SAPPHIRE NOW Unplugged: Pandemic Rewrites the Sports & Entertainment Industry Playbook

Like every industry, professional sports and entertainment is largely on pause due to COVID-19. However, Daniel Hopp, CEO of the Adler Mannheim ice hockey team in Germany, was optimistic about an eventual comeback.

“I’m very, very thankful to my team that, despite the current tough situation we face, they continue to stay motivated and have a high sense of hope on a great restart of our business,” said Hopp. “I see a bright future for live entertainment when this pandemic is over. People are starved. People want to see other people. Fans want to engage with other fans when they feel safe and secure.”

Hopp, who is also CEO and managing director of the SAP Arena in Mannheim, shared his vision for leadership, partnerships, and digital transformation during times of crisis in an exclusive SAPPHIRE NOW Unplugged conversation with Luka Mucic, chief financial officer (CFO) and member of the Executive Board of SAP SE.

Communication with People Matters Most

Hopp believes that communication is a critical leadership tool – a credo that has taken him far. This past spring, the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly stopped this season’s playoffs, leaving his team – the defending Germany ice hockey league champions – stranded in second place. Nevertheless, he was both philosophical and determined.

“We were headed to the most important, most thrilling time of a hockey season: the playoffs,” Hopp said. “Some unbeatable opponent steps in and takes away your season and you cannot do anything against it. I think open and honest communication is the most important tool a company leader can use these days.”

Tech Helps Employees and Fans Stay Safe

SAP Arena is one of the largest indoor stadiums in Germany, hosting not only sports but vibrant community gatherings around concerts and other events. While its 15,000 seats are empty for now, Hopp is committed to keeping the close relationship that sports fans and other event attendees enjoy. He cites the role of technology in sustaining an “intense customer-supplier relationship” with fans.

“Only with high-end technology can we turn this relationship into action,” Hopp explained. “Interactive tools like our Adler Fan App, provided by SAP, support us in collaborating and communicating with our fans. Thanks to the technology partnership with SAP, we are continuously in design thinking mode, looking for innovation and new ideas for fan engagement. Over the last years, we are always pushing the digitalization processes in the arena.”

Upcoming fan and employee safety measures at the SAP Arena will include mobile ticketing to eliminate onsite lines when buying tickets or entering the event. Fans will also be able to order food, beverages, and merchandise using their mobile phones without leaving their seats. This cashier-less contact is designed to reduce potential health risks for both spectators and employees.

Wait Until Next Year

Hopp remained undaunted yet realistic about the future, recognizing employees, fans, and numerous partners as vital to his entire operation. These include sponsors, promoters, food and beverage suppliers, and anyone else whose livelihood depended on his sports and entertainment business.

“Partnership is so much more important in these crucial times,” Hopp said. “Without having strong partners on your side, and without being a strong partner for other parts of the business, probably a lot of companies wouldn’t survive these situations. We try to be a good partner. For example, our food and beverage partners and the people that actually need the arena here; we have to try and keep them in business.”

The coronavirus may have interrupted 2020 sports and entertainment seasons, but professionals like Hopp are already looking ahead to 2021. Echoing the perennial cry of every sports team, including the current German ice hockey champions, wait until fall!