver community, social, health and economic benefits and will require the industry to work together to make sure that sport has a seat at the table when these decisions are being made.

If you want to discuss any of these ideas or would like any support or guidance, I am available for a virtual coffee catch up and happy to help out.

Thanks for reading and stay well.

Pete Minchin or 0403 463 979

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