COVID-19 has brought about an unprecedented time where a majority of major American sporting organizations have ceased competition. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) actions, historically an avenue for sport organizations to positively impact society, provide a compelling avenue of study during this time. While researchers have observed the role of CSR and crisis communication when the crisis arises from within the organization, there is a need to understand CSR shifts and responses when the crisis is on a societal level. This commentary examines efforts of major U.S. sport league CSR programs (National Basketball Association/Women's National Basketball Association, National Football League, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and National Hockey League), starting in mid-March when the majority of organizations ceased competition. Data were gathered using a mixed-methods approach of qualitative interviews, secondary research, and social media sentiment analysis. Key findings included the emergence of two different approaches to CSR communication strategies among U.S. sport leagues as well as three clear themes of COVID-19-related communication: educate, assist, and inspire. In addition, this commentary provides an initial glance at consumer response to CSR programs, showing both positive and negative sentiment trends.
Danielle K. Smith and Jonathan Casper
Bettina Callary, Abbe Brady, Cameron Kiosoglous, Pekka Clewer, Rui Resende, Tammy Mehrtens, Matthew Wilkie, and Rita Horvath
The commentary brings together the perspectives of a group of coach developers from across the globe who form a community of practice (CoP) from their involvement as “Cohort 5” in the International Council for Coaching Excellence and Nippon Sport Science University Coach Developer Academy. The CoP includes people from three types of organizations: university professors of sport coaching programs, national sport federations, and national multisport organizations’ directors of coach education. While this CoP existed prior to the pandemic, the forced isolation has created a new structure and purpose to the CoP: The authors are all making meaning of the landscape of coach development within which they work by understanding the perspectives of others who work in their domain from across the world and the similar realities that they face in North America, Europe, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand. The authors outline the key themes that emerged from their weekly CoP video conference meetings to shed light on how this pandemic has changed the way they think about coach development.
Ted M. Butryn, Matthew A. Masucci, and jay a. johnson
While most professional sports quickly postponed their seasons due to COVID-19, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) took a decidedly contrarian approach as president Dana White continued to promote UFC 249 until pressure forced its cancelation on April 9, 2020. Drawing from work on sport and spectacle and the media as well as sport management scholarship on crisis management, the authors provide a commentary on the mediated spectacle of White’s (eventually successful) efforts to promote UFC 249 during the pandemic. Drawing from numerous media sources, they discuss how White sought to control the public narrative in several key ways. The authors further explore how White decried the seriousness of the pandemic while centralizing the UFC’s place in the U.S. sporting landscape. Finally, the authors discuss how White’s efforts might both help and hinder the UFC as a mainstream sports promotion.
Brody J. Ruihley and Bo Li
The American sports television industry has scrambled to adjust to the loss of live sporting events in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic—a scramble clearly evidenced in programming schedules suddenly filled with replays of older event telecasts. However, rather than focusing on the apparent novelty of this type of substitute coronavirus programming, this article, instead, argues that the loss of live sporting events represents the amplification of a problem that television networks have already been grappling with for years: how to fill an ever greater number of outlets with sufficient year-round programming given a finite number of live events. With that in mind, this article proposes that many of the programming strategies that networks have turned to in the midst of the pandemic, including the expanded coverage of transactions (e.g., coverage of National Football League free agency) and the increased scheduling of documentaries (e.g., The Last Dance), have been familiar extensions of previously established alternative programming solutions.
Alexander L. Curry and Tiara Good
The 2020 coronavirus outbreak led Major League Baseball to cancel spring training and postpone the start of the regular season. Although baseball stopped, reporters continued to write about baseball, and fans continued to talk about baseball. But with no games being played, what were they writing and talking about? More than a simple examination of what these two groups are saying, the authors also examined why their focus has turned to particular topics and themes. Through a textual analysis of Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) baseball headlines and Reddit posts, the authors found writers jolted out of their routines, yet still framing many of their 2020 stories to focus on the actions of players. For fans, they uncovered conversations that, in many ways, read like friends mourning the loss of a loved one.
Sungwook Son, Antonio S. Williams, and Yoon Heo
Elsa Kristiansen, Therese Dille, and Simon Tærud Day
This commentary uses the Norwegian Football Association’s COVID-19 crisis communication strategy as an example of how federations can take an active role and use their influence to guide and be proactive in the opening of a society after a lockdown. By paying close attention to the public debate and by interviewing the federation’s communication director, the authors outlined the four phases of the strategic crisis communication—and the consequences of them in Norway. While the first consequence was the postponing of the Euro Qualifier against Serbia on March 26 for the European Championship this summer, the lockdown changed the focus quickly, and the strategy became about getting all players back on the football fields. The authors elaborated on how a major federation can (and maybe should) take a leading role by using its “voice” in the media and public and expertise to aid reopening a society after lockdown.
William Roth Smith
The cancellations and postponements of large-scale organized sport competitions provided the first indicators of the impact that COVID-19 would have on society. During the pandemic, sport media reporting has focused on cancellations. Although not receiving as much media attention, “lifestyle sports,” such as rock climbing, parkour, BMX, kayaking, or skateboarding, were also impacted by COVID-19 in ways that differ from organized team sports. In this commentary, the author draws upon select media reports and subcultural social media posts to highlight two primary impacts of COVID-19: (a) the civic organizational challenges of limiting lifestyle sport participation and (b) the influence on the social and risk-laden experience of these sports. The article concludes by detailing lifestyle sport stakeholder communication, digital sporting communities, the use of social media for organizing lifestyle sport communities, and sport risk communication as fruitful avenues for future research in a postpandemic lifestyle sports.