Disruptor and accelerator: COVID-19's impact on the Australian sport industry

Sport Sports participation Professional sport Australia

This report synthesises the reflections of sport executives into three areas of findings: impact, response, and learning.

The impact of COVID-19 and the associated restrictions on movement and gatherings was immediate. In a 10 day period in March 2020 all sport effectively ceased in Australia. From the delay of the Tokyo Olympics, through to the provision of community sport, the fundamental institution of sport was tested, and presented a range of social, financial, promotional, and functional performance challenges for sport leaders and organisations.

In response to public health restrictions on movement and gathering, sport organisations scaled back their operations to focus on sustainability and cash management challenges. Uncertainty and resource constraints forced sport organisations to (re)set their priorities and align their values and strategic direction. As restrictions eased sports transitioned their delivery to engage more systematically with digital platforms, and collaborated more frequently and deeply to mitigate uncertainty on their return to sport journey.

The sport executives we spoke to identified four key learnings:

  1. Leadership: Leading through unprecedented disruption was facilitated by trust and empowerment, but took an emotional toll on sport executives.
  2. Sustainability and growth: Sport executives rationalised and prioritised core business during a period of crisis and positioned their organisations for recovery.
  3. Technology and digital: Sport organisations accelerated their digital capacity and capability to build new experiences and commercial opportunities.
  4. Enhancing capacity to change: The value of collaboration and partnering became a critical capability to mitigate uncertainty and increase systemic efficiency.
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