Many sectors have been heavily impacted by the global coronavirus pandemic and the sports industry has arguably seen as many high-profile disruptions, cancelations and suspensions as any other.
There have been reported coronavirus cases from London-based footballers to Los Angeles-based basketball players, completely shifting focus from the glitz, money and entertainment side of sports to the self-care and health side – if players aren’t healthy, they cannot play the sports we all adore.
These reported cases and the rising number of public coronavirus cases in the UK have meant a crackdown on gatherings of large crowds to prevent the spread; stadiums full of fans and chants on weekend afternoons will temporarily be a thing of the past.
However, with spare time, self-isolation and social distancing in everyone’s future (athletes included), this break from sporting events offers the opportunity for viral challenges, fundraising and socializing online with some of the world’s biggest athletes.
With this in mind, I’ve taken a look at some of the sports most impacted by the coronavirus and how they, their teams and star players have responded on social media.
Liverpool FC were on the brink of their first Premier League triumph, the title race at the top of La Liga is as close as it’s been in years and the multi-city Euro 2020 was just a stone’s throw away; however, the COVID-19 outbreak has caused the world’s largest footballing bodies to halt play indefinitely.
In order to pass the time, the likes of Marcus Rashford, Lionel Messi and even UK musician Dave have participated in the #StayAtHomeChallenge.
The #StayAtHomeChallenge involves people videoing themselves doing as many keepy-ups with a roll of toilet paper inside their house as possible, tagging their friends to challenge them to participate and upload their attempts, thus creating a plethora of creative submissions circulating on social media.
— jlav???? (@jlavish10) March 20, 2020
Some footballers, however, have opted for publicly charitable gestures like Zlatan Ibrahimović’s call-to-action and his personalized ‘Kick the Virus Away’ GoFundMe page.
In this dramatic moment for Italy, we created a fundraiser for Humanitas hospitals.I count on the generosity of my colleagues and of those who want to make even a small donation. Let’s together kick the CoronaVirus away and win this match! https://t.co/6o2cvUwEK6 pic.twitter.com/xhwECFFNTA
— Zlatan Ibrahimović (@Ibra_official) March 18, 2020
But it isn’t just the players who are getting involved. Chelsea Football Club and its owner Roman Abramovich are also helping the NHS staff by offering the club’s Millennium hotel as accommodation for the men and women working to fight against COVID-19 in London.
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Chelsea Football Club is joining the medical response to the coronavirus outbreak in London with the news the National Health Service (NHS) has accepted the Club’s offer to make the Millennium Hotel at Stamford Bridge available for NHS staff. The initiative came from club owner Roman Abramovich and, after contact with the NHS was made by Chairman Bruce Buck, it was decided the best way Chelsea can assist the NHS is to provide accommodation for NHS staff. Mr Abramovich will be covering the costs of providing the accommodation. Many of the medical staff will be working long shifts and may not be able to travel home or would otherwise have to make long commutes. Local accommodation helps maintain the health and well-being of these crucial personnel at this critical time. This will be for a two-month period, and then reconsidered in light of circumstances at the time. NHS staff will be those working in hospitals in the North-West London region, but that may extend to hospitals in other districts. The number of rooms utilised will depend on demand but potentially all the rooms in the Millennium Hotel could be given over for this purpose. No staff showing symptoms will use the hotel. Millennium Hotels and Resorts, who manage the hotel, are supportive and assisting the club in providing this service to the NHS. #CFC #Chelsea #Coronavirus
This generous gesture was echoed by Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha and Manchester United Legend and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville, who have both offered their properties and hotels as temporary accommodation for NHS workers.
NBA (National Basketball Association)
The USA National Basketball Association (NBA) also finds itself in a similar situation, with the virus outbreak bringing a premature break to the regular season.
Man we cancelling sporting events, school, office work, etc etc. What we really need to cancel is 2020! ????????♂️. Damn it’s been a rough 3 months. God bless and stay safe????????
— LeBron James (@KingJames) March 12, 2020
Alongside NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s response to the outbreak and the league’s useful coronavirus safety resources and tips, some NBA franchises, players and executives have taken a philanthropical approach to the outbreak with pledges and donations promised to non-playing staff affected.
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The people of New Orleans have been incredibly welcoming and supportive since I was Drafted by the Pels last June, and some of the most special people I have met are those who work at smoothie King Center. These are the folks who make our games possible, creating the perfect environment for our fans and everyone involved in the organization. Unfortunately, many of them are still recovering from long term challenges created by Katrina, and now face the economic impact of the postponement of games because of the virus. My mother has always set an example for me about being respectful for others and being grateful for what we have, and so today I am pledging to cover the salaries for all of those Smoothie King Center workers for the next 30 days. This is a small way for me to express my support and appreciation for these wonderful people who have been so great to me and my teammates and hopefully we can all join together to relieve some of the stress and hardship caused by this national health crisis. This is an incredibly resilient city full of some of the most resilient people, but sometimes providing a little extra assistance can make things a little easier for the community.
Players like rookie Zion Williamson and defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert – who was the first player in the NBA to officially and controversially announce that he had contracted the virus, earlier this month – were some of the first to react using social media to pledge their donations.
who can help me set up streams? ???????? what do i need?
