In my previous article I explored the impact of declining MLB attendances and what this might mean for America’s favorite pastime.

Since then I’ve spoken to a number of sports clients and the prevailing view is that the impact of Covid is far from over and they will continue to face a combination of complex disruptions in their businesses.

The experiential nature of sporting events creates a number of vulnerabilities for business models still highly dependent on attracting a live audience. Even with attendance caps lifted, there are added safety measures, processes and operational protocols that need to be implemented, and doing so in a haphazard way can negatively impact the fan experience. With viewing alternatives available in the comfort of their own homes, any increase in friction, particularly when underpinned by concerns for their health, will likely bite harder.

There are also the external factors that sports franchises and businesses face. While the product is distinct, they have the same requirements as most other businesses. As such they are heavily affected by the same supply chain and labor issues other businesses are facing.

All these factors combine to have a direct and definite cost impact on teams, venues and ultimately fans. While supply issues will take time to resolve, opportunities exist to simultaneously remove pain points from the spectators’ experience and enhance revenue opportunities.

For example, moving to 100% cashless transactions inside the stadium reduces overall transaction times and helps fans move faster through concession lines. For the operator, eliminating cash drives a number of efficiencies, including reducing shrink, eliminating the post-event cash count and streamlining reconciliation of receipts.

Going cashless also opens the door to flexible and dynamic pricing of concessions – without the need to make change, prices no longer need to be set in change-friendly denominations. Modern point-of-sale and menu board systems can also enable different pricing models from event to event, allowing for prices to be tailored to differing audiences.

Broadening the scope and use of mobile platforms can drive other improvements to the fan experience. For example, establishing designated “fast lanes” for fans who purchase parking in advance of gameday through the team’s mobile app. Similar mobile app functionality can be deployed to help establish “express lanes” for entry into stadia in locales where vaccine passports are used. The same mobile app can be used in the stadium, allowing fans to purchase team gear from their seat and have it either delivered directly to them, or to a nearby pick-up point – reducing missed action on the field.

An added benefit of expanding the use of mobile platforms is the ability to customize fan experiences and drive engagement based on individual fan preferences.

A return to pre-pandemic ‘normality’ may never occur. Until then sports businesses need to think about their ‘product’ in terms of the overall fan experience and focus on removing friction wherever possible.