With the Olympics of Tokyo 2020 postponed for a year, it is interesting to see how the Olympic Games have evolved and how they are likely to change big time in the near future. We discuss 10 main changes that we anticipate to materialize over the next 20 years.
Big changes in technology since 2000 Olympics
Do you still recall the Olympic Games in 2000? Any idea where it took place? Right, Sydney! It seems not that long ago, doesn’t it. What are 20 years in an entire life? Well, in this perspective a lot! When reviewing old Olympic footage, you may think, it does not seem that different in 2000, but if think so, you are missing the point.
Look for example at communications and technology. Do you realize that, at the time, we used Nokia phones, which hadn’t a wireless connection to the internet. In fact, we had to wait until 2007 for the first Iphone to be released by Apple. This really was the first mobile phone that gave consumers the ability to browse the web just as they would do on a desktop computer. In fact, the main way to consume the Olympic games was really through TV.Do you also realize that in 2000 we only send a few text messages (SMS) each month. In contrast, there are now 1bln active whatsapp users, who spend an average 195 minutes on this medium each week!
There is more: Netflix only started to produce and distribute content in 2012 whereas youtube only became known to the public in 2006. First conclusion: communication and technology have changed an incredible lot since 2000.
But still lot of conservatism around…
Sydney 2000 were also the games that were known as the green games whereas also the triathlon was introduced for the first time. In these areas we actually have seen fewer significant changes. Being green and sustainable are still major issues, whilst the games have been barely seen any changes where it concerns new sports and competitions. It reflects the level of conservatism of the IOC. If the Games are to survive, change has to be embraced, particularly as new generations won’t bother to spend time on the Games in its current format.
Hence, innovation (and I mean not only technology) will be required to suit these new age cohorts. If the IOC manages to do this, changes in 2040 will be much more pronounced than we have witnessed so far.
New generations are main catalysts for changes of Olympics
Ok, lets start with demographics as it defines the future of so many things. In 2000 the Millenials were entering the workforce but were not really having an impact on society yet. Oldfashioned Babyboomers and GenXers were the ones determining our future at the time and yes, being an investment banker, I was very much amongst them. Since that time GenZ and Gen Alpha have entered the stage and these tech savvy generations are entirely different from the ones before and when I say entirely different, I mean totally! Don’t underestimate it, they will transform society in a much bigger way then we have seen before.
It means changes from 2020 to 2040 will be far bigger than the ones experienced in the period 2000-2020!I have written about this subject before, but let me just briefly summarize their main habits and characteristics:
- They eat, sleep and breathe tech. From the moment they were born, tech formed a major part in their lives, much more so than the generations before them. It means sports will be impacted by this. Tech will become increasingly important in consumption habits.
- GenZ and GenAlpha are digital consumers. TV is not the way they tend to watch sports. OTT (basically streaming) and social media is how they consume it. They want to decide when, if and where.
- They want to pay only for what they consume and hate fake and non transparent ways of advertising/sponsoring/new. They will smell it from a mile and ban it forever.
- They are socially and environmentally engaged. Equality, sustainability and the planet are key in their perception.
- They have an incredibly short attention span of less than 8 seconds. You have to make an immediate impact to keep them interested.
- They are global citizens and will change jobs, careers and places several times in their lives.
- They like to have their own identity and express themselves.
- Influencers play an important role in their lifes.
- Chilling with friends and having experiences are important to them.
Also interesting to read: How GenZ will change the world of sports
10 changes that could define the future Olympic Games
Given these demographic developments and adding the ongoing changes in society we discuss 10 likely ways how the Olympics will have changed by 2040.
1. Olympics will have different format and will adjust to new requirements
Olympic Games are adapting to the city instead of the city adapting to the Olympic Games says the recently introduced new norm. Clearly this is a good first step, which should avoid cities losing money over the games or waste money on infrastructure not needed. However, with new generations becoming increasingly global, it could well be that the Games will not only adapt to the city but also to the world and its requirements.
Clearly the Games will still likely be organized locally (or possibly in one or two countries), hosting a wide array of different athletes. However, as far as viewers and spectators are concerned, technology will allow them to watch the games (see technology) globally as if you were there live in the stadium. This would not only raise the economic revenues of the Olympic movement but would also have a positive impact on sustainability as less traveling will reduce emissions.