— Luka Doncic (@luka7doncic) March 14, 2020
Other players have also taken a more lighthearted approach to dealing with the pandemic by streaming their online gaming sessions on Twitch, encouraging other players and basketball fans to join in on the fun – resulting in great content like Philadelphia 76ers point-guard Ben Simmons listing his top five NBA defenders.
Ben Simmons lists Anthony Davis as the best defender in the NBA; along with his list of top 5 defenders???????? pic.twitter.com/5tW7rEAcnz
— Ball Realm (@TheBallRealm) March 20, 2020
All of this goodwill and comradery culminated in a best-of-five match, 6-vs-6 Call of Duty game, to be streamed live on Twitch, where stars like Donovan Mitchell and Zach Lavine were joined by other NBA players, professional gamers and LeBron James’ son Bronny for the gaming battle royale.
In addition to this, the NBA has also launched NBA Together – a social engagement campaign that aims to respond to the coronavirus pandemic through the education and support of its fans.
Introducing #NBATogether, a global community and social engagement campaign that aims to support, engage, educate and inspire youth, families and fans in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
— NBA (@NBA) March 20, 2020
As per the NBA’s official press release, the campaign centers around four pillars: ‘Know the Facts’, ‘Acts of Caring’, ‘Expand Your Community’ and ‘NBA Together Live’.
Each of these will help to “amplify the latest global health and safety information, share guidelines and resources, and keep people and communities socially connected through digital tools and virtual events as everyone copes with the impact of the pandemic.”
MLB (Major League Baseball)
Aside from the official statement, released on social media, Major League Baseball is also taking a charitable approach to those affected by COVID-19 – which has caused a delay to the start of the regular season.
Firstly, the organization agreed to donate $1 million dollars to the charity Feeding America to help people impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.
The joint effort with the charity is in aid of helping children and parents by donating the money to local food banks, as a way to distribute supplies to those in need and struggling with hunger in the unpredictable times.
This was followed up by the MLB pledging $30 million ($1 million for each franchise) to assist in paying all ballpark employees during the cease of play.
2020 Tokyo Olympics
2020 marks the year that the 32nd Summer Olympic Games is due to be held in Tokyo. However, with so much uncertainty caused by the coronavirus and little definite information on how long precautionary measures will last, the global sporting event is shrouded in a cloud of doubt.
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???? @tokyo2020 #repost • • • Hope has begun lighting our way in Japan. ???? . Until 26 March, the flame will be exhibited in the Tohoku Region, one of the areas most affected by the 2011 earthquake, to share the message of recovery and the relay concept of #HopeLightsOurWay for #Tokyo2020. ???????? . #OlympicTorchRelay ???? @olympics @tokyo2020seika @olympicchannel
This hasn’t deterred the competition’s teams from using the time to talk to fans and entertain them whilst we practice social distancing, like this indoor HIIT workout from Team GB gymnast Matt Whitlock.
No gym? No problem ????
— Team GB (@TeamGB) March 18, 2020
Although we’re no closer to knowing if the Olympics will go ahead or not, the organization’s president Thomas Bach had some words of hope for its followers.
As the Olympic Flame reaches Tokyo: President Thomas Bach: "while we do not know how long the tunnel we are all in at this moment will be, we would like the Olympic Flame to be a light at the end of this tunnel." @tokyo2020 #Olympics pic.twitter.com/ORVxrcqzoV
— Olympics (@Olympics) March 20, 2020
Like many other sports bodies, the PGA initially announced that there would be no cancellations to any of its tours amid the coronavirus outbreak.
However, due to the scale of the pandemic and the need to put public health ahead of profit, PGA commissioner Jay Monohan announced the suspension of upcoming tour dates.
A letter from Commissioner Jay Monahan. pic.twitter.com/5VkIN1i0ND
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 13, 2020
As with other sports, the golfing world’s most popular athletes have used different approaches to keep themselves entertained and their fans coming back.
From former US Open Champion Justin Rhodes’ clever trick shots…
Morning practice ✅???? pic.twitter.com/wMAwMuCheD
— Justin ROSE (@JustinRose99) March 18, 2020
…to Brooks Koepka committing $100,000 through his own personal charity to go directly to a COVID-19 research fund.
stay safe everyone! pic.twitter.com/bAWKoqYIgA
— Brooks Koepka (@BKoepka) March 19, 2020
We all have a collective responsibility to adhere to government guidelines and provision as it pertains to the coronavirus pandemic. No sector or industry should exempt and it’s refreshing to see sports teams and governing bodies put human health and safety ahead of revenue.
There’s no right way to communicate with your audience in these uncertain times, and the example in this article demonstrates just how creative people are at making a splash on social from the comfort of their own homes.
Whether its viral challenges, fundraising initiatives or monetary donations, there are myriad ways to engage global sports fans and with people around the world being encouraged to stay indoors for the foreseeable future, there’s no better time to put a smile on their faces with some creative social content.
Our coronavirus hub page contains more best practice advice and analysis on the impact of coronavirus on marketing.