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08 April

How Competition is Fueling Connection Amidst COVID-19

WRITTEN BY MediaMonks

Through local shelter-in-place policies and the cancellation of entire professional sporting seasons, COVID-19 has disrupted athletics to the dismay of fans and gym-goers. This is because sports and athletics revolve around community; whether it’s a fitness class you attend regularly or a regional sports team you root for, athletics are as much about gathering and competing with others in addition to one’s own personal development.

With a sudden shift from the field to digital platforms, consumers are craving that sense of connection—and looking for inspiration to get moving while staying at home, often without equipment they’d find at a gym. Below, we look at a couple of ways that sports-focused brands can fill the void and continue to support restless audiences.

Get People Moving Without Leaving the Home

With consumers staying home, it can be difficult to keep active and get proper exercise. Realizing this opportunity, gyms and fitness influencers have retained connection with audiences through fitness-focused livestreams (kind of like the good old days of Richard Simmons workout tapes—who’s also putting workout routines online). Such broadcasts offer a relatively simple way to keep connected with audiences by supporting their need to keep moving.

One brand with a digital advantage here is Nike; the brand had capped off Q4 in APAC with impressive numbers—only about a 5% decrease in sales during the worst of China’s COVID-19 crisis, with 75% of its retail stores closed—thanks to its strong digital ecosystem and network of elite trainers. As part of its “Play Inside” campaign, which offers content, gear and workouts to keep healthy at home, MediaMonks partnered with Nike and Wieden+Kennedy to livestream weekly community workout sessions via YouTube, bringing viewers and fitness fans together.

The livestreams—which are intentionally lo-fi, informal and broadcast from trainers’ homes—make Nike’s existing network of trainers more accessible to audiences, than ever giving them a chance to interact directly. “It’s about people tuning in together. The chat is wild, and there’s a Q&A at the end of each workout,” says Ciaran Woods, EP Experiential & Virtual Solutions at MediaMonks. “There is a sense of community, that we’re in this together and people just want to make it work.”

There’s also value in having a weekly routine for audiences to stick to. “In many conversations, we’re asking ourselves: what does it mean to have an experience online?” says Travis Craw, Executive Producer at MediaMonks. “One of the interesting things about livestreams is having something to put on your calendar and look forward to.”

Despite the casual feel of the livestream, the production remains professional: disinfected equipment including a camera, tripod, lighting and a LiveU (a live video transmitter) are packaged in cardboard, delivered to trainers with zero contact. Because COVID-19 can only survive on a cardboard surface for 24 hours, the trainers set up the equipment the following day.

“There is a sense of community, that we're in this together.”

Ciaran Woods

EP Experiential & Virtual Solutions at MediaMonks

With foolproof diagrams and stickers added to equipment to show what goes where, this process enables anyone to build a professional livestreaming setup—and during the stream itself, a remote crew enables production by serving questions from the live chat, mixing audio and more. “With live switching and live editing, we’ll see these livestreams look more like how a news or sports broadcast works,” says Craw.

Fuel Competition Through Digital Alternatives

Getting people moving is just one side of tackling sports and athletics within a world of social distancing. Over the past few weeks, there have been a number of interesting ways that sports organizations and resourceful fans have adapted to the new normal: Formula 1 is launching a Virtual Grand Prix series to entertain audiences as they wait for postponed races, and some NBA players have joined fans in NBA 2K20 video game tournaments. Basically, esports is extending outside of its niche—and viewership on Twitch, a livestreaming site that focuses primarily on videogame content, has risen since stay-at-home orders were put in place throughout different regions around the world.

While these digitized competitions offer an interesting alternative now, there’s no permanent replacement for the excitement of entering a stadium, being surrounded by fans and watching a game played right before your eyes. How might sports organizations experiment with emerging digital behaviors today and pay those learnings forward into a post-COVID-19 world?

The Red Bull 3×3 Online Basketball Contest serves as a possible example. We built an arcade-style browser game that lets fans compete in a virtual 3×3 basketball contest, learning about the game format and racking up high scores. The game leans into the fast-paced excitement of 3×3 basketball and fuels a sense of competition online, building excitement for the eventual live tournament.

“A while back, LeBron James said he didn’t want to play without fans present,” says Olivier Koelemij, Managing Director at MediaMonks LA, noting that the reality has changed in the global pandemic. “Whether you fight or embrace that outlook, be creative by leveraging the power of digital platforms.” Koelemij suggests diving head-first into the unique offerings of a given digital platform, and aligning content with user behaviors there.

“Another interesting aspect is the ability to combine channels and platforms to make content more relevant,” he adds. “You want to consider the whole experience journey: from buying a ticket to the lead-up, to the experience itself and the aftercare.”

Critical to tailoring such an experience is having the data needed to engage at the right place and time, as well as an understanding of what makes a given platform unique. By considering what sets one digital medium apart from another and why fans gather there, brands can apply those learnings and discover new ways to engage with customers through value-added experiences.

A focus on customer obsession is key to delivering assistive digital experiences.

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