Soccer or football is still hugely popular with many, but waht will the future of soccer be? There are clearly some cracks as participation rates in mature countries are coming down. Pushed by changing demographics, federations will be forced to implement change. We make 12 intriguing predictions on the future of soccer.
Demographics will push soccer federations to adjust strategies
Let’s get real here! Soccer or football, the world’s biggest sports, has to change in order to maintain its popularity . If not, participation rates in mature countries, will undoubtedly come down further. The FIFA’s, UEFA’s and CONCACAF’s of this world are mega conservative institutional bodies, but these federations will be forced to implement new strategies rather sooner than later, partly due to the pressure of new, much younger audiences and COVID 19. The latter may be an ugly beast, but also has several positive side effects, as it will likely accelerate change going forward.
GenZ and GenAlpha are very different
So, who are these younger audiences? They are Generations Z and Alpha, the youngsters born from roughly 2000 and onwards. No doubt these generations are not only the future, they also will be the big innovators. Mind you, they are hugely different from the generations before.
These screenagers are born with technology surrounding them. In fact they eat, sleep and breath it! They will be global citizens, have an extremely short attention span, like to chill with friends, have their own media consumption habits, are very much into social media and are very independent and pragmatic.
This is not a small thing! If you know that by 2030, Gen Alpha and Gen Z combined will account for 45% of the workforce, you know what is to come. Mind you, that is only 10 years away! It will have huge implications for the world of sports. It means many sports have to change in order to maintain their market share. If not, they will be out. Clearly, it will be hugely challenging for extremely conservative federations like FIFA. However, in the end I believe common sense will prevail.
Below I have included 12 predictions on how soccer will change and what it may look like in the future if federations such as FIFA will adjust in time. These predictions are not only related to the sport itself but also to the fans, businesses and media surrounding it. Some of them are pretty obvious whilst several others might be somewhat more controversial and out of the box.
Interesting to read: Gen Alpha to create huge changes in sports
12 predictions on the future of soccer
Future of soccer prediction 1: Technology will play an increasingly important role
Clearly this is one of the more obvious predictions as we see technology spreading all around us. It is plain simple. The new screenager generations GenZ and GenAlpha are the tech ones. Everything they do and experience has a tech element in it. From the moment they were born, they have been surrounded with Iphones, Samsungs and the likes. They almost trust these devices more than they trust their parents. Without technology they feel naked. As explained, these generations are rapidly becoming more important cohorts in the total population mix. Hence, if a sports wants to maintain its popularity, it has to integrate technology in the mix.
Obviously, but at the same time at a very slow pace, football has been introducing tech into the game through for example the Video Assistant Referee and goal line technology or by footballclubs introducing sensor technology in order to be able to analyse fitness and performance levels of players and tactics of opponents. This won’t be sufficient in the future. Fans, players, clubowners, media etc will require an awful lot more. What should you think of? Well, do you have a minute?
Expect the soccerball to change. The future soccer-ball will be equipped with chips, sensors and cameras. Such a ball will be able to keep track of kicks, touches, passes, distance covered, playing time etc. This will not only be useful for coaches, but also serve as a tool for referees. Media and broadcasters also will be happy as new camera angles will give viewers a new perspective.
And what about the players? With such a ball, they get immediate feedback and can improve their technique. Finally, the die hard fan will also be very happy campers as this technology will deliver him a bird’s eye view and a wealth of new data and statistics which he can access with his hololens or by using Augmented Reality apps on his phone. It als will provide him with tools to do real time betting in the stadium. Check out the video below!
But there is much much more! Imagine players in the future to be equipped with micro sensors, for example sensors embroiled in their shirts or shoes, imagine players wearing micro camera lenses or having nanochips implanted in their bodies. At present sensor technology is already used, but largely for (coaching) analysis purposes.
In the future these technologies will also be made available for the fan. This tech minded future fan wants to be able to watch the game from a different perspective, for example that of his favorite player. He wants to know what a player feels, hears, senses, how fast he kicks a ball etc. Imagine that a fan’s clubjersey starts to vibrate if a player gets hit.
In fact there are loads of opportunities! In any case these are just a few examples of new technology that will play a role, but there are many more. For example didn’t even mention robotics and Artificial Intelligence yet. Read my blogpost on the 10 technologies that will play an important role in sports to find out more.
