Commentary

Research-Driven Perspective: It's Time To Fully Open Up Sporting Events

As we’ve seen throughout the leisure sector, 14 months of pandemic-driven government shutdowns and restrictions have wreaked havoc on the sports business.  Massive staffing reductions, lost ticket revenue and added expenses for safety compliance have gutted the industry and eroded the opportunity for sports marketers to optimize the effectiveness of their activations. 

Our ongoing pulsing of sports fan sentiment has foreshadowed and chronicled growing COVID fatigue.  While fans supported the notion that it was proper to shut down live sports at the onset of the pandemic, we are now in a different place. Vaccinations are readily available, and COVID rates continue to drop across the country, even in those areas where large gatherings of fans have recently been permitted.  

Fans have had enough of “COVID Theater”

There are compelling attitudinal shifts in the latest data.  First, nearly two-thirds of sports fans surveyed agree with the statement, “It’s time to open up sports events to all fans who wish to attend.” This perspective is greatest among fans of auto racing and horse racing, where more than seven in ten agree.

Interviews reveal a sentiment that with vaccine availability, and most sporting events screening attendees for negative COVID tests or full vaccination, there’s no reason to limit spectators.  It should be up to individuals to decide whether they are comfortable attending, not government mandate.

Additionally, more than two thirds of sports fans agree with the following statement:  “Once COVID 19 vaccines are available for all who want one, it will no longer be appropriate for the government to dictate the size of gatherings outside the home.” A companion question shows the plurality of fans now aligned around the perspective that with vaccines available for all who want one, all remaining attendance restrictions should be lifted, rather than the alternative choices of keeping these restrictions in place until either “health authorities declare the pandemic to be over,” or “herd immunity is achieved.”

We’re at Vaccine Supply and Demand Equilibrium

That said, there’s no guarantee we will ever reach herd immunity.   With vaccines now available to all over age 16, data demonstrates an intriguing inflection point.  The percentage of fans who strongly agree with the sentiment that they will definitely be or have already been vaccinated has stabilized at 61%.

Additional data strongly suggests that the “take rate” will actually be higher, particularly as a number of leisure sectors mandate vaccinations as conditions for access, a policy that a majority of fans support.  But concurrently, we’ve also seen that more than two thirds of those who expressed strong inclination to be vaccinated, have already initiated the process.  An additional 24% plan to begin the process as soon as possible.

Simply put, there aren’t many unvaccinated sports fans who are still chomping at the bit to begin the process.  So, we will likely soon hit the wall, and with the protocols already in place at sporting events, both public opinion and science suggest no real reasons to continue limiting fan capacity. For all who want to, it seems time to “play ball.”

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