Sport this year has been defined by an ever-growing closeness between organisations, athletes and fans, driven by an increasing number of ways to connect. From data-driven sponsorship opportunities to integrating AI to reinvent the fan experience, as an executive inside of a sports organisation, it’s almost impossible to stay on top of all the things you need to. So, as we look to 2024, Partner Bob Skinstad shares his insights on the key themes that will shape the industry and how our team can help your organisation stay at the bleeding edge.  

Women’s sport for the win

Perhaps the most impactful shift in the industry today is the growth in popularity of women’s professional sport globally. Fuelled by increased visibility, advocacy by media companies, brands and sponsors, as well as the sheer talent on display by female athletes, viewership and investment has never been higher. In fact, the average UK viewing time for women’s sport on TV increased by 131% last year. Indeed, due to high demand for tickets to see Australia’s women’s football team, the ‘Matildas’, the opening World Cup match was moved to a larger stadium, as was their Olympic qualifier. All over the world, we are seeing attendance and viewing records being broken. This surge signifies a significant cultural shift towards recognising female athletic talent – however, there remains an opportunity for even faster growth. Achieving this requires organisations to maximise media coverage and access, effectively deploy digital platforms to grow engagement, and provide forward-thinking investment at a grassroots level.

Investment soars

Speaking of investment, this is a hot topic within sport at the moment, as rapidly increasing market valuations and media rights deals continue to make sports organisations an attractive financial opportunity for private equity (PE) firms. In the last couple of years, we have seen high profile football clubs, such as Chelsea and AC Milan, following this ownership approach, while 20/30 NBA teams and 18/30 MLB teams also have connections to private equity. This new ownership structure has driven many of the trends we are seeing in the market today, particularly the increase in technology adoption; investors place an even greater emphasis on tangible returns on investment, driven by increasing commercial revenues, operational efficiency, and performance advantages on the field. As PE continues to hone in on investment opportunities within sport (in 2021 $51b was invested), we expect to see an even greater investment in digital experiences for the fans, analytics and athlete performance, as firms continue to battle the margins to gain an edge over the competition.

Shoot for performance analytics

Technological adaptations aren’t exclusively seen within PE-funded sports organisations however, with key players across the sporting landscape looking to utilise the growth and evolution of the sports technology market to their advantage. Technology such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, wearable devices and better stream platforms have all helped to redefine the sports industry and propel it into the future. The estimated value of which is expected to reach $55 billion by 2030, as organisations look to find new ways to drive improvements in the fan experience, making it even more immersive and engaging, while exploring innovative routes to fuel improved performance on the pitch, culminating in an improved overall product. A great example of which is the way Red Bull Racing utilised Oracle Cloud Infrastructure to help them increase the number of simulations they ran by 1000x, improving the accuracy of their predictions and sharpening their decision-making.

Where we are seeing the greatest growth is in performance analytics, as organisations look to maximise every performance advantage, enabling their coaches to understand and consider each possible factor that leads to success during a game. Such analytics tools measure, produce and visualise a broad array of data – from player involvement and movement to the impact of individual actions on the overall result. The success of such analytics was seen recently when the Springbok rugby team won the World Cup by utilising data on what they called ‘battle stats‘. These stats went about identifying how often a player completed an action that had a positive impact, and formed the basis of how they built the team. Their success is proof: organisations that utilise technology to achieve analytical advantages are the organisations that win. However, in order to do so, you have to have the right data capabilities. Mechanisms that not only ingest the large volumes of data created, but also curate and visualise it in a way that enables leadership to quickly draw out the most important and differentiating insights.  

A technology-led future

Off the pitch, fan engagement and smart stadiums have also been key areas impacted by the increasing technology adoption in sport, as organisations look to leverage sensors, data, AI, machine learning and augmented reality to deepen fan loyalty and generate further commercial opportunities. An example of which can, in fact, be found close to home. We’re currently the proud official data and consulting partner for the United Rugby Championship (URC), driving fan engagement through analysing the data created both in-game and across the season. By leveraging data the URC’s data, we’re providing statistics that help explain to fans what they are seeing on the pitch, keeping them engaged throughout the experience. Working in this way helps determine both which stats are most important to the URC, and more importantly, what’s most important for their fans.

Driving sponsorship value

Another exciting area to explore when looking to the new year is the growing use of advanced analytics and technology to drive sports sponsorship value. The benefits are clear: by analysing audience engagement at a granular level, insights are generated that enable sports teams and sponsors to forge more meaningful connections with their audiences. There are a number of exciting players in this space: CrowdIQ uses state-of-the-art computer vision to provide insights on the composition and behaviour of crowds, whilst Relo Metrics’ future-first platform offers real-time data and analytics of sports sponsorships. Applying this data-led approach is mutually beneficial to sports teams and their sponsors. With sports teams looking to maximize fan engagement and brands wanting to deliver the right return on investment and achieve their objectives, our experts are confident that we’ll see further growth in this space in 2024.

For more on the trends we’re seeing across the sport industry, or to put strategy into action across your business, connect with Partner Bob Skinstad today.

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