After COVID, sports as we know it might never be the same

By May 12, 2020

It has been about two months now since we have seen any live sport anywhere. Football, cricket, track and field, basketball, everything has ground to a halt as the world battles this pandemic in pretty much the same way it dealt with the Spanish Flu, just about 100 years ago.

That did not go too well, and based on what are seeing now, neither will this one.

It is against that backdrop that I am beginning to see that in some ways sports will not be the same post-COVID 19.

“We are headed for a major economic recession worldwide, something that is going to make 2008/2009 look like a dwarf,” Dr Akshai Mansingh, Dean of the Faculty of Sports at the University of the West Indies,  told me in a recent interview.

We all remember what things were like just over a decade ago when jobs were hard to come by and money was a truly scarce commodity. When you consider what has already happened in what are the early stages of this pandemic, the outlook is extremely grim.

“It is inevitable and with it will be a lot of downturn in terms of the sponsorship dollar, maybe even the large contracts people were getting,” Dr Mansingh went on to explain.

“The mega contracts that you get are not on the backdrop of full stadia but rather on the backdrop of sports advertisement, merchandising, (television) rights revenues and so on. To an extent, if the global economy recovers then a lot of this will come back because the major sports are global events but in the interim, you’re seeing everybody taking these shavings in their income. Everybody from the peanut vendor to the ticket officer, to the administrators of sport, so why not the athletes themselves.

“Market forces are going to determine the sort of remuneration people are going to get but it’s unsustainable for companies even with the reserves that they have to expect to pay out that sort of money when the returns are not going to be there.”

For those athletes without contracts, the story is even darker.

A reputable sports agent for track and field athletes outlined that for athletes without shoe contracts, the coming months are likely to be very dark indeed.

“Athletes without contracts, for the most part, are athletes that are at the mid-level or belonging stage. So their earnings will come directly from prize money earned from track meets,” he said.

“Sometimes even the money they earn isn’t enough to sustain themselves. It goes right back into expenses and fees like paying their coach, massage therapy, nutrition etc.”

Moreover, in a season like this when the Olympics have been postponed, the Diamond League an uncertainty and smaller meets are dead, it could mean curtains for some athletes and even harder times for their families.

“For most of these athletes, they are the breadwinners and family members depend on them,” the agent said.

Even before the pandemic, Jamaica’s Red Stripe Premier League was already not viable as a professional league.

With clubs spending northwards of JM$40m a season for prize money of just over JMD$2 million and gate receipts ranging from say JM$4 million to perhaps JM$7 million, they are already hard-pressed to break even, if there is even such a thing.

Since the season was shut down, some clubs have struggled to find money to keep paying players.

It is a different scenario when in the English Premier League, a player takes a 50 per cent pay cut to when one on the RSPL does the same.

West Ham’s Declan Rice, for example, was earning about £3,000 a week back in 2019 when he was among the lowest-paid players in the EPL. That’s £12,000 a month.

If he was to take a 50 per cent wage cut, making do on £6000 might be a bit of a hassle but it nothing compared to a player who lives in one of Kingston’s inner-city communities, who makes less than US$700 a month.

My information is that some clubs did not pay their players in April, and God knows what will happen next.

If this pandemic lasts long enough, could we be witnessing the slow death of some clubs as their owners are forced to dig even deeper into their rapidly shrinking resources and with potential sponsors, struggling companies, likely to be more focussed on saving their own skins.

Farther afield, European clubs are also likely to take a big hit financially.

 It has been reported that EPL cubs could have to repay an estimated £340 million to domestic and international broadcasters- even if their season resumes behind closed doors.

If true, this equates to a lot less money for clubs who depend on those television dollars to cover operational costs and, of course, buy new players. How much this will have an impact on the money spent during the coming transfer window remains to be seen but as a wild guess, I would say that those super-inflated transfer fees might become a thing of the past; at least for the immediate future.

The same could be said for track and field when one considers that World Athletics is already facing a financial crunch from the fact that the Olympics have been postponed until next summer. WA’s president Lord Sebastien Coe is reportedly engaged in what is being described as “delicate negotiations” to secure its share of the multi-billion-dollar deals associated with the Olympics.

The international federations that run Olympic sports collectively received $540m from the last games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. World Athletics was among the biggest beneficiaries, receiving $40m to $45m from distributions from the IOC broadcasting deals.

Without that money, which is also likely to be reduced because of the postponement, World Athletics will likely have to cut programmes and reduce prize money for the World Championships, among other things.

This is not good news for a sport that has fallen steadily down the pecking order in terms of global interest and bad public relations.

Even in the NFL where multi-million-dollar deals are still being negotiated after the 2020 draft, how long will the league be able to sustain these contracts given that companies who sponsor the league could likely go belly up, broadcast revenue is likely to fall and with 30 million people out of work, merchandising is also expected to fall.

Sports will return post-COVID, but things will definitely not be the same.

Leighton Levy

Leighton Levy is a journalist with 28 years’ experience covering crime, entertainment, and sports. He joined the staff at SportsMax.TV as a content editor two years ago and is enjoying the experience of developing sports content and new ideas. At SportsMax.tv he is pursuing his true passion - sports.

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