Quick conclusion: technology will have to enter the game of soccer in order to maintain its status. It will mean that capital invested required for this will go up.
The future of soccer prediction 2: Globalisation and increasing capital intensity will lead to new international cross border leagues
It is undeniable. The world is globalizing quickly. Fans, clubs and media are no longer locally oriented but internationally. All trends are turning into this direction. Let’s start with the fan! The modern (younger) fan doesn’t mind to work or live abroad. With current technology he or she can do his/her job from anywhere he wants and this trend won’t go away. COVID 19 has proven that in many cases you can do your job from anywhere in the world as long as you have your laptop with you.
Simultaneously the future fan no longer associates him or herself with the local team. No, he is more interested in what Barcelona or Manchester United is doing. In fact, those are the teams he often represents whilst playing FIFA 2020 on his Sony Playstation. Lastly, modern media and technology take care that the modern fan can watch his or her team from wherever he is. Conclusion: location no longer matters!
Besides the fan, clubs are also increasingly getting global. The fan abroad and regions where participation is still very low, are excellent avenues to generate additional revenues. These revenues are needed to cover the ever increasing capital intensity of the sports. International soccer is becoming ever more commercial and is big business nowadays. As the sports turns more global, investments in players and technology will continue to rise in order to stay ahead of the competition. This arms race will continue and will result in the rich getting richer and the poor poorer.
Smaller clubs won’t be able to keep up. It means that in the end the global bigger clubs will team up in cross border leagues that can fulfill the wishes of fans, sponsors and media. Smaller clubs will team up in local leagues and will likely fulfill a feeder function. Fans will support their international team offering them a premium experience and their local team.
The future of soccer prediction 3: Women soccer will continue to gain importance in the mix
This one is again a no brainer. Present and future generations are very much pro gender equality and inclusion of everybody. Women should have equal rights. Gays should be included and feel free to come out. Racism is no longer tolerated. Both the new generation fans and players are much more willing to speak out on these issues and hence clubs and federations will likely increasingly act accordingly.
Women soccer is one of the areas where huge steps can be taken. We have seen it happen over the last decade. Participation has hugely increased and is likely to continue as both the number of female fans and players are increasing all over the world. It is a cohort, where FIFA can still make up a lot of ground, partly compensating for declining men participation rates in mature countries. For clubowners and sponsors it also might be an attractive way to generate additional revenues and to attract new fans needed to cover their investments.
The future of soccer prediction 4: As the game progresses to a higher intensity level, the format will change
It cannot be denied as all the stats are showing it. Soccer or football is becoming a higher intensity game. Football is evolving towards a faster game, where technical levels of players are all important. The number of sprints and high intensity actions has and will increase, resulting in performance levels going up.
This is not without implications. It means that physical requirements of players are becoming ever more demanding. It also means that actual playing time will come down further as we have seen over the last few years. This is the logical consequence as players are not able to keep up with the pace. You can already see it happening. Many high intensity games result in a higher number of injuries. For clubs this means a destruction of capital.
As it is unlikely this trend will stop, I am sure match formats will be changed some time in the future. This may vary from allowing to use more substitutes (or as in hockey, change as often as you want during the game), drinking stops, a shorter game duration, quarters instead of halfs etc. It also could imply that the bigger clubs will sign more high quality players in order to give the others resting time and hence preserving capital. This again will be in favor of big clubs which can afford such investments. As small clubs will lose this game, the call for an international (level playing) league will become louder (see prediction 2)!
If I have to make a prediction on this one I would say that a game will have more breaks than just the one at half time now. This will not only give the players time to revitalize, it also will give the modern fan more time to enjoy entertainment, social talk and F&B. The purists won’t like it, but reality and pragmatism will kick in sooner than later.
The future of soccer prediction 5: Refereeing will increasingly been done by robots
Ray Kurzweil has already predicted it in his great book The Singularity is near. With technologies like genetics, Artificial Intelligence, robotics and nanotechnology exponentially increasing, the time is not that far away that machine intelligence is more precise and powerful than human intelligence. It’s fact, not fiction! Soccer can’t and won’t escape!
