Today Brodies’ managing partner, Nick Scott, engaged in a webinar with tennis legends Tim Henman, Colin Fleming and Leon Smith, as part of our Enlightened Thinking series. The discussion focused on the challenges faced by tennis and the sport sector more generally in light of Covid-19, the response to those challenges and fan engagement.

What are the challenges?

Social distancing measures across the UK has had a significant impact on sport, with events such as Wimbledon being cancelled for the first time since World War II. Players and other workers within the sports sector are keen to get back to work and compete in live events – but there remains uncertainty about when it will happen, and how the fan experience will be impacted. The lockdown has had a direct financial impact on the participants in the sector, and an indirect financial impact on local businesses dependent on sporting events.

Event cancellations and postponements have affected athletes, ticket holders, broadcasters and investors alike. A plethora of legal obligations such as event agreements, sponsorship agreements and pre-paid ticket sales will need to be reviewed and addressed in light of the occurrence of force majeure events, and insurance policies will no doubt be reviewed with regard to losses being incurred by stakeholders.

Sponsors have also been affected. Event cancellation or postponement means sponsors lose the brand awareness they bargained for on the day of the event – and so they may be seeking to terminate or re-negotiate / re-scope their commercial arrangements with players, event organisers and broadcasters.

How is the sports sector responding?

With the likelihood of social distancing for the foreseeable future, the sports sector is reviewing how it will deal with reduced footfall at events, how it will engage with fans within sports stadia, and how technology might be used to enhance fan engagement.

Televised events, data analytics and social media engagement will ensure fans can get closer to players in the absence of physical attendance at events. We have already seen the German Bundesliga broadcasting football tournaments using “fake crowd noise” at live events to create an atmosphere, and the same approach may be adopted by the English Premier League.

The phased return to normality has also seen a big increase in the popularity of tennis – one of the first sports that can go ahead due to the ease of social distancing. Today Judy Murray, in collaboration with Brodies, launched ‘Back to Tennis with Brodies’, a series of safe distance programmes designed to get players and enthusiasts fit for the court. Whilst bringing health benefits, this may lead to the nurturing of more junior talent in the game. It is anticipated that this positive effect will be felt across the sports sector.

The future

The impact of COVID-19 is, we hope, temporary, and the positive response from stakeholders demonstrate that the sports sector is resilient in the challenges it faces, and that fan engagement is at its heart. The legal challenges raised are still being worked through, and it is likely to affect how commercial contracts and wider relationships are structured in the future.


Andy Nolan