Different Market, Different Model
When choosing among the four most relevant business models in the market in order to manage a stadium, clubs are mainly influenced by two factors: Live sport, Corporate/Business, Event/Shows, and Business/Leisure.
The pandemic has taken away what is most important within stadiums, the audience. The atmosphere created by fans is irreplaceable, and for now, neither the sound effects, screens in stands, nor any of the technology which has attempted to compensate its loss. Also, there’s nothing that replaces revenues from ticketing, which has forced teams around the world, in all sports disciplines, to seek new solutions. It has been necessary to take an approach that goes beyond the stands, capable of understanding that a stadium is more than a venue and that measures cannot be taken individually by the teams without integrating leagues and federations.
The idea of a controlled environment or bubble to finish the season emerged with a double intention: to avoid the spread of COVID-19 and hope, at all costs, that there were no cancellations. Cancelling an ongoing competition or a match again would involve losing revenue from advertising and television broadcasting rights. However, contrary to what one may intuitively think, the bubble does not need to be profitable, and the most significant case is that of the NBA. This league had access to four hotels in Disney, three-game venues, and brought together 22 teams with their coaches, without contact with the outside world, friends, or family. The epidemic has cost them to lose 500 million dollars from ticketing, and an extra 170 million dollars from the cost of the bubble. In several interviews, NBA’s commissioner Adam Silver has admitted that this model is not economically sustainable, but it is done because the worst scenario for the league would be to have zero revenue streams. Silver, like many other professionals, foresees a problematic year or couple of years, after which resuming competitions would be very hard. Therefore, the bubble strategy is designed to minimise the losses and keep playing while waiting for the vaccine.
Is there a place in Europe such as the Disney complex where the European king sport can be relocated? The hotels and stadiums in an environment with controlled access have been so effective that some NBA players have complained about being “incarcerated” in the Orlando bubble. Moving that confinement to Europe does not seem impossible, but the absence of enclosed complexes adds extra expenditure and difficulties. For example, hiring transportation and staff to operate it, in addition to security staff so there is no unusual behaviour which can put on risk this operation. On the other hand, as an advantage, sports complexes from the biggest clubs could be exploited, as well as the hotels now empty of tourism. Here is a new opportunity for empty stadiums; however, federations and leagues would have to negotiate extremely well so no team would feel upset. As long as the epidemic lasts, the bubble will be the model that will tend to be used. Exploiting such model can reduce the damage from competitions without an audience and bring unexpected benefits. Such as the change of attitude of NBA players, who went from talking about their incarceration to how positive it is to live all together, and strengthen fellowship and team spirit.
Two European football stadiums have been established as the best “non-match day” operation model before the pandemic. Both the Allianz from Turin and the Da Luz from Lisbon had a very regular, important revenue stream in their shopping arcades as well as the store, museum and tours. In view of the global situation, one may think clubs have to resign facing this new scenario. Far from that, European clubs have started to innovate.
One which stands out is the Sixway Stadium in Worcester, United Kingdom. They have already started offering VIP boxes as a workspace which can be rented, giving people the possibility to work remotely without just staying at home. Therefore, they are shifting their venues into offices, and they offer to organise “Covid-safe” events, including football measures into the meetings, circulation of people, and even safe menus.
Another interesting case is that of Chelsea F.C. The Stamford Bridge Stadium was already considered by Londoners a place for organising events for its space, connectivity, and its appeal. They have developed a strategy to be able to host these events again starting next Autumn when restrictions are eased, and they have virtual tours for clients to book an event in advance. Using virtual reality goggles, those interested can see what the stadium offers without walking around the facility.
These are first attempts that need to be improved and seek to be consolidated. Besides, new initiatives are expected to arise in the next months, as the virus will continue to circulate. Sports has an advantage compared to other industries: their constant need to adapt to the advances of the game. Being used to this, sports will find ways to manage the new reality of stadiums without an audience.