Sports and Entertainment Industries Adapting Daily to Covid-19 Fallout

Hospitality Covid Events

There is no doubt that the Coronavirus, COVID-19, is having a never-before-seen effect on the hospitality industry. Since we have all been advised to put distance between ourselves and others, avoid events and crowds, and reschedule or cancel travel, all segments of the industry have seen a steep downturn in customers and revenue. Many businesses, including restaurants, have closed down temporarily. Tough decisions for the industry, and a challenge for JWU faculty as they navigate the rapidly changing hospitality landscape.

Events and Meetings
“This is the industry; you cannot get any more real than this. The event industry is canceling events and determining, ‘do we move virtual, do we postpone, do we cancel?’ And that's what we have to do with our classes,” said Assistant Professor Elizabeth Panciera '09, '11 MBA, moments after finding out she needed to change her on-ground classes to online.

Panciera, who teaches for the Sports, Entertainment, Event—Management (SEEM) program, has been following the COVID-19 crisis closely. Despite all the difficulties caused by the virus, she is using the situation as a real-life, real-time case study with her students.

Panciera made the effects of COVID-19 part of the planning that is being done by students for the 7th Annual SEEM Leadership Conference, initially scheduled for fall 2020. With so many other events within and outside the university being rescheduled, they decided to move the SEEM conference to spring 2021.

“We took into consideration … that if other events start to cancel, when are they most likely going to get rescheduled?” Panciera and her students considered not just the faculty, staff and students involved, but also sponsorships from stakeholders. “They could be reinvesting their funds elsewhere and not able to provide sponsorship deals for the fall if their finances end up being tight. We had to consider that as an impact to this particular event.”

Associate Professor Lee Esckilsen and Assistant Professor Elizabeth Panciera.

Sports and Entertainment
In the sports and entertainment areas, the leagues, venues, employees and fans are feeling the fallout of the virus. “The Boston Marathon got pushed back until September. The Masters got postponed. All of the major sports and entertainment events have been basically postponed or canceled,” noted Associate Professor Lee Esckilsen, who also teaches for the SEEM program.

Esckilsen explained how the run of events is having a far-reaching ripple effect: “It's not a matter of just not being able to see the game, it's all of those people that count on those games for financial revenue … all of the part-time people that count on that income — the ushers, the ticket takers [along with] the restaurants, bars, parking garages, the Uber drivers. These sports and entertainment venues and events have a tremendous financial impact on the community.”

This is the industry; you cannot get any more real than this.

Looking to the Future
Both Panciera and Esckilsen agree that the way we enjoy our favorite events and sports could change to be more risk-focused, attempting to avoid losses at this level again.

“Nobody planned for this … I can promise you this wasn't in anybody's risk management plan – a possible threat of a virus that was going to become a pandemic … we learn from situations when they happen, we start to implement new strategies,” said Panciera.

Some possible changes she sees happening include more diligence around event contracts having “force majeure” clauses that allow both parties to be let out of a contract due to unforeseeable, uncontrollable situations. “It is really meant to protect both sides,” said Panciera. “I think you are going to start to see people get a lot more familiar with that clause, make sure it is built into their contracts, and be able to come to a common ground of postponing. That's my hope.”

Other changes could include moving some events to more rural areas where audiences can be contained easier, and holding events virtually rather than in-person, which has already begun.

When you think about all of the sports events already canceled that are always held during a specific time of year, many with season ticket holders and avid fans who never miss a game, how do you come up with a game plan for the future? Esckilsen says it won’t be an easy task.

We could be watching sports much more through TV, pay-per-view and streaming, and less in person, at the stadium, Esckilsen says. The major leagues have already been counting more on television contracts than ticket sales, but there is a particular fan base that wants to watch live and in-person. “The question is, how willing are they to perform in venues that do not have spectators? That is going to be interesting. I think that the live entertainment business is something that, as a society, we love to go to live events.”

“I think this is going to be an opportunity for students to step up and think strategically.”

Keeping Students First in Mind
Switching from in-person to virtual has already become a big part of our students' lives, having all courses moved to online and most students moving off campus. “We are building a different type of relationship [with students] at this point … for example, I am home with a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old and many of the students are back home with their parents and pets. We are adjusting and working together. Just like the industry, collaboration is key,” says Panciera.

Although our faculty have been busy transforming their courses and answering students' questions, they have also been helping students find ways to take something positive away from this COVID-19 crisis.

“I think this is going to be an opportunity for you [students] to show how you can step up and think strategically,” Panciera told her students. She, Esckilsen and other faculty are using different virtual platforms like Skype and Zoom to teach and communicate with students. Panciera is telling students they will be able to walk into a job interview and say “I know how they operate, I know how they work, and I know how to be engaged professionally on a virtual platform. I think maybe it's going to even give them a little bit of an edge coming into the industry.”

Stay updated on the most recent COVID-19 news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Follow JWU COVID-19 updates at the JWU COVID-19 Info Center.