COVID-19: Will The Pandemic Throw Our Consumer Habits For A Loop?

One thing that’s struck me as especially bizarro about the pandemic is how “innovative” professional sports leagues and associations have been in trying to continue their seasons/host their events.

Some events, such as Wimbledon, the Men’s and Women’s Curling/Hockey World Championships, British Open, CHL playoffs and Memorial Cup and NCAA Basketball Championships have simply been cancelled. Others, such as the French Open, Masters and U.S. Open Golf Tournaments, Tour de France and Kentucky Derby have been tentatively rescheduled to the fall (or in the case of the Summer Olympics and Euro 2020, until summer 2021).

In the case of North America sports leagues, hockey and basketball would ordinarily be into the first round of the playoffs now, while baseball would be in its opening month. And all sorts of brainstorming has been going on about how the games might be played. Even U.S. president Donald Trump has been part of the push.

Stadiums/arenas with no fans is one constant. As well, the proposals typically involve gathering all the teams in one or two locations and relying on TV broadcasts to reach the broader fan base. Another option is to try to restart the current season later this summer and play into the early fall before taking a break, I guess, and then starting the 2020-21 season.

The bizarro aspect is the logistics that would be involved. They extend far beyond the games to include housing and feeding the teams, transporting them to and from games and practice, treating injuries, running the arenas and stadiums, accommodating broadcast crews  and more. All those support services would presumably involve people living and working in the chosen communities, so would they face isolation and quarantine too? And what of the athletes and coaches, would they be expected live apart from their families for weeks and potentially months?

Certainly, an argument could be made that were games to be held, it would give people a recreation option that would both promote community spirit and help them get through the remaining period of isolation.

That’s valid, but economic interests are also in play. In marketing, there’s a concept called “habit loop”. It references the psychological reality that people tend to be creatures of habit who, once they establish a behaviour, tend to stick with it.

In the case of the sports league, that dynamic exists with their fan base. And the longer the suspension goes, I would imagine, the greater the worry that fans will reassess their “habit loop” with respect to the sport.

Hardcore NHL fans, for instance, might come to the realization that maybe they don’t have to hunker down in front of the TV watching a steady stream of playoff games from mid-April to mid-June. And that would be bad for business.

But people who have had their lives turned upside down in recent weeks should, I think, be asking themselves some tough questions about what they value/need in their lives and what falls more into the category of luxury or frill.

It’s not that sports shouldn’t be a part of our post-pandemic world, obviously. Same with big-budget Hollywood movies, luxury cruises, high-end fashion brands that sell status more than function, and other forms of consumer indulgence. But the vast amounts of time, money and attention we invest in them should rightly be reassessed.

So what impact will COVID-19 have on our “habit loops”? I guess we’ll see.


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