The Future of Live Events and Sports

Update #29 — August 31, 2021

In our 29th update to the “Future of Live Events & Sports: The Re-Emergence of Fans Post Covid-19”, we closely monitor rising COVID-19 cases. We continue to track how our framework for understanding Fan Demand is impacted based on market-specific factors, venue initiatives, and fan avidity.  We have sifted through all the noisy data to bring you insights on how live events and sports will be different because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this update, we explore:

Market Analysis

The KAGR Fan Demand Index meaningfully dropped back (-12%) over the last three weeks with several markets experiencing large decreases. Of note, New Orleans (-29%), Los Angeles (-20%), and Miami (-18%) saw significant setbacks while Seattle (+18%) was one of the few markets to see KAGR Fan Demand Index rise.  Recent confirmed COVID-19 cases surged 68% on average (+24% in hospitalizations) with several markets including Minneapolis (+175%), Washington D.C. (+150%), and Indianapolis (+150%) far above. The average percent positive COVID-19 cases also jumped to 10.5% (up 25%) and is in line with levels from January 2021.  The eligible market population currently vaccinated (with at least one shot) is up another 4.9% to a total of 58% vaccinated over the last three weeks.

Consumer and economic indicators experienced meaningful setbacks this week. A recent study comparing July/August 2021 with the same period in 2019 shows a dramatic change (30-40% drop) after behaviors were close to on par in early July.  More specifically over the last three weeks our analysis shows:

  • a 4% decrease in air travel (largest decrease in Dallas, -12%)
  • a 2% decrease in dining and entertainment activity (largest decrease in Los Angeles, -39%)
  • a 1% decrease in consumer behaviors (largest decrease in New Orleans, -10%)

With the large drop in KAGR Fan Demand Index and the continued surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, we examine the impact of the pandemic on go-forward fan demand and behaviors. This week eleven markets experienced meaningful change; specific highlights include:

* KAGR Fan Demand index uses a variety of market data including COVID-19 factors, economic indicators, and other consumer behavior information. Impact to Pre-Pandemic Behaviors is defined as percent change of market indicators from pre-pandemic levels.

[1] A measure of economic activity using consumer shopping behavior and visits to businesses

Fan Avidity at a Glance

This week we examine sell-through for the MLS, comparing 2019 to 2021 across relevant markets.  MLS has seen a substantial increase in interest post-pandemic; with viewership up 50% from 2020 on ESPN and both MLS and NWSL seen as targets for new and established sports owners and investment groups.  While a handful of traditionally strong MLS markets maintain sell-through on pace with 2019, several markets have seen a setback.

* 2021 sell-through is based on games from July 11th through August 23rd; July 11th was the first day where capacity restrictions were lifted from all MLS stadiums.

Even with the rise of soccer’s popularity in the United States and increased engagement through several tournaments this summer including the Olympics, Gold Cup, and European Championship, the 2021 MLS sell-through data continues to demonstrate a decrease in demand for attending live events.  This decrease is on par to what we saw for the NBA and NHL this spring and early summer (e.g., NBA Playoff sell-through was down 12% from 2019).  We will be watching closely as the NFL returns next week – while early ticket sales and secondary activity is strong, it remains to be seen whether this downward sell-through trend perpetuates especially in the face of rising COVID-19 concerns.

Other Fan Trends:

Fan demand shows a concerning trend as we head into the start of the NFL, NBA, and NHL season. With prior season capacity restrictions lifted, the true impact of the pandemic for fans will be on display.  Assuming less fans are in stands, digital channels and products will be even more critical for leagues and teams, not only for the 2021 season but for engagement going forward.