The world of sports is ever changing. With technology rapidly gaining traction, with changing demographics and with changing consumer habits, it is extremely important to adjust quickly to the newly emerging trends. Clubs, federations, media, equipment manufacturers, textile companies, sport services providers and betting companies should be aware of the current 11 important trends in the world of sports.
Trend 1. From traditional to non traditional sports
Over the last couple of years, traditional sports such as football, baseball, hockey and soccer have seen steady declines in participation rates. This mainly has to do with demographic changes. The new Generation Z (see my blogpost on GenZ) is less interested in traditional sports. These sports are taking up too much of their time, are boring to most of them and do not sufficiently their identity. Hence non traditional sports, such as adventure sports, e-sports and spin-offs of existing sports are currently growing faster than the traditional ones.
This trend is likely to even accelerate as Covid 19 has resulted in many people choosing sports again where distance is guaranteed. Surprisingly outdoor sports like for example golf seem to rejuvenate again. For traditional sports it will be a high mountain to climb to regain their old position again.
Trend 2. Globalisation
Going global will become ever more important! Global audiences, global fans, global leagues, global media! Everyone and everything is connected nowadays! The world is at your fingertips and borders are no longer prominent. Many are able to work at the place they want. Covid 19 has already given a boost to work from home, something which is here to stay! It means the fan is everywhere! Simultaneously the world of sports also is rapidly globalizing. Wether you look at the champions league, at Formula One or at golf, all major sports have turned global. Even stardom is global nowadays, whether your name is Max Verstappen or Lionel Messi!
In order not to miss this trend, the media are frantically busy consolidating rights. In fact viewers want to be able to see sports wherever they are! Clubs also are reaching out to acquire new fans abroad. It is one of the few ways for them to survive in this growth obsessed world. They have to look for new revenue streams to stay on top. As a consequence local clubs will be out. They will become feeders to their global big counterparts.
So in brief, the consumer, media, rights holders, sponsors are all going global. If you want to stay on top, a global reach is a must and I am sure that this trend won’t go away easily.
Trend 3. E-sports becoming ever more popular
A huge industry…..
E-sports have come to the fore with a big bang and are here to stay! They are quickly developing into a huge industry (see my blog on sportification of the gameindustry). For the ones who have been living in a cave, E-sports are multiplayer video games played competitively in front of an audience. They are usually played by professional gamers, called e-athletes.
…..embraced by GenZ
The speed with which the sport has become popular is mind-boggling. Mind you, do you know that the sport already counts more than 495 mln viewers? Moreover, almost half of them are regular viewers! That’s more than the number that watch the NHL! Or do you know that the sports has surpassed the USD 1,1 bln revenues this year? It means a year on year growth of 16%! That’s awesome. Prizepools are gigantic: tournaments with pricepools exceeding USD 30 mln are no exception.
Top players live like athletes, often spending more than 8 hours a day on practicing the game they play. They have a staff of coaches, strategists, nutritionists etc. Yes, it is a sport! It is embraced by the new tech savvy Generation Z! Gen Z believes a sport does not necessarly has to be physical! Read the following post to learn to know what it really is all about (see blogpost). Below you will see an impression of an average tournament. It is bloody serious indeed!
Trend 4. Artificial Intelligence will be everywhere….
From scouting and data analysis…
AI (Artificial Intelligence) will have a huge impact on sports. Too many people are unaware that AI will affect their jobs sooner rather than later. What to think of scouting for example? You may remember the book Astroball. Do you know that big data can predict the potential and talent of players? Subjective opinions are out, opinions backed by data are in! In fact data is the new gold! Data analytics will only get bigger. It goes far beyond goals scored, passes made and distance run. Metrics and datapoints such as playing patterns, tactics etc will become commonplace.
….to health, media, training and more
But there is much more! The health of an athlete will be impacted by AI. With the help of big data, predictive and diagnostic capabilities will improve. This way it will not only be known when an athlete gets tired but also under which circumstances! This does not restrict itself to physical conditions, but also to the athlete’s mental and emotional state.
In media and advertising AI will also play a big role. It will determine what the right camera angle is, when the right opportunity presents itself to show ads based on excitement levels etc. Journalism will be impacted big time! Intelligent machines will be able to generate articles. Training methods will improve as AI will use your specific data for performance optimisation. Artificial Intelligence will alter stadiums into deep learning organic creatures, whilst fans in the stadium will see player statistics right away on his phone. Betting and fantasy sports will be heavy users whilst rightsholders will use data to connect with the fan. I bet you realise the importance of this trend by now!
Trend 5. Sensors and data analytics will be vital for success
Sensors in sports are conquering the world by storm. The data generated by sensors will not only provide useful information for athletes, but will also be instrumental in areas such as for example health, fan engagement, analytics, venues, media, textiles and wearables. It is already a multi billion dollar market which will become only bigger. Sensors are the future and athletes cannot do without them if they want to realize that extra one percent. With the help of sensors data are transformed into live real time analysis! Combining these datapoints with artificial intelligence tailormade new strategies and applications can be developed in numerous fields.
Can you imagine a shirt with sensors that guide you to the correct posture in for example yoga or golf. It already exists! Your shirt as your personal coach! The possibilities are endless as you can see in the video of Butler Technologies!
Trend 6. The blockchain will become part of life
Many people associate the blockchain with cryptocurrency but the blockchain is much more than that. It will enter the sports arena rather sooner than later. In simple words: the blockchain is a technology that allows you and me to make a transaction on a network without the help of a middleman. Your transaction will be safe, transparent and kept as a record of what happened.
