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.

Related items

  • Ex-Warriors star Bogut open to NBA return after Kings exit Ex-Warriors star Bogut open to NBA return after Kings exit

    Former Golden State Warriors star Andrew Bogut said he is open to returning to the NBA as "I've got a little bit of fuel left in the tank" ahead of the Olympic Games.

    Bogut is a free agent after opting to quit NBL franchise the Sydney Kings last month amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    The 35-year-old Australian – who won an NBA title with the Warriors in 2015 – had been planning to retire following the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which have been pushed back due to COVID-19.

    Bogut returned to the Warriors to play the remainder of the 2018-19 season while contracted to the Kings and the NBA's former number one pick is pondering another stint in the United States.

    "I had NBA offers right before the COVID-19 pandemic, where I was potentially going to go back after the NBL season. I was talking to a few teams that wanted me to come over," Bogut, who was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks with the top pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, told SBS Sport.

    "Yes [I would consider another NBA stint], especially halfway through the season when the buyout and trade season comes up.

    "It saves me having to spend the whole season over there and I can kind of join someone late, like I did with the Warriors last time.

    "[I] can try to make a play-off run and then let that phase into the Olympics. I still think I've got a little bit of fuel left in the tank."

    Former Bucks, Dallas Mavericks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers centre Bogut returned to Australia with the Kings in 2018.

    Bogut was named the NBL's MVP in his first season, while he helped the Kings reach the Grand Final this year, though the Perth Wildcats were crowned champions after the series was cut short due to coronavirus.

    "There are just too many unknowns right now. Not just in the basketball community but around the world," Bogut said as he discussed his Kings departure.

    "I wasn't going to commit to something half-assed and not know what's in the other end. I thought it was best to hit pause for now and reassess around about the new year, rather than me sitting here with one foot in, one foot out and the club not knowing where I'm at, so they can't act accordingly with recruiting, signing and the salary cap.

    "I didn't want to have that pressure of every week having to call and say 'I don't know yet'. I think in fairness to the club, it's the best thing for the Kings to be able to make decisions they need to make without worrying about me at the other end."

  • Child skateboard star with Tokyo Olympic dream 'lucky' to survive training crash Child skateboard star with Tokyo Olympic dream 'lucky' to survive training crash

    An 11-year-old British skateboarding prospect for the Tokyo Olympics is "lucky to be alive" after she suffered a harrowing crash in training.

    Sky Brown vowed to "come back even stronger" from the accident that saw her airlifted to hospital with fractures to her skull and breaks to her left hand and wrist.

    Brown had been training with Tony Hawk, a superstar of the sport, at his California base on Thursday.

    Video footage of the lead-up to the crash was posted on the youngster's Instagram account, which is managed by her mother, Mieko, revealing the moment Brown seemingly attempts to cross from one ramp to another.

    It showed her appearing to lose momentum and being unable to keep up with the skateboard, before she begins to fall as the footage is stopped.

    She landed head-first on her hand. Emergency services and a helicopter are pictured in the video before the injured youngster is shown in her hospital bed.

    Brown says to the camera: "I don't usually post my falls or talk about them because I want people to see the fun in what I do, but this was my worst fall.

    "And I just wanted everyone to know that it's okay, don't worry, I'm okay. It's okay to fall sometimes and I'm just going to get back up and push even harder."

    She added in a written note: "I’m excited to come back even stronger and even tougher."

    Hawk responded to Brown's Instagram post by sending the message: "Worst day ever. Hope your surgery went well."

    Brown's father Stu, quoted on the BBC, said: "Sky landed head-first off a ramp on her hand. When she first came to hospital, everyone was fearful for her life.

    "Sky had the gnarliest fall she's ever had and is lucky to be alive."

    Brown is hoping to become Britain's youngest Olympian at a summer Games next year.

    Team GB sent her a message on Twitter, saying: "Get well soon, Sky Brown. We know you'll return stronger than ever."

    Skateboard GB CEO James Hope-Gill said: "Our thoughts are with Sky and her family, and we wish her a speedy recovery."

  • Cricket's financial model is broken, but there is no easy fix Cricket's financial model is broken, but there is no easy fix

    The West Indies will most likely leave for the United Kingdom (UK) in about a week from today to play England in the first bio-secure Test series in history in July.

    The teams will play and whether they win the series or not, England will come away with virtually all the revenues generated from the series. For the West Indies, the story will be significantly different.

