5 experts reveal how we’ll experience live sports after COVID-19

Top execs at the NBA, Major League Soccer, and more describe a touchless, waitless, and possibly even more connected and diverse future.

5 experts reveal how we’ll experience live sports after COVID-19
[Photos: rawpixel; AlLes/Pixabay; LOGAN WEAVER, tommy boudreau, Ben Weber/Unsplash]

For Fast Company’Shape of Tomorrow series, we’re asking business leaders to share their inside perspective on how the COVID-19 era is transforming their industries. Here’s what’s been lost—and what could be gained—in the new world order.


Darren Eales, president of Atlanta United, has twice been named Major League Soccer Executive of the Year, and previously served as executive director of English Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur.

A lot of sports have been re-airing their classic games. We don’t have as many classic games, being just three years old, but we did quite a bit of build up over the re-airing on Fox Sports of us winning the 2018 MLS Cup.

The way it normally works when we have home games is we have the tailgates before our matches. And I would always [walk] around the tailgate before every game. It’s part of how we build and keep connection to the club’s grassroots and fans. It’s that feeling that we’re all in this together. So we had our four main supporters groups virtually tailgating, and I was Zoom bombing their tailgates before the game, just re-creating our rituals in this new world order. And it was a lot of fun, trying to help keep that connection.


In the past, we’ve done a number of town halls [for supporters], but always in a physical space. We’re lucky that we’ve got over 30,000 season ticket holders, but sometimes that becomes a limiting factor of only doing it once a year, and trying to find a venue. We started thinking about the concept of a virtual town hall and realized it was easy for us to do something where our supporters felt that connection.

And to be honest, we have Miles Robinson, who’s one of our better players, doing the virtual town hall [from] his kitchen, showing the supporters what he had in his fridge and what he cooked up that day.
That was something more real than if it had been in-person.

Vivek Ranadivé, owner and chairman of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, is also the founder and former CEO of real-time computing company TIBCO Software.


What COVID-19 has done is catapulted us into 2023. Things that were happening are just going to happen a lot faster. We were the first cashless arena, [and] the first touchless arena. You can walk into our store and not touch anything. I have courtside seats, I have a good view, but now we’re allowing fans, whether they’re in Bombay or Beijing to have an even better view and a better experience than I have, because they get a 3D experience. And so basically this has just accelerated all of those tracks.

Our arena was already instrumented with sensors—now there’ll be temperature sensors, as well.”

Vivek Ranadivé, owner and chairman of the NBA's Sacramento Kings
After 9/11, the world changed, and we have different behavior patterns now. You check for weapons when you walk into any venue. Now you’ll be checking for a different kind of weapon, a virus. Our arena was already instrumented with sensors—now there’ll be temperature sensors, as well.

Things like touchless and cashless commerce were about having even greater efficiency in the way that people got their food, so they didn’t have to wait in line. Before, we didn’t want them to wait in line because it was a waste of time, but now, with social distancing, you don’t want to have a line at all.


Bruce Miller, senior principal and Americas managing director at architecture firm Populous, has headed up designs for the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field and Minnesota United FC’s Allianz Field.

[Ever since] the Coliseum, we’ve had architecture that facilitates people coming together, and that’s going to live on, [even] through this crisis. I have no doubt that people will continue to assemble in large groups to cheer and share common experiences.

We’re working with manufacturers to test out different products like different types of faucets.”

Bruce Miller, Populous
We’ve been doing studies for clients, looking at how their venue could [be altered for the COVID era] with minimal investment, how they could set up their environments to have a partial attendance and still make it safe. We’re doing a lot of crowd modeling to make sure we have the appropriate concourse spaces, seating, layouts, [and ways for] people [to] use restrooms and concessions in a safe, socially distanced way.


We’re working with manufacturers to test out different products like different types of faucets. We have one that has a 20-second timer, that stays on for 20 seconds and gives you that cue that, Hey, you got to stay here longer and wash your hands. Simple things like toe-pulls on restroom doors, all those things that make it touchless, that maybe give people another level of feeling [safe].

Danny Sillman is CEO of Relevent Sports Group, a sports event company that established the International Champions Cup preseason tournament among the world’s biggest soccer clubs.

We’ve challenged our teams to [ask], if we were starting our business from scratch today, how would we build it? What are the investments we make? Everybody talks about strategic development and focusing on long-term planning, but I don’t think we would have really given our teams a blank slate to say, Hey, let’s go rebuild our business from scratch, had we not had the pandemic.


Obviously, there’s great financial harm to anybody who’s in the live events business. There’s no ignoring that. But on the positive side, we’ve tried to focus on what we can change. There was a focus of our organization to leverage our expertise in storytelling, marketing, sales, and event production, and build a well-regarded content development operation. That’s something we’ve worked on for the past two years but has been expedited by COVID.

We’ve actually built our own newsroom, based in Mexico, very similar to how we’ve run one for (Spanish soccer league) La Liga for their North American operation. It’s for our owned and operated channels (for brands) that Relevant owns like the International Champions Cup men’s, women’s, and Futures events. So we’ve shifted our focus from just events to content development.

Lindsay Kagawa Colas is an executive vice president at management company Wasserman, where she represents WNBA stars and Olympic medalists.


It was fascinating to be a part of figuring out how to execute virtual events like the WNBA Draft and ESPYS, along with shooting [brand] campaigns almost entirely remotely. I think what will stick, even as we return to photographers with professional lighting, is the idea that you can shoot in a range of ways with [fewer] people on set and perhaps do more with a budget than you once thought you could.

Investment in women, particularly Black women, Black business, and Black creatives, is past due.”

Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Wasserman
We have always been focused on innovating and creating more opportunity for women in sports, specifically Black women and women of color, so the shift now to recognizing the urgent need to amplify those voices is a welcome change.

Investment in women, particularly Black women, Black business, and Black creatives, is past due. We did an Inclusion Rider in (Olympic swimmer) Simone Manuel’s contract with TYR Sport a couple years ago—the first by an athlete—and it was specifically built to ensure we could build real inclusion and diversity into her business. It’s a welcome change to have more people in tune with that idea.


Movement leaders and the community organizations that anchor them inspire me. Leaders like Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza of the Movement for Black Lives have such incredible vision and stamina. They have been championing a bold vision for America for years—long before the murder of George Floyd—it’s just now that many are being introduced to the power in their ideas and organizing. These leaders are bold, connected, and responsive. [Their] work is informed and led by real people’s lives. If the business community took more cues from them, and was intentional about inclusion and seizing this moment for radical change, we’d see an incredible acceleration of progress.

More from Fast Company’Shape of Tomorrow series:

  • What restaurants will actually be like in a post-COVID-19 world, according to Chipotle, Panera, street-food vendors, and others.
  • The leaders of the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Doctors Without Borders, and more tell us how healthcare is being transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Is advertising really dead? Here’s how the leaders of Droga5, TBWA, Wieden+Kennedy, and more are inching forward.
  • The retail Armageddon may have finally arrived. Here’s what top executives at Nike, Athleta, and more think it will take for stores and brands to make it through.
  • Insiders at LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Jobcase tell us which companies will be hiring, what skills will be important, and how the workplace of the future will change.
  • How COVID-19 has changed investing, according to VCs at Sequoia, Insight, Forerunner, 500 Startups, and more
  • Architects and urban planners from Gensler, Harvard, and Bloomberg Associates explain the changes coming to our shared spaces.
  • Insiders at Burning Man, Broadway, Meow Wolf and more describe how the live events industry will emerge onto a new stage.

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.