How Coronavirus-Hit Europe is Navigating the Loss of Live Sports

A continent mad about sports has gone mad without sports. This past weekend was the first in which nearly all public sporting events across Europe were canceled or postponed in an effort to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

Cancellations left rightsholders in the lurch with hours to fill from a normally packed weekend schedule, while sports package customers were left wondering what they’re paying for.

The common response, at least initially, has been to replay events for which broadcasters still hold the rights. That said, U.K. fans were shocked when their beloved Saturday night soccer staple, BBC’s “Match of the Day,” was replaced with the BBC sitcom “Mrs Brown’s Boys.”

Global sports streaming giant DAZN, set to surpass 200 territories in May, released a statement saying they are in daily contact with rightsholders and partners, “to understand and manage the impact of the virus on our industry, service and customers.

“Sporting events have been on the front line of disruption and there are many conversations taking place with government, health authorities and sports organizations about the safest and best way to move forward. We will continue to closely follow official advice and keep the health and wellbeing of fans, athletes and staff as our top priority.”

A representative told Variety that while there aren’t currently any plans to offer refunds, subscribers can pause their account for up to four months at a time without losing the long-term benefits of membership.

DAZN is also adjusting its user interface so that the live sports menus, typically front and center on the app and website, are replaced with catalogue content. They are also planning ways of exploiting the extensive DAZN catalogue to create new content to keep subscribers entertained.

In Spain, Mediapro’s sports network Gol announced that in addition to the loss of sporting events, the network will suspend all live programming, including panels and talk shows. The decision was made with the “aim (of avoiding) any risk to the people working for the Group,” according to a statement sent early Sunday morning.

In addition to broadcasting classic matches, Gol will dive into its back catalogue of unscripted programming, which will be available on its linear channel, website and social media accounts.

A representative from Telefónica’s broadcast arm Movistar Plus told Variety that the company is putting a premium on maintaining a continuous flow of information in the foreground of its sports-related social media profiles as well as the company’s linear TV network #Vamos, for the duration of the live sports downtime.

While no decision has been taken around how subscriptions to live sports packages will be affected in terms of pricing, Movistar Plus said an announcement will be made in the coming days.

In the meantime, Movistar has offered one month of free content to pre-existing and non-customers through its Movistar Plus Lite app. One of the largest operators in Latin America, Telefónica has committed to similar steps in other territories if and when they are similarly affected by the spread of the disease.

Elsewhere, Nordic Entertainment Group (NENT) will temporarily reduce the price of sports packages on its Viaplay streaming service. The price for sports bundles is being reduced to half of its TV and movies packages, ranging between $11 and $15 across Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway. The price drop went into effect immediately upon announcement and applied to all existing Viaplay customers.

NENT did not give an idea of how long the price reduction is expected to last but will seek compensation from sports rights owners in the event of further postponements or cancellations.

“We are facing an unprecedented situation with widespread postponements of many major sports leagues and events,” said NENT president and CEO Anders Jensen. “We understand and respect the decisions made by sports event organizers around the world, who are rightly focused on safeguarding the health and wellbeing of athletes and fans. We are in close contact with the organisers to discuss how things will be handled moving forward.”

The executive said the business has made “temporary adjustments to our sports package prices,” adding that, “We are working hard to add short-term alternatives in sports and are also determined to find ways of dealing with the consequences of this global crisis and minimizing the impact on our business moving forward.”

With no live sports on TV, fans and clubs have engaged in their own distraction measures.

Teams from a number of leagues across Europe used their social media platforms to play games of tic-tac-toe and connect four, while others pitted their e-Sports teams against one another in the time slots where games would have taken place.

Others simulated entire matches, radio commentary and all, and one condo complex in Barcelona united in a hundreds-strong chant of “Messi” when their team would have otherwise been playing, as seen in a video that went viral over the weekend.

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