Sports -Take a Time Out. It’s Self-Audit Season.

Stock market plunge. School closures. NBA, MLB, NHL, PGA, MLS, NCAA and others suspend play. President declares a national state of emergency.

In times of crisis, a very large portion of us turn to sport as a distraction. So what happens to us when that diversion is removed for an indefinite period of time? A couple things come to mind…

Sports place amid a global pandemic

First off – HUGE reality check in realizing the severity of the situation. Sport fans can’t keep our head buried in the scoreboard anymore. We’ve all abruptly come to realize that there are things much more important than playoff seating and the NBA MVP race.

“If a global health crisis doesn’t provide the inspiration to be more than a money-printing diversion, then these games aren’t worthy of all the attention.” – Jerry Brewer, Washington Post

Many sport organizations have released statements attesting to this, including this tweet from the NHL Carolina Hurricanes.

Even 19 year old star rookie NBA player Zion Williamson has pledged to cover the salaries for 30 days of every Smoothie King Center employee (home arena for his New Orleans Pelicans) – something no other owner besides Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks has committed to doing at the time of this writing. This is a powerful, eyeopening statement because while play is suspended, that means work (and pay) is too.

We’re going to be without sports for an extended period of time. While the fan in me is immediately mortified, the marketing/digital media professional in me took over. And quite frankly it had to because with no game to watch, 30 minutes of Swamp People and Project Runway was about all I could tolerate…

What are athlete’s thinking without sport? For what I imagine to be majority of their life, sport quite literally defines life for amateur and professional athletes.

So…what now for them?

Crisis Management Tips for the Athlete Brand

  • Remember that you’re more than an athlete; you’re human first.
    • All brands must consider what to do in times of crisis. There’s no playbook for that because no two situations are the same. But what athletes can do is maintain their brand image by remaining authentic. Keep it 💯
  • Engage. This impacts all of us.
    • 🧠 Share what you’re thinking
    • ⚖️ Offer positive alternatives to momentarily distract ourselves from the bad news
    • 🎙 Start simple conversations.

By offering simple livestreams, athletes/influencers can get closer to their fans the more humanized they become. Sometimes, lo-fi production = hi-fi return in engagement. No need to go big and book gaffers. In keeping it simple and more importantly honest, fans also see that they’re not the only ones who struggle in the face of the unknown. Emotional investments like that can’t be bought. It’s not wrong to leverage this opportunity because just like every other brand, you’re in the business of connecting with people.

Optimal time for you and your brand to stand out when audiences have little else to consume right now.

Community management by any means necessary

The second thing that comes to mind is the overall importance of sport. More broadly, this means the importance of fandom and community.

Fan communities organically develop over a shared passion and unity over shared values, beliefs, and likeminded symbols. Members get to contribute to their groups by sharing their experiences, discoveries, and insight. This is often done through visual communication, maintaining a stream of enriched media by adding their own thumbprint to the digital mix via pictures, videos, memes etc. The interesting part now is that the word “community” itself has come to take on new, evolved definitions.

Director of the Media Psychology Research Center Dr. Pamela Rutledge speaks to the impact modern technology has on community. “Human experience, social relations, emotions, and ideas are now how we define our sense of place. Online communities overcome temporal and geographical constraints, allowing people with similar interests and passions to come together.”

The emotional investment we have to sport places fans in a unique position as external stakeholders. Dependent on the level of fandom, our identities become intertwined with that of our favorite teams/players/leagues. Therefore many of our emotions become temporarily contingent upon sport or that sport figure.


So, now that we’re having to function in a world without sport to provide fans a source of happiness…now what? 👀

Time to self-audit

This is a great opportunity for each of us to look inward. Positive psychology became officially recognized roughly 20 years ago when Martin Seligman, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and Chris Peterson among others made the distinction between serving mental illness vs mental stability, human growth, and happiness. The process of diagnostics and treating someone with an illness is quite different than building maintenance procedures for human optimization and stability.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson for example developed the “Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions,” arguing that experiencing positive emotions can create an upward emotional spiral, which enhance a variety of positive outcomes. Tangentially on this concept, “flow” state is achievable (referring to a heightened sense of immersion from being masterfully engaged with an activity). A tandem extension of research then suggests that once flow is activated, a person can feel a heightened sense of mastery, purpose, and well-being. A-ha! Happiness unlocked.

What actually makes you happy? How do you achieve flow? What do you really value? What are you doing to be a service to yourself and to others?

On the non-sport related side of things, if you’re struggling between being an extrovert and having to succumb to a certain level of social distancing, don’t let that dilute your happiness. Dive into your favorite networking app and join a fun thread, make memes, laugh, face time your friends, start a virtual livestream club for folks to share each other’s recommendations for movies/music/books/recipes.

There was enough negative stimuli out there prior to our President declaring the US in a national state of emergency. Our concerns now have infinitely multiplied. Finding the means to use media technology as a tool to enhance our positive attributes as a community is a good thing. We can’t rely on sport to divert our attention anymore. Athletes, influencers, brands, and fans alike are all in this together. This is a chance for everyone and every entity to sincerely look at themselves and present an honest version of themselves (in both traditional and social media spaces). Try it. You might like it.

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