With higher revenues and more flexibility as far as location and costs are concerned, it could even be that other countries than just the rich ones, may become potential candidates for organizing the games, something which suits GenZ and GenAlpha that supports equality. Hence greater sustainability and equality and a higher number of spectators
2. Climate change could be of huge impact for future winter Olympics
One of the major problems for the IOC will be the future of the Winter Olympics. Remember speed skating? It used to take place outdoors but as freezing temperatures in many locations are no longer guaranteed, let alone a level playing field during an event, this event takes place indoors now. However, this cannot be done with all the events. In fact researchers found that if global emissions will not have been reduced, only eight of the 21 cities that have held the Winter Games in the past will able to organise the Games in the future. It means, locations like Sochi, Grenoble and Chamonix are out.
But this is not the only problem, winter seasons become shorter, which might make it more difficult to organize both the Olympics and Paralympics in one season, whilst atletes also will have fewer locations to train during the season. Last but not least, as a result of milder winter conditions, it might well be that fewer people will get access to winter sports, which in turn will reduce the number of future athletes. It should be said that a lot can happen in the coming 20 years as far as technology and artificially created conditions is concerned, but for the time being, climate change should be seen as an enormous challenge as far as the winter Olympics are concerned
Also interesting to read: Sports going green
3. Olympic event menu card to undergo huge changes
Over the last century or so, we have not witnessed a lot of change as far as content is concerned. Traditional sports like athletics, swimming, gymnastics, soccer, judo, rowing , shooting and wrestling are still on the menu. In the mean time, the world has changed a lot. Traditional sports are becoming less popular (see blog) as so far they seem to have not been able to adjust to the preferences of the current time.
As said, the new generations are different. They have a short attention span, they love tech and hate long, boring matches with a predictable outcome. If somehow, the future Olympics will not adjust to these trends, popularity will significantly decline. New sports that will be introduced in Tokyo are climbing, surfing, skateboarding, karate and baseball. With the exception of the latter these are at least non traditional sports that are to the liking of new generations.
It won’t be sufficient. The sports portfolio of the Olympics should be reshuffled. Sports that are boring and are unable to adjust their format to modern standards and sports that do not integrate technology into their format, will have difficulty to still be part of the Games in 2040, as they will not have the necessary audience. I also strongly believe that gender equality will become more important, again given the fact that the GenZ and GenAlpha regard this as important. This might lead to an increase to open competition where possible and more mixed events, such as relays etc
Also interesting to read: New formats in traditional sports: winners and losers
4. Technology biggest catalyst for change of Olympics
Without a doubt technology is what will create the biggest change. Technology is changing so rapidly that it is barely possible to comprehend what is in store. With 5G, the blockchain, cloud computing, Artificial Intelligence and Virtual and Augmented Reality already in full development, they will be common in 2040. In fact, new technologies will already have partly made them redundant.
Quantum computing will have entered the stage allowing for much more powerful forms of for example AI and will be the next big thing. It will affect Climate change, chemistry, material science engineering and much more. It means it will have an impact on basically anything. Clearly sports won’t escape. Whether it is the fan, the stadium, the internet, the athlete, business, genomics, doping or anything else related to sports, the impact will be huge.
Something which might also become very important is live holographic representation. It is already present but still in its infant stages. With holographic representation athletes can be beamed real-time on the pitch. Hence it could well be that in the future you may watch the Games in your own stadium in your home city. Microphones embedded below the pitch will add to the sense of realism. This would make the Games truly global offering so many a real live experience. (Watch the video below for an example of a concert).
In any case, technology will be the main catalyst for change and GenZ and Gen Alpha will make sure that the Olympics won’t escape. In fact, if it will embrace technology it might be able to attract their interest.
Also interesting to read: 10 great technologies that will change sports
5. Sports media landscape will have been completely changed
This is a no brainer. Media consumption of the new generations is just entirely different from that of the older ones. TV will, no doubt, no longer be a major force as streaming, at whatever time whereever you are, will be the name of the game (in fact, it already is). It implies that traditional TV operators will no longer play a major role unless they have re-invented themselves. The social media platforms, rightsholder and aggregators will be fighting for rights.
However, don’t be surprised if the Olympics will produce its own content as with the arrival of 5G and cloudcomputing, production costs will become a lot lower. Viewing the games in virtual reality and choosing what content you want to watch (choose your own angle, player perspective, aerial view etc) will become common. Connecting with the fan will be ultimately important as they will increasingly become content providers on specific new platforms.
