How COVID-19 Transformed Match Group’s Online Dating Empire
As first dates go, it didn’t lack for whimsy. When Sarah Arnold, a 38-year-old event producer in Houston, met a potential suitor on the app OKCupid, and things progressed to an in-person date that involved masks and distancing, the guy came prepared. “He made a string, and he attached, at the ends, these two little cartoon drawings. And we were supposed to hold either end of the string. The idea was that if the string dragged the ground, that meant we were too close to each other,” she says now, about a year later. “It was cute and creative, but we got some weird looks. I appreciated the effort, I guess.”
They didn’t make it to date number two. After that first outing, on the phone, “he said something like, ‘I have a history of dating women and then blindsiding them by breaking up with them suddenly.’ And I was like, ‘Well, bro, that’s kind of a red flag.’”
Arnold is among the roughly 270 million people worldwide who navigated pandemic-era online dating last year, according to Business of Apps. Singles hoping to meet their soulmates (or at least a decent kisser) make profiles and swipe left or right (indicating they like what they see, or don’t) on the profiles of others. They meet cute or ghost ugly.
Dating app revenue worldwide grew to $3.08 billion in 2020, up 22 percent from the year before, as locked-down life resulted in boredom, soul-searching, and, frankly, a lot of pent-up sexual frustration. And it’s the undisputed titan of the industry, Dallas-based Match Group, that seems to have reaped the greatest benefits from this upsurge. The company boasts a portfolio of fourteen brands for dating and making connections—including Hinge, OKCupid, Tinder, and its namesake, Match—and earns more than three-quarters of all annual dating-app revenue globally. The company garnered $2.39 billion in 2020, up 17 percent from $2.05 billion the year before.
Numbers from Apptopia suggest that the COVID-19 crisis boosted online dating that emerged in 2019. Even amid mask warnings, social distancing, and the politicization of the pandemic, couples still found each other online and met IRL (“in real life”) to hold hands, have sex, and take steps toward settling into committed relationships, perhaps even marriage. The COVID-19 era inspired new behaviors among these daters that may have changed the online dating game permanently.