The post-COVID in stadiums: from partial return to unlimited virtual experience

The post-COVID in stadiums: from partial return to unlimited virtual experience

This media is no longer available World sport has lived with the coronavirus pandemic, the most critical period in its history. Cancellations and postponements with or without date of pho events…

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World sport has lived with the coronavirus pandemic, the most critical period in its history. Cancellations and postponements with or without dates of professional and amateur sporting events, large and small, are a historical reality that culminates in the highly symbolic postponement of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. After the first shock wave marked by a total paralysis of the actors, new ideas began to germinate, thanks to the creativity of all the actors of world sport and, in particular, football clubs. The first to be affected humanely and economically, they sought to create new opportunities both to stay in touch with their fan communities and to find alternative sources of income. As with the rest of the affected economic sectors, these solutions are part of a dynamic of exploitation and promotion of digital tools.

In this proliferation of experiments, the use of digital platforms, the continuous search for technological solutions to compensate for the lack of sports entertainment and associated entertainment, there is a specific activity on which attention is particularly focused: the offer of hospitality at event venues.

Hospitality before Covid-19

Before the pandemic, the provision of hospitality was inseparable from any major sporting event. In a logic located halfway between the entertainment and the business aspect, this offer was intended to be accessible at different levels. These included, for example, spaces dedicated to subscribed supporters in which they could attend the event from privileged positions and get in touch in a “soft” way, during break times with the sponsors present; or benefit from an immersive experience in the life of the club, or even a dedicated merchandising to add a material dimension to the purely emotional experience.

In the most advanced hospitality experience, such as the one experienced in England in the Chelsea football stadium or at the Etihad Stadium of Manchester City, dedicated spaces are open to privileged members, providing them with an exclusive lodge with included catering offer. So every year the clubs have concluded partnerships and business agreements with catering companies, including the Levy Group, official partner of many English clubs. Access to these lodges could start two hours before the event and last up to two hours after it, with food and drink offer and fully dedicated staff. The lodges with a capacity of about 10 people, are divided into three distinct hospitality offers: the one dedicated to the often long-time “tenant” members of the lodge, the one dedicated to companies that used the lodges for the benefit of their business partners, and the rental one for special personal events.

All this made the fan experience more participatory and allowed the fans to feel at the stadium as in the “home” of the team in which it welcomes its fan and “pampers” him with particular attention but however proportional to the level of membership.

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What will be the changes in hospitality offers with the resumption of sport in Europe?

The resumption of post-Covid sports activities has not been accompanied by a return to the offer of traditional hospitality. A radical change is now taking place, affecting all levels of the offer, namely both the economic agreements of the catering partners and the sale of merchandising equipment, the involvement of sponsors in dedicated spaces and all other commercial links arising from a hitherto presential and exclusive activity.

The French government has authorized the resumption of the championship with 5,000 spectators in the stadiums, with an opportunity to accommodate even more public according to prefectural agreements negotiated on a case-by-case basis on the proposal of additional health measures. These conditions do not guarantee a resumption with the public because even some clubs like OGC Nice are reluctant to restart with the public and they are therefore ready to give up a part, more or less important, of their revenues. The German, Dutch and English football leagues are appealing to their respective government officials for a possible return to the stadium. The strict sanitary measures required and the adoption of specific protocols should make it possible to bring fans back to the stadiums, although this will remain to a lesser extent compared to actual capacities. These protocols will vary depending on the clubs and the places where the activity takes place the events. They will take into account public infrastructure and travel necessary to reach the stadium as well as possible risks to public logistics and its sustainability, while depending on the pandemic state of the territory.

According to a report by the Times, Premier League teams should be allowed to host matches with a fan capacity of between 30% and 50% of the stadium, compared to a much smaller percentage elsewhere such as in the Netherlands where it would be around 15%. If the takeover protocols are ratified, the new ordered and controlled access to the reception areas, both exclusive and shared, would be activated. It would then be possible to resume the partnerships left outstanding with the sponsors. In the same report, we are talking about mandatory masks in all areas of the site from three hours before the event.

Rethinking hospitality with a digital and virtual vision

Many uncertainties remain about the evolution of the pandemic. But rethinking its relationship with fans, the public and partners is a new opportunity to involve them in virtual hospitality experiences :

  • continue to value sponsors in the actions of the club ;
  • putting the fan at the center of the offer and bringing him closer to an experience that is no longer just that of watching the game but that provides advantages over his membership ;
  • delocalize agreements with catering companies by adding delivery as an opportunity both for the company, for the club and for the member.

Here are some possible initiatives that virtual reality and digital platforms can offer thanks to which it would be appropriate to create experiences very close to reality, offering different levels of involvement, and depending on the geolocation of two substantially opposite subjects: partners and supporters. Partners, even the smallest and with lesser investments, will be able to be part of the virtual hospitality experience while supporter members, all over the world, will have more complete services at their disposal, such as experiences of buying lodges with dedicated products and services, the delivery on their territory of food and drinks with menus specially designed for events and useful gadgets to experience the virtual reality of the club, thanks to the direct home delivery before the event.

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In another sport, the off-road car race dedicated to electric SUVs, “Road Racing Series Extreme E”, has been working on a virtual hospitality offer that will be launched in January 2021, and that will be articulated according to different levels of membership :

  • sending virtual reality headsets for guests
  • VIP access to a live streaming service
  • virtual tour in the team paddocks
  • merchandising products and dedicated VIP items.
  • interviews with car executives and racers

For those who wish to live an even more exclusive experience, the “Road Racing Series Extreme E” could even send a chef to their home to live a culinary journey related to the stage concerned. This model could be enriched with other elements related to the event itself, the type of discipline, the venue and the partners involved in the club offering virtual hospitality.

With the resumption of Ligue 1 this weekend, will French clubs be able to satisfy the partnership agreements concluded with their sponsors? How to reinvent an attractive offer for companies involved in the clubs but who will not be able to be present in the stadium. It is all this hospitality offer that clubs need to rethink thanks to the tools and digital platforms to keep its revenue.

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