COVID-19: interview with Sergey Ananov, President of the Russian Federation of Aeronautical Sports

Sergey Ananov, 55, based in Moscow, has been President and CEO of the Russian Federation of Aeronautical Sports (FAS Russia), an FAI Active Member, since April 2018. He has also been the Vice President of the FAI General Air Sports Commission for several years. A passionate helicopter pilot, he is the holder of five world records in this sport.

Here, Sergey discusses the impact of COVID-19 on air sports in his country and new perspectives for the FAI.

To begin with, what is the situation with COVID-19 in Russia in general?

According to official figures for the middle of October 1.55 million had been infected and about 21,000 had died due to COVID since the beginning of the pandemic. That’s for the country with a population of 146 millions. Draw your own conclusions, but in my opinion, in comparison with other countries, Russia is doing relatively not too badly. The second wave came, just as everywhere. I was hoping for the best, but it seems that we will have to live with this plague for a long time. My hope is for vaccines that will prove effective by the fall of 2021. Then you can take a breath, but in the meantime, I think next year will be no easier than the current one.

Did you manage to do something this year in terms of air sports?

Russian air sports federations under my control did everything they could in these conditions. Until July, there was a complete lockdown. Since mid-summer, federal governing bodies have allowed events to be held, but in agreement with regional authorities. Their consent could be achieved only in some regions. But the main problem was the position of the Federal Service for Surveillance in Healthcare. Their consent was required for each event. And they just weren’t interested in it. It was easier for them to refuse than to agree. Nevertheless, thanks to our perseverance, almost all sports were able to hold their minimum of planned competitions in Russia, including national Championships. Parachutists have really stood up for themselves. On the wave of readiness for the Mondial 2020 in Tanay, they became one of the 5 sports in the world and one of the 20 in Russia that held Championships in all outdoor disciplines.

Of course, we took all the necessary precautions. Until September, there was a mandatory requirement for all participants to submit a COVID-negative test no later than 72 hours before the start. If someone showed up without a test, we gave them an opportunity to do it on the spot. World cups didn’t manage to be held in Russia as it was problematic for a foreigner to enter the country. Restrictions in conducting training also had an effect. The number of  spectators decreased on average by 4 times. And of course all the sponsors immediately ran away.

Do sponsors play a significant role in air sports in Russia?

Unfortunately not. But it’s great that you asked! It was the situation with COVID-19 that showed us the depth of the fall. And maybe it will make us and the sponsors turn to face each other. So far, so bad. Not only in Russia, but all over the world. The worldwide income of all sports in 2020 almost halved  (from $135 to $73 bln). The number of new sponsorship contracts has decreased by 40{066dbc63777e5ed549f406789d72fdeebd77a32711d57f7b38ff2b35c4ba2a42}. What to say about our air sports here?! Yet I’m as worried about the FAI as I am about my NAC. The FAI didn’t have any serious money sponsors as it was. Even so I consider attracting sponsors is currently the main task of the FAI, now that we have well established procedures for all sports. We are better than anyone on the planet at identifying who’s the best in our sport, but we have not yet learned how to grow our audience and how to work with our audience for the benefit of sponsors. And this is the very essence of partnership with sponsors.

Why do you emphasise the value of sponsorship when talking about the impact of COVID-19 on air sports?

You’ve known me for 10 years in the FAI. I have always supported every possible way of strengthening and developing the NACs. The FAI’s financial situation depends not least on the NACs’ financial success. Today, the NACs suffer of COVID financially. We cannot rely on membership and subscription fees only. In order for us to survive in the post-COVID world – every NAC and the FAI in general – we need to make a show and sell it. There are many ways how to do this, but on the whole, this is a linear task. In theory, everything here was known long ago.

I’m talking about sponsorship, because now, during the pandemic, sponsorship is becoming more demanded than direct advertising. And this is our chance! Companies have limited advertising budgets, and sponsorship is less expensive and more targeted. It’s time to realise that the old-fashioned way to offer a sponsor to place its logo on a board or banner is not enough. The sponsor wants a partnership through communication with our audience, which will result in increased interest and trust in his brand or product. And ideally, it should also benefit our followers. This is a Win-Win-Win situation, for all three parties: Us, our Sponsor, and our Audience.

You said, the COVID-19 epidemic aggravated the lack of sponsors. What can be done to improve the situation?

I have already said: create a platform for our athletes, their team members and fans, recreational and private pilots, employees of the aviation industry, just fans of aviation and extreme sports – everyone who is attracted or can be attracted by air sports. And use this platform to solve business problems of sponsors.

Now everyone has clearly realised that it is necessary to activate digital communication with the fans. We will become more attractive to sponsors if, faster than others, we give exciting content to our audience that is hungry for entertainment. I mean first of all, video content, the consumption of which is growing in the absence of live sport events. And above all, during the pandemic, the public, sitting bored at home, is more likely to pay attention to our unique content.

There is a large number of private accounts on social networks that all of us use. Thousands of posts on the topic of air sports that are interesting to our followers are sent from these accounts every day. From reports on air travel to insights about aircraft technology and even to master classes of famous athletes. A huge variety of everything. If the FAI centrally canalised these video streams under its own brand, then the grateful audience would consolidate around the FAI and we would have something to offer sponsors.

A separate topic is eSports in the air and video simulators of sport aircraft under the FAI brand. Digitalisation of our sport and its presentation is becoming one of the new trends. This, by the way, meets the requirements of the youngest generation, which is only just deciding which sports it prefers.

At the same time, different sports will compete more fiercely for the fans. Consequently, our intersport (like World Air Games) and multisport events will tend to flourish because they will bring together a more diverse audience around them. This advantage should also be used.

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