How technology is changing sports

By Louise Englebertsen

The sports industry is changing at a rapid pace. E-sports has come along and grabbed the interest of the elusive generation Z and the old guard of sports is lagging behind when it comes to adopting new technologies. But when is the addition of new technology necessary to move sports forward? And how can you find the balance between preserving the legacy and history of sports teams, that have been around for over a hundred years, with the constant innovation of new technologies and the demand from the fans that comes with it?

Fans sports consumption has shifted drastically over the last few years. The linear way of watching your favourite sport has changed from a set time on TV to a whenever/wherever approach.

Generation Z’s way of engaging with technology is something that traditional sports brands aren’t currently up to date with. During the “Is sport still sceptical of technology?” session, Angela Ruggiero, founder of the Sports Innovation Lab and Olympic gold medallist, talked about the fact that fans are demanding more direct engagement from their teams and they aren’t passively watching sport anymore. They are on their second and third devices, while simultaneously gaming and chatting and they are expecting to be served tailored information. They also want to be social on social platforms, so these shouldn’t just be used as another form of broadcasting, but as a way to engage in a deeper, personalised and localised way with sports fan or they will go to a sport or form of entertainment that does. Angela Ruggiero herself explained that even though she’s a massive sports fan, she spends the weekend watching Netflix because she knows the content is tailored to her and she pointed out that sports of the future will have to acknowledge those trends and adapt accordingly.

Sports brands should look outside their own category for best practises and according to Jacques-Henri Eyraud from French football club Olympique de Marseille during the “Could you run a football club like a startup?” talk, football will move towards what the gaming category has started and technology will change the rules of sport not the other way around.

The massive output of data is also helping fans have a more direct interaction with their favourite sports, specifically for the ones that don’t have a set venue, such as cycling, where data sharing has given that sport a great way to engage with fans.

Cycling World Tour and ITT World Champion Annemiek van Vleuten, in the same talk as Angela Ruggiero, talked about the opportunities that new data is creating for her to attract new fans and engage with them in a more personal way.

She now uploads her training and racing times to Strava (a social fitness network that is primarily used to track cycling and running), allowing fans to compete with her directly. This approach can help fans get closer to their favourite sport stars. Sharing data and allowing fans to compare themselves not only to sport starts but also to their friends, teammates and other athletes will help all different kinds of sports attract and engage with a wider the audience.

A sports team that has looked outside category to create a strong connection to the younger sports fans globally is Manchester United. Their Operations Director, Richard Arnold, revealed that they have been taking inspiration from digital only and digital first fashion brands, as well as partnering with the relevant members from the art, music and film industries to reach and engage and attract younger sports fans. They use a “think globally, act locally” strategy to keep the information and content they provide relevant and engaging for fans wherever they are in the world. Their partnership with the entertainment industry has generated content with a 99.5% positive fan sentiment rate, emphasising the success of going outside the category to attract younger fans. They’ve also embraced digital innovation within the gaming category with the introduction of a digital kit for FIFA games, which was chosen by gamers in over 12 million games in FIFA18.

These activations and partnerships, as well as focusing on tailored, personalised content, has helped the club become the most followed English Premier League club on Instagram, the number one followed sports brand on Sina Weibo and WeChat, as well as accumulating more followers on Facebook than the NBA, MLB, NFL and the NHL combined. It is also responsible for generating 44% of all Premier League club interactions on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

New technology, the avalanche of data, and the growing popularity of e-sports poses a challenge for traditional sports and change is necessary to keep the next generation of fans from switching to a different form of entertainment. There are several sports teams and athletes leading the way and when new technology is used to elevate, not disrupt the fans experience, we will see an elevated, more inclusive sporting landscape for the next generation of sports fans.

Watch Angela Ruggiero’s talk:

Watch Jacques-Henri Eyraud’s talk: