LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 01: A general view of an empty Wembley Stadium as Reece James of Chelsea takes on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal during the FA Cup Final match between Arsenal and Chelsea at Wembley Stadium on August 1, 2020 in London, England. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in all fixtures being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)
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The Huddle: Can Sports Globalization Survive a Pandemic?

Why this matters

Globalization is changing the way sports are operated. However, some teams may get left in dust. Andrés Martinez joins The Huddle to discuss how sport is globalizing for better or for worse.

It often seems as though the globalization of sports - and the world for that matter - has come to a tragic end. Due to COVID-19, entire competition seasons are cancelled. Venues remain empty. The Olympics are postponed. 

But the TV stays on.

There are no fans in the stands, but the spectacle of sport continues to be broadcasted to the eager masses. Sport is still crossing borders and it remains as popular as ever.

This year’s NWSL Challenge Cup brought in 653,000 viewers, setting a record for the league. Last weekend, 8.2 million people tuned into the FA Cup final. The NBA has also made a recent comeback with an increasing viewership

These games are watched by audiences all over the world. They are the pinnacle of entertainment. People are learning about unfamiliar teams. They are becoming invested in sports that may not be popular in their home countries. For Andrés Martinez, the current consumption of sport serves as a reminder that there is an entire world outside of our rooms.

“We are becoming less isolated in the mix of sports we follow in our country,” he says. “The fact that one of these sports can connect us to the rest of the world can make us more empathetic and more interested in what’s happening outside our world is a huge positive.”

Martinez is the editorial director of Future Tense and a professor of practice at Arizona State University.  In a recent Global Sport Matters article, he mentions that while sports globalization promotes positive interconnectedness, it’s not always so “kumbaya.” 

He points out that the globalization of sport would not be possible without global powerhouse sponsors like Coca-Cola and Adidas. It is also advanced by billionaires like Stan Kroenke or Sheikh Mansour who invest in foreign teams. Multinational operations in sport are fairly new, but Martinez says this strategy could prove dangerous to local relationships with fans, brands, and other organizations. 

In regards to globalizing professional teams, he states, “If it’s too moored in a local place, you’re not going to get the benefits of sport crossing borders and bringing people together. If it goes too far to the other extreme, then it becomes something that is no longer significant to any one place.”

Martinez says that some major European football clubs have hinted at seceding from their domestic leagues to create a supranational league. This would negatively affect lower level teams by cutting off additional funding and media coverage. 

Some governments and broadcasters have tried to prevent this from happening at any degree. For instance, the Premier League, the English government, and the BBC came to what Martinez calls a million-pound “solidarity payment.” This slowed talks of secession and served as a demonstration of the league’s loyalty and support of lower level teams.

“I think the pandemic is forcing a conversation about to whom do you owe loyalty and solidarity with if you are one of these major professional teams that has global followings,” Martinez says. “What we’re seeing now is that the rest of the pyramid faces an existential crisis given this economic calamity that results from the pandemic.”

Globalization inarguably has some negative implications. It threatens lower tier teams and local brands. However, globalization also presents the opportunity for innovative business practices that can maintain the survival, individuality, and value of sport on all levels. 

“Sport is more important and more essential to our lives than we often acknowledge,” Martinez states. “I think it is the most important form of shared entertainment and popular culture. I think sport will find a way.”

Even though it seems the world has slowed down due to COVID-19, globalization is still happening. This process may eventually make sports organizations unrecognizable, but if our TVs tell us anything, it’s that sport is here to stay.

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