Sports Are Cancelled - Storytelling Isn't

Updated: Apr 6



I think it is safe to say that not a single individual in sports marketing ever considered a contingency plan for a sports-canceling pandemic. If you know of someone who did, please correct me and make that introduction. The consequences of this historic moment are unfolding by the moment as leagues, athletes, brands and agencies scramble to react to the crisis. There are far more questions than answers about the future. It’s the reality of the here and now that demands focus, creativity and nimble action.

Case-in-point: AB Inbev, who claims to be the nation’s largest sponsor of live sports and entertainment, announced it would redirect at least $5 million of its sports and entertainment targeted budget to the American Red Cross to support the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Nike launched social-media messages, developed by Wieden + Kennedy Portland, reminding sports enthusiasts to do their part and play inside.

On March 18, Nike announced, “In light of the unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak impacting our teammates, friends and family, we are coming together to support communities where our employees live and work. Nike’s leaders, the Nike Foundation and Nike are committing more than $15 million to COVID-19 response efforts.” Additionally, Nike is offering premium subscription content from its Nike Training Club app free of charge.

The leagues are pivoting as well. NBA Together is a comprehensive program that will leverage “its vast digital footprint and the powerful voices of teams, players, coaches, doctors and others across the NBA family."

"As part of NBA Together, the NBA family is committed to contributing and helping raise more than $50 million to support people impacted by the coronavirus and community and healthcare organizations providing vital services around the world, which includes the more than $30 million financial commitment already made by NBA and WNBA teams and players to date.”


The NFL released a five-minute PSA featuring over 50 current and former NFL players and coaches encouraging people to stay home while finding opportunities to make the most of the situation. The League announced that in collaboration with the National Football League Players Association, clubs, owners and players, more than $35 million has been donated to date,

In the here and now, brands, which include the leagues themselves, are calling on their marketing groups and agencies to get campaigns designed and produced with compassionate tone and message. But how does that get accomplished when production has stopped? The NFL PSA was created from player contributed videos shot at home. Portal-A, an award-winning content agency, has equipped their athlete influencers with video cameras, lighting and streaming kits to live cast from their homes as Steph Curry of the Warriors did in his interview with leading expert and White House spokesperson, Dr. Fauci. Creatives are challenged to create new campaigns but limited to archival content and home video production quality. New creative strategies with limited asset availability are emerging daily. Look for a new award category this year that honors pandemic-era creative execution.

While brands and their agency partners scramble to meet the needs of the here and now, tomorrow is out there on the horizon and nobody quite knows what it will bring, but contingency planning is ramping up now to address what comes next, ie:

· With sponsorship totaling nearly $6 billion for 2020 Summer Olympics, how will Olympic sponsors re-think their investments? What happens to the $1.2-$1.6 billion of Olympic TV advertising? Does it push to 2021 or get reinvested? How are companies like P&G dealing with their Olympics 2020 commitments and activations?


· What happens to the $1 billion of TV ad time from the canceled NCAA tournament?


· What about the $700 million of TV ad time for the balance of the NBA season?


· MLB Opening Day just came and went on March 26. What happens to TV media dollars, sponsor activations?

And, it goes on and on…


Brand Storytelling Live Stream: Sports are cancelled - Storytelling Isn't addressed these questions on Wednesday, April 1, 1pm PST - follow the hyperlink to watch the conversation on YouTube.


Rick Parkhill

is a B2B media entrepreneur and founder of such companies as InfoText, Digitrends, iMedia and BrandStorytelling. A media junkie and observer, Rick is infatuated with the impact of media and technology on culture and society. He is the producer of over 100 advertising and media events, and has worked as a publisher and journalist.

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