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Sports Fans Split on When to Return to Live Events

Tamara E. Holmes
Sports Fans Split on When to Return to Live Events

As sports leagues grapple with when to start up again amidst the pandemic, fans are looking forward to attending live sporting events, but have mixed feelings on how soon it will be safe to do so.

In the early days of the pandemic, sporting events, which typically are played in front of crowds, were widely canceled and social distancing guidelines mandated that large groups could no longer gather. Now that some restrictions have been loosened, plans are being made to reintroduce some sporting events into day-to-day life.

Experience, an event ticketing services company, issued a survey to learn how those events might change in the era of COVID-19. While some fans were anxious to return to the spectator seats, many have personal safety top of mind.

A return to the stands may come in waves

Throughout the pandemic, consumers have been wary about recreation activities. For example, a recent ValuePenguin survey reported that 48% of consumers canceled summer travel because of COVID-19.

One thing the Experience survey found: sports fans aren’t united when it comes to their comfort level with attending a live sporting event. A slight majority — nearly 55% — said they were comfortable with the idea of returning to live events today. However, the remaining 45% were more cautious, saying they would return to sporting events within the year.

Both groups were in agreement about one thing: They expected sports organizations to take measures to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission.

Among those who are ready to return to sporting events today, more than half said they expected to see cleaner venues, and 35% said they wanted venues to have health checkpoints onsite.

Meanwhile, those who aren’t quite ready to return are also looking for reassurance that their sports stadiums will be taking precautions. In fact, half of that group of respondents said seats would have to be spaced out to adhere to social distancing guidelines in order for them to attend a sporting event.

Uncertainty rules the day

While many consumers want to return to their pre-pandemic routines, some respondents admitted that the pandemic poses more questions than answers, as 20% said they don’t yet know how COVID-19 will affect their likeliness of attending a future sporting event.

Others want guarantees they won’t lose money if they pay for sporting events, but are unable to attend because of the pandemic.

Among respondents who held season tickets prior to the pandemic, around 40% said they were looking to downgrade their tickets to a partial season ticket, or even single-event tickets. Members of that specific group are also seeking ticket investment guarantees:

  • Refundable tickets: 71%
  • Returnable tickets: 65%
  • Cheaper tickets: 38%

Forty-eight percent of that group also expressed a desire for socially-distanced seating.

Among all respondents, 43% said they want to have the ability to return tickets for credit to future events if they have to cancel their plans to attend because of the pandemic, and 61% wanted to be eligible for a refund.

Sports and entertainment companies can expect a decline in revenue in the near future despite the return of sporting events, the survey found. About 1 in 3 fans said they would actively seek out cheaper seats, while approximately 20% to 30% of fans said they would spend less on food and beverages while at an event than in the past. When asked how much they would spend in the year after events start back up, as compared to before, fans overall stated overwhelmingly that they would spend less (37% said slightly less, while 27% said significantly less).

Methodology: Experience surveyed more than 800 sports fans aged 18 and over between April 24 and May 3, 2020. Each survey participant had attended a professional or NCAA sporting event in the past 12 months.