Sports marketers need to step up their game against a broader leisure market now better able to compete than at any previous point in the post-pandemic period.
There has been a heightened consumer commitment to returning leisure activities like sporting events and participatory sports as the impact of the COVID pandemic subsided and people sought to make up for lost time. Even amid economic headwinds, we’ve seen consumer spending and prioritization of sports activities defy an overall negative sentiment.
In fact, in our research, significant numbers of consumers agreed with the sentiment that “In general, the resumption of normal activities that were limited during the height of the pandemic, has been underwhelming relative to my expectations and recollections of them, pre-COVID.” Sports was not part of this “underwhelming” group, since it was able to capitalize on more consistent service delivery and a more highly perceived guest experience.
In our latest data, though, we are seeing this gap closing between sports and other activities. Those who strongly agreed that the reopening of these other activities was underwhelming reached a high point of 40% strong agreement October of 2021. This uneven return for non-sports leisure activities persisted with 37% strong agreement a year ago, and a third still being underwhelmed as recently as this January. Our most recent April findings have now fallen to 22% strong agreement, the lowest since we began asking the question.
In other words, either consumers have reset their expectations, or these competitive activities have successfully completed their comeback.
Couple this narrowing service delivery gap with some marked shifts in economic confidence, and the sports market is likely to face heightened competition for the discretionary dollar over the coming months. Those who strongly agree that they will be spending freely on luxuries has dropped from 35% in January to 24% in April, with 31% in strong disagreement. Similarly, 61% indicate that they are more budget-conscious than two years ago, the highest we’ve seen since August of 2020.
I’m not suggesting that the party is over. However, the key takeaway from these latest findings is that sports marketers need to step up their game against a broader leisure market now better able to compete than at any previous point in the post-pandemic period.
I’m always going to advocate for understanding customer needs and the ability of brands to differentiate themselves in the minds of the customer. These latest shifts suggest these type of insights will be even more valuable over the next several months.