One of the most compelling and immediate impacts of the pandemic was that we were thrust from an environment where we lacked the time to do the things we enjoyed, to one where there weren’t enough things to do during the earlier months of lockdowns.
We quickly filled those voids with new leisure activities. And even as we’ve begun to emerge from COVID, our research has shown an interesting and thus far sustainable shift toward a greater prioritization of work-life balance.
This is dramatically reflected in the observation that only around half of Americans are working exclusively at a dedicated workplace outside of the home. Just over a quarter do not expect to ever do so again, while, astoundingly, only 8% of those not back to full time out-of-home work, have a desire to return.
Perhaps even more indicative of the foundational changes that this has brought about is the meaningful percentage of Americans who strongly agree with the sentiments that they have greater flexibility in how they can apportion work and personal time. Call it “The Great Re-Prioritization.” On the surface, one would see this as a huge opportunity for the sports and leisure sectors. It is, but with a big caveat.
In our most recent study, 93% of Americans have resumed the plethora of leisure activities that they enjoyed prior to the onset of the pandemic. Yet they still report overall malaise regarding the state of the nation. And less than half of Americans feel that they have personally experienced a “COVID liberation moment,” defined as a particular moment in time where they feel that they have gotten their pre-pandemic life back in some meaningful way.
Perhaps driving this phenomenon is that we still see a majority of Americans who strongly agree that the resumption of normal activities has been underwhelming. A deeper dive attributes much of this to the labor challenges that have compromised customer service, coupled with the highly uneven applications of protocols, restrictions and perceived peer judgements that have created a less than comfortable return to leisure.
We can further understand the context behind this from additional research vividly illustrating the challenges of retaining and attracting labor to service industries. Add to this observations on how inflation is impacting consumer engagement across categories, and we recognize that the definition of “value,” so important in justifying discretionary spending, is under even greater scrutiny, today than it was pre-pandemic. Technologically driven automation can help, but not at the expense of personal service.
It strikes us that finding an equilibrium here will be a critical success factor for sports and leisure properties over the balance of the year and beyond.