Digital transformation in sports
This article is based on various sessions at SportsPro Live 2019. For more information about SportsPro and their events please click here.
Digital transformation is a must. A must for sports, a must for all sectors. Many industries have adapted to the new era, sports has started but is still behind. Not adjusting would threaten sports organisations’ revenue, while adapting gives them the opportunity to completely change the revenue model. Fans expect a digital transformation, sponsors and partners want it and the industry pushes it.
During SportsPro Live 2019 plenty of sessions touched upon digital transformation. Major industry stakeholders shared their experiences, their best practices and gave examples of their processes. So what are key takeaways from these sessions about digital transformation?
Digital transformation: in-house, performance and fan experience
Digital transformation can take place in three main areas: within the organisation, performance wise and to improve the fan experience.
Within organisations new technology and digital innovations can alter and streamline the business processes. It is a transformation that goes throughout the whole organisation and often changes the organisation’s work force. Numerous sports entities have created new roles and departments that focus on innovation, new technologies and the digital transformation process in general.
Digital transformation also impacts sports performances. Especially data, where there is significantly more of and which is processed far faster and better, can enhance performances. The Women’s Tennis Association’s partnership with SAP and the data use springing from that is an example. The English Football Association (FA) explained how they used data to better prepare goalkeeper Jordan Pickford for penalties at the FIFA World Cup 2018. While Red Bull realised that adrenaline kicks in three seconds before the mind realises it is about to crash, by using sensors on Red Bull racing cyclist Max Stöckl. The results made Stöckl listen to his gut and successfully take on the Streif.
Fan experience: globalisation, localisation and personalisation
A final area where digital transformation is taking place is beyond the pitches and tracks. It can improve the live fan experience, due to iBeacons, blockchain payments and digitally streamlined stadium touch points (e.g. new Tottenham Hotspur stadium).
Digital has also given organisations the opportunity to connect with 99% of global fans. This globalisation trend set in years ago and is complemented by localisation.
FIFA for example has over 50 different social accounts. They are active on different platforms to increase their reach to different demographics and regions. But they also have multiple language accounts to translate the message ‘FIFA The Game’ to different cultures.
Another example of localisation comes from ATP Media, the media branch of the men’s tennis tour. They improved broadcast infrastructure at a majority of their main tournaments to not only improve broadcasts, but also to localise content. Broadcasters can now show, and thus fans can watch, their national heroes even though they are playing on outside courts. The infrastructure also allows for overlays or statistics in local languages. Again to tailor content to different locations and thereby improving the fan experience.
Besides globalisation and localisation, the digital transformation makes it possible to personalise output. Many sports organisations aim for this. In order to succeed they need to know who the fan is, which requires the right data, and then adjust content accordingly. Think of AI highlight clippings personalised for a fan’s favourite team, player or time constraint. Or immersive technology, like Intel’s 360-degree technology, that could potentially give fans the chance to watch a match through their favourite players’ eyes.
But also personalised app content. The SailGP for example collects a ton of data during their events. Some fans want access to this data and others do not. So they have two app modes, one for general fans and one for more data-orientated fans.
How to digitally transform a sports organisation?
There is no one approach to digital transformation. Some organisations have the ‘luxury’ to take a more reserved approach due to their brand size. For others it is their Unique Selling Proposition, while a third group might have a lot of catching up to do.
Yet, irrespective of an organisation’s size, industry or starting point, when it comes to digital transformation there are four key elements: strategy, data, collaboration and a growth mindset.
Digital innovation requires a different organisational setup and a new strategy. Sports organisations are no longer just sports organisations. Many have become media and entertainment companies, creating multifaceted live experiences and providing content that caters to fans’ demand. A change pushed by new technology and by people having a choice abundance. Sports organisations compete within their sport, with other sports, but also with other industries and companies (e.g. Netflix, games and concerts).
By having to focus on more than just sports, organisations have to implement a different strategy.
They need to know what they want to achieve in the coming years and how technology fits their objectives. With a continuously changing environment due to innovations it requires organisations to constantly adjust their strategy.
Data is fundamental in establishing a strategy. After all strategy is currently predominantly determined by what customers and fans want. It is data that gives an insight into who these customers are and their preferences. Yet securing the valuable data is not easy. Social media entities control a lot of the data and are hesitant to share.
Arsenal uses an online subscription service not for monetary revenue, but to collect data value. Fans get content access once they sign up with their email address. In turn providing the club with valuable data on their preferences (essential to provide personalised content).
Data also serves a feedback function for strategy. It shows whether a strategy works or not and organisations can adjust accordingly.
The right people and partners can help implement and adjust the strategy. Sports organisations need to have the appropriate digital leadership in place. They need to hire people who have the (technological) skills. But not only that, the whole organisation needs to collaborate and be responsible for the digital transformation. It is no longer just the IT department; it is all departments from top to bottom.
External partners can assist as well. There are numerous market players that can create the right ecosystem for organisations to have a successful digital transformation journey.
Yet, strategy, skills, data and partners alone are not enough. The importance of being bold, of focussing on innovation could well be the most important factor. Test and learn. Try, fail and adjust.
There are differences between organisations in how bold they can be and how often they can ‘fail’. UEFA for example has a certain reputation and wants to be certain before implementing something new. Other organisations (e.g. World Surf League) have grown immensely due to the digital transformation and need to continue, while an F1 has practically done nothing in the last decade and wants to catch up by constantly innovating (i.e. more failures as well).
Still, all of them need to be bold and focus on digital transformation, before they are left behind. As more and more organisations invest in new technology and digital innovations, they clearly recognise its importance and revenue potential.
Thank you to the panel members at SportsPro Live 2019 for sharing their insights about digital transformation in sports. To learn more about SportsPro, please click here.