COVID-19 is ratcheting up consumer anxiety about future events, but there are silver linings for the sports and entertainment industry

All industries have been impacted by the coronavirus’s spread, but live sports and entertainment events have absorbed a large portion of the impact of social distancing orders.

As empty stadiums, canceled tours and postponements of Olympic proportions continue to make headlines, sports and entertainment industry stakeholders are left wondering: what does the future of events look like? What should it look like?

Performance Research, a leading sports and event research, insights and consulting firm, has introduced the first wave of its Impact of COVID-19 on Live Events Study, conducted with national online sampling partner Full Circle Research Co.

The study surveyed over 1,000 representative U.S. consumers from Full Circle’s research panel between March 23 and March 26 and includes findings on how consumer perceptions of the pandemic will impact engagement with live sports and entertainment events.

Results indicate that after social distancing restrictions have been loosened and events are cleared as safe to attend, event stakeholders should expect dips in attendance figures – at least initially. When respondents were asked if they will attend “Fewer,” “About The Same Number” or “More” events once they are safe to attend, the highest percentage (44%) predicted they will attend fewer, while 38% reported their attendance won’t be impacted; the remaining 18% indicated they will attend more events.

In terms of how long it might take consumers to feel comfortable attending events again after they’ve been deemed safe, results were mixed, with about half of consumers indicating they would return to events right away or within a few weeks, and the other half reporting it would take them a few months or longer. Indoor events were more likely to cause trepidation, with 51% saying it would take them a few months or longer to return to indoor sports or concert venues, while 44% reported the same for outdoor venues. Similarly, 33% indicated they will likely attend indoor sports or concert venues less often post-pandemic, while just 26% reported the same for outdoor venues.

Eventgoers typically hold some concerns about events and safety, but results indicate this pandemic experience will rachet up concerns around health and sanitation at events in the future.  A majority (63%) indicated event health safety will be a higher concern for them than it was in the past, and almost half (47%) indicated that the idea of attending a “big public event will scare them for a long time.” Two thirds (66%) indicated that they “Expect there to be wide scale changes in the way we attend major public events and venues in the future.”  More specifically, two-thirds claimed they will be more worried about cleanliness/sanitation of the venue overall (66%), cleanliness of the restrooms (66%), and cleanliness of the food service area (65%). A majority (59%) reported their concern about crowding or close contact with strangers will be higher than it was pre-pandemic. These health and sanitation issues were much more likely to be of higher concern in the future than other event safety issues such as violence or shootings, theft, drunk and rowdy crowds, or ticket scams, which remained essentially unchanged.

While attendance may decline and anxieties around health safety will likely increase post-pandemic, consumers currently show high trust in event stakeholders’ response to the pandemic, and a majority believe the response has been the right one. Over 40% reported a ”Somewhat” or “Very High” trust in organizers of pro sports, college sports, and the Olympic Games, and fewer than 20% indicated a “Low trust’ for any of these organizations.  By comparison, President Trump fared much worse, with a 46% “Low trust” mark.  Two-thirds believe that the response to the Coronavirus from Pro Sports (66%), College Sports (68%) and Olympics (64%) has been “About right.”

The economic impact of event cancellations and postponements has been staggering (see our COVID-19 economic impact analysis study here), but social distancing measures could strengthen consumers’ appreciation of events in the long run. Nearly half of consumers (46%) say they will value events more than they used to due to their experience with the pandemic and social distancing, and 53% agreed that they will have a pent-up desire to return to the events they loved once the pandemic has passed.

Perception of corporate sponsorship of events remains strong, but with a new emphasis on “doing good”.  While 30% agreed with a statement that sponsors should “Conduct business as usual”, a majority (56%) reported they now expect more out of brands and corporations in terms of how “socially good” they are.

According to Jed Pearsall, founder of Performance Research, “The results of this study, conducted in what may be the height of anxiety regrading the pandemic, show that event goers will come back, albeit with reservations and a limited sense of urgency. When considering all the barriers to event attendance, perhaps nothing can be more personal and emotional than health and safety.”

Bill Doyle, vice president of Performance Research stated, “There will be some shift in attention from what is happening on the field or stage to what is seen with the venue itself.  Expectations for new ways of protecting public health will be high, and this is a chance sports and entertainment properties to take a leadership role in setting new standards.”   


About Performance Research: With more than 30 years of focus and experience, Performance Research is the industry leader for worldwide consumer research and evaluation in the event, sponsorship and experiential marketing industry.

Performance Research’s experience covers an array of quantitative, qualitative and economic impact studies focused on sports events and fan festivals, as well as in-depth experience with activation testing at music and cultural festivals and pop-up brand experiences.

Jed Pearsall:  [email protected]  

Bill Doyle:  [email protected]

About Full Circle Research:
Twice-named on Inc. 5000’s list of Fastest-Growing Companies in America (2017, 2019), Full Circle Research was the first and only U.S.-based, online consumer sample provider to earn ISO 26362 certification, is currently ISO 20252-certified and remains the only company to offer HoNoR (Holistic Next-level Research™)—a marriage of advanced technology and industry-leading quality controls that gives business decision-makers immediate access to the purest data in the industry

Nate Lynch:  [email protected]

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