    Come July 1, the West Indies players and all Cricket West Indies (CWI) staff, will be taking a temporary 50 per cent salary cut.

    However, they are not alone. In April, England’s male and female players took a 20 per cent pay cut as the pandemic began to take hold in the UK forcing the postponement of the West Indies’ visit, which was initially scheduled for June.

    The thing is, on this tour other than match fees, CWI does not really earn anything. Under this dispensation, wherein the regional players are going to be guinea pigs for the way cricket could be played for the immediate future, they and CWI should be receiving extra compensation.

    In fact, pandemic or not, visiting teams need to get something from away series. Without an opponent, the home team has no content for their broadcast partners.

    In boxing, for example, should promoters be able to put together a fight between Mike Tyson and me, we would all agree that Tyson would command the bulk of the revenue. After all, he is who they would come to see. However, a reasonable argument could be made that I should be paid fairly for having the daylights knocked out of me.

    It definitely takes two to tango.

    A couple of years ago, under the Dave Cameron presidency, CWI proposed changes to the current model of wealth distribution in world cricket but those were rejected as being unworkable.

    Correctly citing that competitive balance is critical to the appeal of the sport, Cameron argued that: “Broadcasters and viewers are not willing to see international cricket because they are getting to see their stars anyway in the IPL or CPL. As a result, international rights have been devalued, except in the big market, which is India, England and Australia. So, 20 per cent of each series should go to the visiting teams.”

    The problem with this proposal is that given what the big teams would have to pay over at the end of a tour, there would not be equitable reciprocation when their teams visit the smaller-market teams rendering it impractical.

    Mumbai Mirror writer Vijay Tagore explains it like this. In a column published on May 11, he said Star pays India about U$10 million for every international match. If the West Indies plays six matches on tour, then they would earn US$12million for the tour. When India tours the West Indies, India would earn much less from their 20 per cent take.

    Under the current status quo, the International Cricket Council (ICC) generates income from the tournaments it organizes, like the Cricket World Cup. Most of that money goes out to its members.

    So, for example, sponsorship and television rights of the World Cup brought in over US$1.6 billion between 2007 and 2015. Sponsorship and membership subscriptions also generate a few extra million.

    However, the ICC gets no income from Test matches, One Day International and Twenty20 Internationals. In this scenario, the host country gets the money earned from its broadcast partners and sponsorship as well as gate receipts.

    A breakdown of the money distributed from the ICC shows that for the period 2016 to 2023, based on forecasted revenues and costs, the BCCI will receive US$293 million across the eight-year cycle, ECB (England) US$143 million, Zimbabwe Cricket US$94 million and the remaining seven Full Members, including the West Indies, US$132 million each.

    Associate members will receive US$280m.

    For the CWI that equates to US$16.5 a year. In addition, CWI will generate money from broadcasts of home series. However, not every home series makes ‘good money’. Based on my conversations with CWI CEO Johnny Grave, CWI only makes money when England and India tour the West Indies.

    What that means is that when teams like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Zimbabwe visit, CWI loses money.

    According to an ICC Paper submitted by CWI in October 2018: The revenue is inextricably linked to the nature of the tours hosted in a member country. It is also linked to the existence of a host broadcaster to exploit media revenues.

    “Media values for members vary: the West Indies does not have a host broadcaster, mainly because of the size of its market.”

    According to the paper, in 2008 the West Indies revenue was US$19.6m. In 2009, revenue jumped to US$48 and then in 2010, it fell to US$24.2 million. Media rights in 2017 amounted to US$22million but fell precipitously to US$987,000 by the end of the financial year for 2018.

    Meanwhile, player salaries remain constant, money goes into grassroots programmes, player development, tournament match fees and salaries, coaches and coaching development, as well as support for the territorial boards. In bad years, these costs easily exceed any revenue generated.

    The current model is simply unsustainable but solutions are hard to come by. In the Caribbean, sponsorship is hard to come by. Stadia remain empty because the West Indies does not win consistently enough to bring the crowds back, and for the most part, the ‘stars’ don’t play in regional competitions meaning fans stay away.

    Meanwhile, the peaks and troughs in earnings against the costs associated with what is required to maintain a competitive international cricket programme, demonstrates in part why there needs to be a better way; why there needs to be a more equitable way to distribute money generated from bilateral series.

    For the smaller market teams, it amounts to a hand-to-mouth existence that keeps them poor and uncompetitive. And frankly, that’s simply not cricket.

     

     

     

     

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.