What to expect in a sports context? Just to name a few possibilities: direct investment in athletes/clubs in return for part of its/his/her future earnings, safe sports betting, tickets that can no longer be forged. Additionally blockchain technology may also be used in the fight against doping, in fan engagement and in protecting sports imaging rights. I am sure you get the message by now. See also: How will the blockchain impact sports
Trend 7. Fan engagement will be a battlefield
Fan engagement will be ultimately important for clubs, athletes and federations in order to come out on top. Fans are the reason for existence for these groups, particularly as they represent a large revenue stream and clubs and federations are searching frantically to find alternative revenues now that Covid has reduced audiences. Outside the arena it will be as much of a battlefield as inside. It’s all about gaining that extra buck and realizing the all important last percent. Size, disruption and first mover advantage count! Expect digital tools to play a major part in this!
The middle-class is growing rapidly in many countries. It means there are a lot of potential new fans (for sports, clubs and athletes) out there! Males, females and the kids! If you don’t have started targeting these markets, you may be too late. You have to grab the attention of the fan, preferably 24/7. As the world is at everybody’s fingertips, there are plenty of alternatives for all of these fans. Hence relationship building, social media engagement, influencers, storytelling, co-creation and co-deciding with fans will become tremendously important.
Trend 8. Media companies have to adjust
TV is on the way down. It will rapidly lose further market share to streaming. TV is for older generations. Why would you look at pre-determined times to sports if you can stream it any time of the day. OTT is in, TV is on the way out!The race to be the Netflix of sports is on! That will probably not be enough. Media companies will become publishers again as GenZ is only prepared to pay for content they watch. It means pay per view! Who will be the winner is the big question. With content generators, traditional TV networks, social media companies and even the Amazons of this world all at the table, sports rights will get more expensive!
Additionally GenZ is increasingly creating content itself. It means either publishing companies have to pay Gen Z or youtube gaining further market share. Formats also are likely to be changed. The attention span is getting shorter and shorter and hence content should be fast, interesting and fun. Background and funny items also should do well. Finally expect influencers to play an increasingly important role in future programs.
Trend 9. Athletes continue to improve their peak performances
In the old days, athletes tried to be as physically fit as possible. Since that time, we have come a long way. Mental training, food, supplements and data analytics are just a few examples of this. In order to realize their peak, athletes and their teams continuously try to be ahead of the pack by implementing new performance enhancing strategies. With sensors and artificial intelligence big data will decide what’s best.
Athletes will also start to introduce non traditional holistic approaches to their training programs. These will integrate and connect mind (neuro), body (physical), spirit (emotional) and soul (spiritual). Smart food, neurocoaching, gene therapy, sleep management, they all will be part of an athlete’s future tools. No doubt this will result in a flood of new records.
Trend 10. Importance and (brand)value of the athlete ever increasing
The athlete will become ever more powerful! All trends are leading to him or her. He will be the main transmitter and carrier of data, not only for his own benefit but also for the benefit of the wearable- and smart textiles industries, for fan engagement purposes, for data analytics companies, for stadiums, for training programs, for media companies etc. Many industries are benefiting from these data. The athlete will obtain an additional role with a new source of revenue: the role of data vendor!
Also interesting: the evolving modern athlete
Trend 11.Virtual and Augmented Reality embraced
As said, Gen Z is the technology generation. They embrace VR and AR. This trend is not to be missed. By using VR and AR, fans can transform into their favorite athlete! They wil be able to feel what it is to be part of a match and will be immersed more into the game. AR will provide them with the necessary data and stats just by pointing their smartphones in the direction of a player. Mind you, this is only the stadium experience, there is much, much more!
The possibilities are once again endless! Imagine sitting in your living room with your VR goggles on, watching a game live! It is like you are in the stadium with your buddy next to you, your buddy which is enjoying the same game from his couch in LA. But also playing sports will be different!. Imagine all kind of training aids; cycling glasses with data displayed in it, the ideal golf-swing compared to the one of your own, etc. New sports will be developed from existing e-games in which you will be the virtual live participant. We have only just begun! It’s all out there and it will be there sooner than later!
Two important bonus trends!
Mind you, there is so much going on right now that it is difficult to leave it with just 11 trends. There are many more! For the time being I just mention two and both have to do with changing business models! Rights holders and stadiums have to change their business models and find alternative revenue streams. Two important trends might be part of this.
Trend 12. Stadiums are likely to reduce seating capacity
What do stadium and clubowners want is the big question. Are you going for high volume/low marging or low volume/high margin. Everything is pointing to the latter right now and Covid 19 seems to accelerate this trend. The first stadiums have already started to reduce seating capacity in order to offer the fan a better customer experience.
The future fan doesn’t want it anyway else. He or she likes to walk through the stadiums, watch the game from various angles in the stadium, meet up with a buddy, have the food they like, play games etc. By offering a wide array of services, the average spend of the future fan will increase, but it will be at the expense of capacity. Fewer fans in the stadium spending more and more fans outside the stadium using alternative technology to watch the game.
Trend 13. Real time live betting will enter the arenas
With on the one hand clubs and stadiums looking for alternative revenue streams and fans looking for more entertainment and the arrival of 5G on the other hand, real time live betting is not that far away any longer. Everything is basically there: the data, the fan, 5G and the arena! Imagine yourself with a friend in the stadium and the two of you decide to place a bet on the mileage run by a cerian player. You can track him online as it happens and will immediately know whether you have won your wager. In the future you will be able to even fabriacate your own bets. No doubt it will put an extra layer to the fan experience.
This post was originally published in October 2019 and has now been updated