We have all been spending long periods of time at home and for those of us lucky enough to have gardens or parks nearby physical activity and sport have become a big part of keeping us busy and staying entertained as a family. Latest trend data shows that google searches for social distancing sports that the families can take part in have seen an increase as a result, driven by both the need to stay entertained and also the associated health benefits of keeping active.

With sports seeing a resurgence amongst whole families the return of professional football in the UK last week after 100 days suspension following lockdown was welcomed by many. Football in particular has long been a sport that has united (and in some cases divided) families with teams supported being passed on through generations. The love of the game has remained embedded within UK culture, with 45% of the UK population having an interest in football, 21% regularly watching their teams play and 22% of 7-19 year olds saying that they cannot live without it![1][2]

However, football has returned with a new look and feel so what has this meant for engagement with the game loved by so many?

With no handshakes at the start, a hydration break once per half, the ability to make five substitutions rather than three and crucially no fans being allowed within the stadium, football matches have taken on a very different construct. The biggest change for spectators and fans of football has no doubt been the playing behind closed doors and the lack of crowd and atmosphere as a result. However, broadcasters have tried to reimagine the social aspect of the game in other ways. Sky have included team Zoom calls of fan groups watching their team play together at home and have broadcasted these pre and post-game showing the reactions of supporters to their team’s results.  There has also been the ability to watch games with or without recorded crowd noise and  fan channels such as Arsenal Fan TV (AFTV) creating content through a live “watch along” which accumulated over half a million views within one day.

Fans aren’t being put off just yet and demand for football remains high with Sky Sports reporting a peak audience of 3.4m viewers during the opening game which is a 94% increase on the season average.[3] The Premier League made a return to BBC TV for the first time since 1988 and shattered records with an audience of 3.9m people.[4] The first Match of the Day programme post-lockdown has also managed to bring 2.7m viewers to their screens.

With families engaging in sports together more so than they ever have done before this has opened the door to a new audience of live sport fans that can be engaged with. As we see more live sports events coming back into action, albeit with a new way of doing things, brands will need to think innovatively as to how they most effectively communicate with consumers and the type of consumer they may well be reaching in these new times.

1. Youth TGI Age 7-19 Survey 2020 Spring
2. TGI GB 2020 Q2 (January 2019 – December 2019)_S01
3. SportsPro, Manchester City-Arsenal scores 3.4m viewers for Sky Sports. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.sportspromedia.com/news/premier-league-sky-viewing-figures-man-city-arsenal
4. Wilson, J. (2020). BBC viewing figures for Bournemouth vs Crystal Palace may break Sky’s all-time record. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2020/06/21/bbc-viewing-figures-crystal-palace-v-bournemouth-may-break-skys/

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