Now, more than ever, multilateral dialogue – between generations and sectors – is essential to overcome the common challenges we face and to make the most of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for meaningful change
Lucien BoyerLucien Boyer is president and co-founder of Global Sports Week Paris, the first edition of which took place in Paris this February. He is the former global president of Havas Sport & Entertainment and global chief marketing officer of Vivendi.
The world was a different place when Global Sports Week Paris made its debut at the Louvre in early February, slotted neatly between CES, the Davos World Economic Forum and Paris Fashion Week.
As a brand new ‘rendezvous’, we cannot pretend to compare Global Sports Week to such landmark international gatherings, yet we have faced similar challenges in planning our 2021 edition amid the uncertainty brought by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last week saw the news that the World Economic Forum would be postponed to early summer. It followed the decision of CES to run a fully digital event in 2021. Meanwhile Paris Fashion Week still plans to return as normal this winter.
With Global Sports Week, we have taken a different approach, inspired by the mood of “reinvention” and a will to “build back better.” We challenged ourselves to imagine a format fit not only for the Covid era but also the post-Covid world.
Naturally, our guiding principles have been sustainability and responsibility, but we also believed it was crucial to maintain our international dimension. Now, more than ever, multilateral dialogue – between generations and sectors – is essential to overcome the common challenges we face and to make the most of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for meaningful change.
So, when Global Sports Week returns next February 1 to 5, our new format will connect continental hub events in Tokyo, Beijing, Dakar, Milan and Los Angeles with our central base at the new GSW House in Paris. We think this first multi-country sports forum – with its global-local framework mixing physical and virtual experiences – can be a new model with long-term relevance across the wider sports industry.
Already it is clear that global travel restrictions will remain in place for the foreseeable future. Air France, for example, does not expect traveller numbers to reach pre-Covid levels until 2024. Most likely, attending international events will never be as easy as it was.
In parallel, the evolution of virtual solutions, coupled with growing awareness of climate issues, is further diminishing the long-term appetite for event-based travel, while placing new environmental expectations on sports rights holders and organisers.
I believe that a global-local approach can drive a resurgence among smaller sports properties, by connecting them to a global structure in which they will have more value and relevance
The pandemic is forcing all of us to look for alternative ways of doing things and with this comes an opportunity to change the paradigm for good. The question is what change we want to deliver. For many who contributed to debates on the subject during the global lockdown in the spring, the answer is greater economic equality across the sports ecosystem.
Sport is undoubtedly a blockbuster economy, and the crisis brought predictions of a further “flight to quality” threatening the industry’s long tail. On the contrary, I believe the global-local approach can drive a resurgence among smaller sports properties, by connecting them to a global structure in which they will have more value and relevance.
As so often, I look to precedents from my experience in the music industry, another historic 80:20 economy, where digitally-enabled disruption has created new pathways for grassroots acts to reach global prominence.
For example it is the story of ‘Despacito’, the Spanish-language hit that emerged out of a Puerto Rican subculture to conquer and unite the whole world in 2017. Music is now a place where winners can come from a wider range of horizons than before.
And where music leads, sport tends to follow. Fundamentally, our industry is no different from the rest of the entertainment world. Its future is local players, playing locally, being recognised on a global scale.
Right now, we are at the laboratory stage of defining those new frameworks and formats. Progress is fast with pioneering examples of hybrid events including the recent Zwift Arena Games and the Inspiration Games in athletics, where athletes competed in real time from their home venues around the world.
The focus must also be on evolving the way we engage and interact with fans remotely. During lockdown, I’ve been inspired by examples of live interactive athlete workouts, and by initiatives such as the NBA’s virtual fan in partnership with Microsoft Teams.
I believe there is also much to learn from esports with its concepts of fan reward drops and real-time interaction between fans and streamers. The same is true for start-up sports properties such as Formula E, where viewers can intervene directly in the action by helping determine the amount of power available to their team.
Much of what I describe here will make uncomfortable reading for the sports traditionalists. But there is a traditional appeal at the heart of this vision of the future. As we debate Lionel Messi’s imminent move to one of a handful of global mega-clubs, imagine a world where the next little Leo can become a billion-dollar superstar and winner of six Ballons d’Or while playing for his boyhood team in Argentina. This is the grassroots globalist’s dream and it can become a reality in sport’s new era.