The recently introduced VAR (Video Assistant Referee) has created a lot of discussion, with purists not liking it and other groups applauding it as it creates a fairer game. Yes, it is true it interferes with the match sometimes, but on the other hand it does create fairness and a necessary and much needed time-out for the players (see prediction 4). In the end fairness will prevail as we have observed in other sports. With new camera, sensor and AI technology, electronic refereeing won’t be that far away. Moreover, as technology progresses, decisions will be made immediately without debate.
No doubt it will still take some time and no doubt the federations will be slow, arguing that the game of football should be the same across the entire world, but simultaneously the call for fairness and the commercial importance for clubs will in the end prevail. Yes, there will still be a referee for some time to resolve a disturbance or argument, but the calls will increasingly be made by the computer!
Also interesting to read: 10 ways how robots will positively impact sports
The future of soccer prediction 6: Different ways to watch a game as a result of Virtual Reality and holographic technology
Being a soccer fan in the future means there are more ways to enjoy a game than just going to the stadium or watching TV. Get rid of your view that the ultimate experience is to watch a game live in the stadium. What to think of Virtual Reality? The technology already exists and no doubt clubs will roll it out as soon as possible, as it will result in additional revenues.
Imagine yourself sitting on your couch at home with a beer in your hand and your headset on. You look to your left and see your buddy from London sitting next to you in the seats of the stadium you used to visit. You are both chatting with one another whilst watching the game. It will be like real and you don’t have to travel for it!
Or imagine that your team Ajax Amsterdam is playing in Madrid against Real. You would love to be there in the stadium. Well that will be possible in the future. You can go to your local stadium in Amsterdam and watch the game live with all the other fans. The only difference will be that the players you see are not the real ones (they are playing in Madrid). No, they are just live holographic representations of the real players, but you will barely see the difference. You just will have that great game atmosphere and enjoy your beer.
Again, this may still take some time, but it will be there. By the way as a sidestep from football, think of Olympic hubcities, where you can have a similar experience during the Olympics. Lower costs, lower CO2 etc.
Obviously, this will require capital but also will raise utilisation levels of stadium and create extra returns for stakeholders to earn back investments.
The future of soccer prediction 7: E-sports will be used to lure new generations
Gen Z and Gen Alpha have been brought up playing soccer on their Sony playstations. During that time they have associated themselves with players and teams. E-platforms and E-sports are part of their being. For soccer teams this should be an easy one.
Leveraging soccer games and popular E-athletes into the real game may lure them into the real deal. By targeting youngsters through e-sports teams carrying their clubname, these new gens might well start to support the real soccerteams as well. If I imagine myself being Barcelona or Messi whilst playing FIFA, I will feel attracted to the real Barcelona team as well. E-sports may become an attractive promotion tool to attract additional fans and revenues.
Also interesting to read: 10 awesome reasons why e-sports will take off this decade
The future of soccer prediction 8: Footainment will become much more important in product offering
If soccer wants to keep up with the requirements and wishes of new generations and align with the product offering of other sports, it should introduce far more entertainment than it is doing now. Just soccer alone won’t do the trick. Football and entertainment should go hand in hand. It is what the future fans want and what they will get, particularly as clubs and stadiums need extra bucks to cover their investments. American sports lead the way and soccer has to follow given the demographic changes.
I expect that a football match will become a day at the stadium rather than a 90 minutes game without any other amusement. The modern fan wants fun and entertainment before, during and after the match. It means technology comes again to the rescue here. What should you think of? Think of multi screen and interactive personalised experiences, it means shareable and unique content, that cannot be experienced by watching the game at home or outside the stadium.
5G (reduced latency), AR, VR and AI(think data and learning to know the fan) will play extremely important roles going forward. The fan should have a memorable experience. He should be able to make bets with his friends, to drink a beer on one of the stadium’s terraces, to make a picture with a hologram of his favorite player, to see holograms of the mascotte flying around the stadium, to see the latest real time statistics of his team or favorite player, to join in sweepstakes and games. I think you get the message, just the match won’t do the trick. It means that a future soccer-match will be a soccer plus experience!
The future of soccer prediction 9: Artificial Intelligence will be key for performance
You may have heard of FC Midtjylland, a small Danish soccer club, which through its data driven and analytical approach became Danish champion in just a few years time. Professional gambler Steve Benham took the club by the reigns in 2014 and introduced mathematics to the club. It paid off big time!
