Establishing The New Normal.

By Posted in - Sponsorship on April 1st, 2020

As I am writing this, I can’t help but hope that all my colleagues, friends and entire network is healthy, persevering and practicing responsible social distancing. Our industry is relatively small and so relationships are deep with care, concern and meaning.

Many people with whom I have spoken to are asking “what will it be like when we come out of this pandemic? Will it be business as usual? Will I pick up where I left off?” The answer to all three will most likely be ‘No, probably not’.

It takes me back to the days of ’92 & ’93 at the Toronto Blue Jays (and even further back than that). The Blue Jays had a winning record with playoff appearances for several years going into the World Championship years. Tickets were tough to get; players were in demand and there was an incredible buzz everywhere we went as an organization.  

Then we hit the ’94 season. Not a great season for the Jays (a much better one for the Expos, but that’s another story altogether), but a terrible season for Major League Baseball, especially in Canada.  The Jays were back to back World Series’ Champions. We were, essentially, Canada’s favourite sport soap opera: baseball is like that. The plot changes ever so slightly with games almost every day: a win or a loss, batting averages and ERA’s up or down, player injuries or call-ups, etc. Canada knew the cast of characters well and had been following the slow-moving plotline religiously every day along with the mass media. Then on August 12, 1994, the MLB Players strike started. It lasted for 232 days. MLB cancelled the post-season including the World Series, Spring Training and then a delayed season opener in 1995. At that moment they broke “the habit”.

When late April rolled around and tickets were being sold again, I believe that many within the organization thought the fans would come back as they had done so in the past 10 years. But what really happened was the opposite. You see, baseball had Canada mesmerized for such a long time and the strike snapped everyone out of their trance. What happened? (aside from some angry fans and poor team performance) People essentially found something else to do. Suddenly pro basketball was introduced to Toronto, new attractions opened in the city and across Canada; people did more things with their families outdoors and so on. They changed their habit of following the plot of the Jays season to something completely different.  Selling Jays tickets was harder than ever due to the increased competition of the new habits that people had formed.

Fast forward to 2020. Our economy was humming along pretty nicely. Agencies were staffing up, sponsorships were healthy, the stock market was at an all-time high and then enter Covid-19.  People are working from home (if they are lucky) or getting laid off, concerned about their jobs, their homes, their health and their loved ones. Leagues are shut down, bars and restaurants the same, and social circles are reduced to online gatherings.  Peoples’ personal and business daily rituals have been broken not to mention their spending power and their optimism. People will and have found something else to do to occupy their time and their money (Netflix, gaming, social media, anything online). Heck, I have seen more people jogging in the last week then I have all year so far!

As we cautiously come out of this time in 3, 6 or 12 months can you expect to pick up where you left off? Probably not.  Brands will have to market differently to reach the consumer. Will social distancing be in the back of everyones’ mind? What will the fan experience be like and how can I effectively reach our target market? Sponsorship will remain an incredible tool for brands to reach and engage with their consumer, it’s just that, it will change.

So, use this time to start reinventing yourself. Connect with people, be present, learn something new, sharpen up on your weaknesses, get your backend of your business together and get some exercise, engage in proper eating and drinking habits, read, volunteer or contribute where you can but get prepared. It’s darkest before the dawn and we will soon see the sun shine again.