Brands shy away from live sports as consumer spending dries up

In 1973, Richard Carpenter and John Bettis wrote a song for the album Now & Then. The song, ‘Its Yesterday Once More’, was a roaring hit. For retro music aficionados, it is a song that speaks of the past, of an era that can scarce be forgotten.

It could well have been a song that was meant for the football fans in France as, last weekend, 5,000 of them were allowed inside the stadium meant for 25,000. It was the first football match in Europe where spectators were back after the pandemic-enforced break, watching their favourite stars in action.

Paris Saint-Germain stars Neymar and Kylian had red masks on their faces as they emerged into the playing arena. They also had messages to thank the health workers on their kits.

There was no real competitive flavour, which was played as an exhibition match at Normandy. For fans and players alike, all eyes from Europe and beyond were on the match as the two teams kicked off. PSG’s opponent was no match to the firepower of Neymar and Icardi who scored twice each. They ended with a comfortable win.

Every time PSG put the ball in the net, the familiar roar of the crowd was pleasing to the ear. It was the roar of the crowd which could have made everyone sing, ‘Its Yesterday Once More’.

France is the only country among the top five leagues in Europe that allowed fans inside the stadium. Bundesliga has concluded for the season without fans’ presence while Serie A, Premier League and La Liga have not had any fans either.

Fans & brands missing

There can be differing views on whether fans should have been allowed into the stadium for a football match.

Across the English Channel, cricket found a footing as the West Indies and England began a three-test series, again without any fans in the stadium. It was the first cricket match being played in England in several months.

The first test lived up to its billing and Caribbean heroes managed to eke out a victory. The matches, telecast live on Sony Liv for the Indian market. Barring the odd brand that could be seen on the perimeter boards, there was no advertisements.

Cricket may have returned but the money that works like oil for the game has not. ECB is now talking of £380 million loss if the entire series was wiped out. Australia is banking on a visit from India working out later this year or face a potential A$300 million loss. If no IPL held this year, BCCI’s losses are estimated at $530 million. South Africa’s Standard Bank did not renew the deal in April and it could add to the hole in its finances.

The State of boards in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Ireland and Pakistan have been, relatively, worse. There has been little reason for brands to join hands for since the sport has not been seeing any action. The last international ODI, for example, was played between Australia and New Zealand on March 13 in an empty Sydney Cricket Ground. Mercifully, Test cricket has resumed and the shorter formats are set to begin too.

All the cricket boards would love their ‘Its yesterday once more’ moment.

US sports may resume

NBA plans to start play with 22 of the 30 teams being seen in action. There will be no spectators in the stadium and playoffs can begin on August 17. The matches are going to be played at one location only. The only threat to the league moving to the next stage is the rising number of cases across the country, which has now hit crossed 77,200 in one day on July 17.

The acrimony between players and owners of baseball teams, thanks to the shortened league that hits income of both sides, has added to already disrupted schedule for the league. NFL, MLS and the other leagues are also facing their own challenges.

But as has been seen with the West Indies-England match, even with the live sports returning, sponsors and brands may not be ready to return. Brands believe that their message to consumers may go waste since consumer spending has been cut down. That, effectively, cuts down on the number of brands who’d like to associate with sport now.

With consumers holding back spending, return to sport would also mean that broadcasters may be left holding the baby, if live sport returns. The ratings for such programming can be expected to be good. In a buyers’ market today, the broadcasters are still on a weak footing.

Meanwhile, if you want to relive the incredible lyrics and that Carpenters song, here’s the YouTube link. Broadcasters, players, team owners – everyone could get goose pimples.

  • Ashutosh Sinha is the founder of WordWiseWeb Media. Read his weekly column on the business of sport here. He can be connected on Twitter at ashutoshsinha00.

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