What American football and baseball are already using a long time is slowly filtering through in soccer. Artificial Intelligence will be a hugely important tool going forward and the frontrunners will win matches as a result of this. Midtjylland is not for the romantic football fan. It’s the kind of disruptor of traditional football. As you know disruptors or first movers are here to stay. Expect data to become an ever more important force! For the ones interested, watch this interesting documentary.
The future of soccer prediction 10: Fan engagement and gamification will gain traction
Fans increasingly want to be involved in the decision making of their club, a trend which is unstoppable. Soccer will not escape to this trend. Imagine the young kid, who decides when playing Fifa 2020 what his line-up is, which tactics he is going to use etc etc. Imagine the fantasy sports player, who also is calling the shots. Gen Alpha and Genz are used to making their own decisions. They are tech savvy and know what strategy they want to follow. It is not that different in the real world. Fans want to be involved.
There are already plenty of examples of fans being involved in decisions like logos, clubjerseys, appointment of general managers etc. Check Socios.com, which is a very good platform for this. But there is more. Fans also have a strong opinion what has to happen during the match whilst in the stadium.They want to have a say when a manager wants to substitute a certain player, they want to have a say in the line-up etc. You can think of many other situations. Read this quote of Arsene Wenger, the famous French football manager.
In the next five years, it might happen that social media substitutes players during a match. They’ll have a hook-up at half-time and determine which players get substituted and who will be brought on during the second half. This will happen.”Arsene Wenger
If you think about it, it makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s wisdom of the crowd and it has proven over and over again that this wisdom is very valuable. Look at the success of AG Caen, where the fans are basically playing football manager with the real team. Polls are run during the game and a manager might follow up the advice of the club. So far the team has been hugely successful, whist the fans love it. It shows what fan involvement can do. Although federation will likely be a huge hurdle on this one, I dare to say that interactive involvement will enter the world of soccer some time in the future.
Also interesting to read: 7 awesome examples of fans calling the shots
The future of soccer prediction 11: The soccer media and broadcasting landscape will change. Rights will become more expensive.
If one thing seems clear, it is that the media landscape will change. The new gens are not interested in traditional TV networks, which mean these will lose share. As media income is a very important part of soccer’s revenue mix, a crunch question will be with whom the media rights will end up with.
Will it be the social media networks broadcasting live sports events in order to attract viewers and leveraging their platforms? Will it be the pure video on demand players? Will it be the sports federations, leagues and clubs starting their own platforms? Will it be the content generators aiming on becoming the Netflix of sports or will it be Amazon with its Twitch subsidiary going for interactive lifestreaming (already a major form of entertainment in E-sports)? Or maybe, just maybe, will it be the traditional TV networks venturing out and leveraging their content into new media, independently or, more likely, with experienced parties.
It is anybody’s guess right now! In any case, the battle for content will intensify with all these parties competing. And as a result this will undoubtedly raise prices for rights/content. By the way, don’t be surprised if FiFA is going to start its own network.
As far as content is concerned, a lot will happen. Expect 4D camera drones to be more involved in broadcasting flying with the action from amazing angles. Expect players to be equipped with mini cameras. Expect a wide array of new soccer related content. Expect formats to be a lot faster. With lower production costs, content made by fans will become more popular. And yes, soccer so far has been able to ban cameras from the dressing room, but no doubt this will change!
The future of soccer prediction 12: Asian countries will rapidly gain ground
Why am I saying this? Several reasons. Technology, such as for example Artificial Intelligence, will help the game going forward and Asia is definitely prepared to use such technology if it pays off. Moreover, soccer still is underdeveloped in those countries and in the end it will be a numbers game.
Major soccerteams are eagerly trying to attract more fans in these countries in order to be able to raise revenues. Hence expect investments to be made in those countries which will raise popularity. If popularity increases, it will be a matter of time before the level of play also will improve. Good examples are countries such as Korea and Japan which will gain further ground. No doubt China will join these countries.
Clearly you may agree or disagree, but I am sure that some of these predictions will materialize. Some of the more out of the box ones might be hard to swallow by purists and conservative bodies such as FIFA but in the end pragmatism and supply and demand will prevail. Let me know what you think and share if you have any other views. If you want to stay up to date with my new blogposts, please subscribe.