Also interesting to read: 6 powerful trends in sports media and broadcasting
6. Stadiums and venues will become technology fortresses
Not surprisingly, future stadiums have to be equipped with state of the art technology and Olympic venues will form no exception. GenZ and Gen Alpha do not only want the games to be high tech, they also should be environmentally friendly and sustainable. Expect new stadiums (if old ones cannot be upgraded) to be build as multidisciplinary structures in inner cities leaving no footprint whatsoever. Moreover, stadiums may become smaller as anybody in the world can visit their local stadium and experience the game live with holographic technology (see above). Imagine what that could do to travel related CO2 emissions, which is one of the main problems related to climate neutral events.
Imagine also that with Virtual Reality it won’t be difficult to watch the games at home in for example New York in your own private stadium and sitting next to your buddy who is watching it in Amsterdam. It offers huge revenue potential and engaged audiences whereever in the world.
7. The individual athlete is important and will become even more important in the future
GenZ and Gen Alpha like to identify with individuals rather than with teams (i.e. Messi more so than Barcelona). These athletes will be rolemodels and influencers to them. It offers a unique opportunity for the Olympic Games to showcase what these athletes are all about and in what way they have suffered to reach their goals. Personal stories will become increasingly important and be as much part of the spectacle as sports itself. However, it will be important that the IOC will allow the athletes to communicate openly with the world. Competitors (equipped with sensors etc) will become the datacarriers, eyes, mouth and ears of the Games.
Also interesting to read: the evolving modern athlete
8. E-sports will be one of the main Olympic sports
There is no denying. E-sports won’t be stopped, period. E-sports are embraced by GenZ and GenAlpha. They have been raised with electronic games and love to compete in it. E-athletes are the new stars and e-sports show tremendous growth. Do not be surprised if E-sports will have Olympic status in 2028 and will rank amongst the most important sports in 2040. In fact E-sports may be considered as a new form of sportsentertainment.
Note that the investment in sponsorships in 2020 alone already amount in excess of USD 1 bln! Yes, that’s right, USD 1 bln! Covid 19 has and will accelerate this trend, as it is one of the sports which have received widespread coverage during the crisis. But, there is much more in store. With the help of VR, games might be transformed into real physical sports with players equipped with goggles playing the game physically in a big stadium with obstacles. Fortnite for real! In any case E-sports should be an important way for the IOC to reach out to the new generations. If would be extremely naive to exclude these sports for much longer.
9. The fan of the future will have a much enriched experience
A sports event in the future won’t be anything like one today. Not surprisingly fan engagement will increasingly be driven by digital consumption. The future generations want to have a richer all encompassing experience when viewing a sports game. These generations have the ability to consume a lot of information in a short time period and have an incredible short attention spa . Just a game won’t do the trick for them. It means, they want to have access to all kind of AI powered live background data on players, statistics etc. It also means that second screens (both in the stadium and at home) will become the new normal!
What to think of? For example in game real time betting! Bet with your buddies what the winning time of the 100 meters sprint will be etc. What more? Expect entertainment, convenience and fun and games around sports events(including the Olympics) becoming much more important. For the IOC fan engagement should become a major spearpoint. It means a greater customer experience from start to finish, it means continuous pro-active tailor made interaction and great content and distribution whether it is in the stadium or digitally and interactive.
10. Superhuman athletes may be the future Olympic heroes. Several stigmas are likely to disappear
Genetic enhancements and genomics, artificial bodyparts, performance enhancers, bio-engineering, bio-hacking, chemical drugs, brain computer interfaces! All of these are having the capability to improve human performance and all of these sooner or later will become commonplace.
Humanity is advancing very rapidly and there is no way stopping it. Doping free games are an illusion and things will get even more difficult in the future with the advances in above mentioned fields. With detection becoming nearly impossible in for example gene editing, a level playing field won’t be possible. Moreover, the stigma around genetic enhancement, bioengineering etc is likely to disappear as medical patients enjoy the benefits. This also will likely be the case for artificial bodyparts as with the advancement of science the line between natural and artificial will start to blur.
It also should be taken into account that the human race is obsessed with progress and improvement. Sports is the living proof of this. We want to see new records! We love it when we see an athlete breaking the world record in a certain discipline. We admire him or her in doing so.Given all of these factors the Olympic Games in 2040 will take place in a society with both natural and enhanced athletes. For both there will be competitions, but in the end the superhuman and bionic athletes will prevail.
Also interesting to read: 10 strong reasons why the bionic athlete is not far away