Sport and television are inextricably linked. Diehard fans and passive watchers alike have made sport media a multi-billion dollar industry. However, COVID-19 put the sport industry, and by proxy television, in a precarious position. While European stay-at-home viewers consumed more television than ever, the ability to monetize these audiences was impacted without sport.

As an industry watched with bated breath, sport streaming surged back in June and Europe provided a beacon for the world with sport leagues like Bundesliga, La Liga, Premier League, and Serie A returning with a vengeance. Weeks without content drove time watching sport programming to historic lows during March and April, but time spent streaming sport finally recovered to pre-COVID levels in June. As the hiatus left viewers particularly ravenous for sport content, and with many people still at home, sport viewing time surged 24% higher at the end of June than the baseline set in the 1st week of March.

By contrast, time spent streaming entertainment content scaled impressive heights in the midst of shelter-in-place orders, up 65% in early April, and has since decreased with the ascent in sport viewing. This shift indicates how viewers are exchanging entertainment viewing with sport. News consumption also decreased slightly from these soaring heights, up 180% in mid-April, but remains durable with viewing time still double what it was pre-COVID, up 98% at the end of June.

Another game-changer for sport occurred with the restoration to the pre-pandemic share of viewing time in Europe. The streaming share that sport commanded plunged to just 3% compared to entertainment’s 97% at the height of the sport drought. As of June, however, sport has not only returned, it has exceeded the 30% share typical of pre-COVID viewing.

Streaming wasn’t the only medium fans were pining for to fill their sport fix, however, as social media is also a critical channel for the returning teams to connect with their fans. Engagement skyrocketed for these accounts, up 30% across all teams, including the league account, within Bundesliga, La Liga, Premier League, and Serie A in the second half of June as compared to the first half of the month. In the same time period, video views increased by 82%, videos posted increased by 31%, and posts increased by 55% for these accounts.

For individual leagues, leagues that returned most recently enjoyed the largest increases. Serie A led as teams delivered 117% more posts and 68% more videos on average in the second half of June as compared to the first. This translated to a 289% increase in views and 63% increase in engagements for Serie A. Premier League was runner-up with the second largest increase in posting frequency, with teams in that league increasing their posts by 61% and videos by 40% on average, which translated to a 33% increase in video views and 21% increase in engagements.

If Europe is indicative of what the return of sport will look like worldwide, sport broadcasters should take solace as viewers can’t watch enough. Streaming and social media are both obvious winners in the return of sport, with more heights to reach as leagues around the world schedule returns in the coming months.

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