Dan Nicholl is a writer, MC and host of The Dan Nicholl Show, but like most players in the sports industry, he’s felt the pinch brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly with live in-person events pushed to the sidelines.
Q: You’re a writer, MC and TV host, but would it be fair to say the bulk of your work and income comes from your MC work?
A: It used to! Until Covid began to wreak havoc, I’d host upwards of a hundred events a year locally and abroad. Now it’s a sprinkling of online events, and a few smaller, carefully-managed gatherings. It’s made for a very different past year.
Q: With this in mind, how would you describe the last year and the impact of Covid-19 on your ‘business’?
A: It’s swung the focus firmly onto the online space, and my two major broadcasting channels – The Dan Nicholl Show, and Dan Really Likes Wine. We moved quickly to produce 10 digital episodes of The Dan Nicholl Show during the most severe stage of lockdown, bringing in guests from around the world via video call – Luis Figo, Kelly Slater, Ed Moses, Shane Warne, Dominque Scott, Ruud Gullit. That allowed us to keep the show going, and maintain a high profile. With Dan Really Likes Wine, I started two live weekly tasting shows to supplement the recorded episode each week.
Q: How much online hosting have you done, as in-person events have been converted into digital ones?
A: An interesting mix. Early in the first lockdown last year BMW moved their annual awards online, which Jo-Ann Strauss and I hosted from our respective homes. Celebrity chef David Higgs and I have hosted a number of food and wine evenings for DHL clients around the world, cooking and tasting from David’s kitchen, while clients cooked with ingredients couriered to them and tasted South African wine. I’ve also filmed awards evenings that have then gone out online to company employees, and hosted or spoken at a number of conferences and corporate events. That’s the one big advantage of our current environment – people connecting from all over the world from homes and offices.
Q: Have you been able to charge the same rates as before, or have your clients passed on the pinch of Covid-19 to you?
A: It’s been a balancing act – by and large, companies and brands have cut or in some cases frozen marketing spend, and you have to be sensitive to the pressure most brands are under as a result of the last year. And if an event is being hosted from home, without travel or long hours, then offering a reduced rate is understandable.
Q: What’s the best bit of innovation or ‘pivoting’ you’ve seen in the sports industry since Covid-19 hit?
A: How the Sunshine Tour worked to get European Tour events into South Africa at the end of last year was more impressive than it’s generally been given credit for. And the NBA, which is always innovative, worked impressively to keep fans engaged and involved even when they couldn’t be at games.
Q: You’ve now gone online with The Dan Nicholl Show, in the form of an Instagram Live offering. Why this particular digital platform and not others?
A: There’s a simplicity to Instagram that works in its favour, both from a production perspective and engagement with the audience. The range of guests has been broad, and that’s allowed us to talk to different audiences each evening – as the conversation shows up on the guests’ Instagram accounts as well.
Q: What about how the sports content space has changed in the past year? For example, do you believe the success of ‘Chasing the Sun’ and ‘The Last Dance’ has changed sports fans’ view on long-form content, and what do you think the future of this space holds?
A: For a while the trend seemed to be shorter and shorter content, but with Facebook promoting longer form pieces, and Instagram introducing IGTV, there’s a perceived appetite for more in-depth content, and ‘Chasing The Sun’ and ’The Last Dance’ speak directly to that. It also helped that both were brilliant productions with exceptional production values, and that the broader range of players in the content production space are willing to invest in these sorts of big budget projects. And with the Springboks’ partner role in ‘Chasing The Sun’ playing such a crucial role in the success of the series, expect more teams and federations to look at playing an active role in telling their own stories.
Q: What’s the key to a great piece of sports content, regardless of platform or execution?
A: Emotion. Once people have an attachment to your content, feel a link to it, find themselves crying, laughing, angry, elated – that’s when they’ve bought into that content, and have a vested interest in how it plays out.
Q: Once sport in general is back up and running fully, post-Covid-19, do you anticipate change, in terms of how it is run, consumed, broadcast and commercialised etc?
A: We’d already seen a shift in the traditional broadcast space, with platforms like Amazon and Facebook vying for live sports rights. The recent TikTok sponsorship of European football rights suggests we’ll see a lot more of newer broadcast platforms trying to move into space traditionally held by the established sports broadcasters. There’ll also need to be a comprehensive offering from teams and leagues to keep sponsors getting value – multiple channels of communication through social platforms, clear fan engagement and involvement, and utisilising the reams of data that teams and leagues can generate effectively, but also responsibly.
Q: Where do you think the sports industry will be in a year’s time and what will it look like?
A: I’m hoping we’ll have had an Olympics by then, although managing the sheer scale of the event – athletes, coaches, volunteers, logistics – will be an almighty challenge. Provided vaccines enter mainstream and travel opens up more, I’m hopeful that we’ll have fans back at most events, and that sport as we used to know it will have returned. But I suspect there’ll be many people still hesitant to return to big events, and that the experience of consuming sport in the comfort of one’s own home will have become a preferred option. And there’s still a long road ahead for many of our sports – SA Rugby without a British and Lions tour, and Cricket South Africa with lost income from missed tours like the cancelled Australia series, will make for a difficult financial future. But in a year’s time we’ll still be Rugby World Cup champions, and hopefully have another golf major or two…