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By Melvin Dilanchian

Overcoming COVID-19 challenges funnels down to remaining agile and creative. This was the key takeaway from the inaugural webinar of a series hosted by The Pollack Group and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Attracting over 100 participants, the webinar brought together sports industry professionals to discuss their industry’s adjustment to COVID-19 challenges and how professionals can navigate the uncertainties of the job market.

The agency’s President Stefan Pollack and Group Supervisor Jackie Liu were joined by Jacob Ullman, senior vice president of production and talent development for Fox Sports; Dominique Oliveto, founder and president at DJMO Sports and Entertainment who previously worked for the National Basketball Association; Chris Brienza, senior vice president at Coyne PR; and Jordan Moore, director of social media for USC Athletics.

While the impact of COVID-19 on sports is indisputable, the challenges and opportunities have manifested differently across the field. Brienza noted that even agencies that predicted and proactively prepared for the challenges have seen a 30-40% slowdown in client activity. Fox Sports, though fortunate in having most events take place in the fall, has resorted to at-home production and announcements, recycling old content, and broadcasting live events without spectators.

College athletics face more complex challenges than pro leagues and have shifted to social media as a means to entertain and engage. USC Athletics has used the stay-at-home orders to do unprecedented social media takeovers with high-profile alumni athletes, like former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. Moore agreed that it is a great time to be working in social media, as people look to consume content and be entertained.

Indeed, more opportunities seem to exist for those working on the content creation side of the business as brands repurpose advertising money towards influencer marketing. Oliveto admitted to being busier since [COVID-19] happened, for almost everything has shifted to social media. Examples include live watch parties; Instagram Live conversations, which have done particularly well; and premium content that strategically pairs athlete personalities with brands.

When it comes to social media engagement and marketing, the key to striking the important balance in content that acknowledges COVID-19 and shows personality, is to deliver organic conversations that are relevant to audiences. The best brand concepts will reflect challenges we are all facing together — but do so with a personal touch.

Panelists agreed that while the market is predicted to be smaller, those entering or pivoting their careers will need to adapt and adjust – and most importantly, recognize the ideation phase we are experiencing by producing creative ideas. Now is the time to show forethought and skill by launching one’s own social channels, creating partnership decks between brands and athletes, and building the media and sports knowledge needed to be the expert voice of an organization.

The rules of the game have changed and continue to change, but one constant remains: industry professionals, like athletes, will need to train and show their value in order to stay in the game.