Will Sports Benefit From Greater Post-Pandemic Time Flexibility?

The previously immovable obstacle of finding more time to engage in sports, or any leisure activity, has potentially been transformed

For as long as marketing researchers have sought to understand inhibitors to greater engagement in sports, as either fans or participants, the two most prevalently cited challenges have always been lack of time and cost.We’ve often derided these objections as crutches: surrogates for the real underlying issues that have surrounded derived value, or perceived return on investment of time and/or money spent.  But as long as potential customers have felt time and cost pressure, sports has battled other leisure options for those precious commodities.

As we continue to track ever-evolving consumer attitudes and behaviors, an interesting phenomenon has emerged.  To an extent, the previously immovable obstacle of finding more time to engage in sports, or any leisure activity, has potentially been transformed.  In the wake of the COVID pandemic, Americans have regained greater control over their time.

In the early days of lockdowns, research actually showed a perceptual reversal from people not having enough time to do things they wanted, to not having enough things to do that could comfortably occupy their time. Activities like golf, which saw relatively little disruption and successfully positioned itself as a socially distant, safe, outdoor activity, particularly benefited from this trend.  Now, we’re finding qualitative and quantitative evidence that sports-minded consumers are not about to give up the relative time flexibility afforded by work from home and hybrid situations.

As a case in point, our most recent wave of research shows a new high water mark of 36% of American sports fans presently splitting their time between work at home and their usual dedicated workplace outside the home.  And while the number of those working exclusively outside the home has more than doubled from where we were in June of 2020, an additional third continue to work primarily from home, with sub segments extending the remote work concept to facilitate “stay-cations” or other opportunities to work from “anywhere.”

Add to this the fact that two-thirds of sports fans in the most recent wave of research strongly agreed with the statement “The ability to work from home is something that I value or would value from my job.” So it’s not a reach to suggest that as we come out of the pandemic, work situation flexibility is an important part of the emerging new normal that has contributed to fueling what many are labeling “the great resignation.”

With the elimination or reduction of time commuting and a greater ability to intertwine business and leisure, there is now more opportunity to balance the workday around preferred leisure pursuits.

This time allocation transformation presents both opportunity and challenge for sports marketers focused on regaining their share of customer amid a return to leisure activities that the research has also shown to be “underwhelming” relative to expectations.