Predicting the Biggest Tech Trends in Sports for 2018
For many years, the sports industry has been an exceptionally static one regarding change. Yes, elements have evolved here and there, but the industry itself has and always will center around one remarkably important concept: entertainment value. Everything from the events that take place, to the actual venues where they happen ensure that the tech trends in sports are all optimized for maximum entertainment; that is providing the best possible experience to customers and audiences.
In sports – especially for in-person experiences and events – technology is not just growing more prominent but necessary, as well. Today, 94% of sports fans own a smartphone and use it on a regular basis. That includes while they are attending live events, in the biggest sports venues across the nation.
Our increasing reliance on modern technology, directly relates to the emergence of big data, cloud computing, machine learning, and even AI; all technologies that could just as readily be utilized in sports. For instance, data analytics is now so important in sports; there are individual training programs focused on this particular field. It’s used to improve public attendance and event monitoring, boost experiences for customers, fine tune players, team playbooks, game plans, and even to kickstart sales and promotions. Just the sports analytics market is estimated to be worth $4.7 billion by 2021.
Ultimately, the gradual shift in focus to providing something more immersive emphasizes the modern digitization of all industries, including sports and entertainment. It will revolutionize sporting events, to take fans beyond just watching or being present for a game or event. It will deliver immersive, live-action, fully-interactive channels through smart stadiums, digitization, and mobile.
Think of it as the technology and solutions connecting every fan to everything in the sports world.
As we head into a new year, and new opportunities for innovation, we want to focus on rising trends in the industry and predict the next wave of tech trends in sports that will optimize and improve experiences for everyone, not just fans.
- Personalized Content: Fans and audiences want a more personalized, highly-targeted experience. Business intelligence, modern analytics, big data systems, and, of course, AI are driving always-on, always-connected mobile experiences for customers. The more we use devices and digital technology, the more data is collected, and the smarter the machine(s) become. They begin to know who we are as individuals, as part of a group, and as fans. This information is used to deliver the right content at the right moment, or even content users may not even know they want for highly personalized content. This can manifest as promotional offers on stadium food, souvenirs, merchandise, or special offers. Imagine watching a game, and during the 2nd quarter, your mobile phone instantly offers you a 2 for 1 offer on your favorite brew because they know from past experiences your beverage of choice and the fact that you like to get a refresh just before halftime.
- Always-On Team Engagement: Teams will need faster, smarter, better ways to communicate with key personnel such as doctors, coaches, media etc. Rather than changing the way they work, systems will need to fit into how they already work and expand/contract for always-on needs. Training, practice, on and off-season, gamedays, post-game… these are all critical moments in the professional sports realm that will be impacted by technology. Technology and platforms that will enhance and positively influence coaching capabilities is expected to reach $865 million by 2021. This will present itself as always-ready multimedia opportunities for conversation for more efficient, one-click access to team engagement.
- Augmented Reality, Remote Experiences: For most in the industry, the emphasis remains on “de-couching” the average fan, and getting them to attend live events. But not everyone can attend, at least not in-person as you’d expect. What we’re seeing now, is innovation labs and tech companies creating experiences for hard to reach fans, to take advantage of remote viewing through the use of augmented reality and virtual reality devices. This is taking fan engagement to the fans, on their turf. Now although sports teams want their stadiums at maximum capacity, the fact of the matter is fandom can be and should be a global network. This allows for San Francisco 49er fans that live in Boise to have an immersive at-home experience. Similarly, Golden State Warrior fans that reach to the corners of Europe can also get top-notch stadium-like experiences. Imagine, being a remote fan, you can get special vantage points from the referee or umpires perspective or try on a pair of VR experience gear that lets you explore US Bank Stadium just before SBLII.
- Real-Time Feeds and Wearable Tech: The emergence of tracking, live streaming, and big data technologies has also paved the way for highly-accurate, real-time feeds. No other industry could make better use of this technology. Players and coaches can be outfitted with wearable tech used to track pertinent stats and health data, which can then be passed to fans and various parties. The players themselves could tap into this info to improve their health or their game. Even brands and partners could use this to track data about their products used on the field; such as how hard a specific cleat was used to kick a field goal. Imagine, as a performance analyst, being able to connect the exact spot on the player’s cleat with the exact location on the ball where the connection was made, maybe debunking the ‘laces out’ philosophy.
- Omni-Channel Support: Communications, social, and support are a 24/7 business. Customer experience has expanded into different atmospheres across all devices. This creates opportunities for shaping customer touchpoints through text messages, Twitter, chatbots etc. Even when it comes to ticketing and fan engagement from a service-level, these omni-channel experiences will become more instrumental going forward. We’ll see this manifest in contact centers where stadium operations and ticket sales will need to communicate with fans across all these channels and more, where they’ll be connecting with instant content through the channels that are most convenient to the user in that moment.
- High-Resolution, High-Impact Video: Visual content, especially video, is what the people love. This is fueled by technology that is far more advanced than we could have ever imagined. We’re talking 4K Ultra-HD quality streams of a game or event, available for live viewing across multiple platforms, websites, and channels. This will, in turn, lead to a demand for access to said video for creative purposes, so it can be shared, viewed, edited, and more. Devices are more powerful than ever, and in-stadium retrofitting and infrastructure upgrades make it so fans can process media faster, which leads to the inevitability of wanting to access, create, or share visceral videos in real-time.
- The Trickle Down Effect: Most of what you see happening in the professional space, trickles down to the college-level. A lot of the focus has been on professional sports leagues and multi-use venues/arenas for sports and entertainment, but smaller venues with big impact will begin to adopt some of these technology advancements as fandom flip flops between pro and collegiate depending on the time of year or success of specific teams. Imagine college-based games and events that make use of the real-time tracking and customer engagement tools you see at pro sports stadium and big-league entertainment venues. This expands the crowd and fan engagement impact by making it more accessible on a smaller, more local scale. Imaging what can be done at some of the stadiums in the Big10 or Pac12 conferences. Plus, that is where the majority of our Millennial and Generation Z audiences currently reside, so they’re really just primed for what’s new, now, and next!
Across five of the major sports leagues in North America – MLS, NHL, NBA, NFL, MLB – transaction values continue to grow. The average club value for each league has increased between 2.5 and 5 times over just the past ten years. If you look further back to 1990, values have increased between 10 to 20 times since then. This shows not just the impressive growth of the industry as a whole, but the need for all things to evolve in the space – including the tech trends in sports.
Over the past 20 years, building and facility construction totaled more than $55 billion. More often than not, venues and stadium operators feel paced out of the competition if they aren’t “new” spaces. But retrofitting and creating other experiences in older venues is a more than viable option.
In the near term, there will be a heavier focus on aligning to fan preferences and current market conditions in order to deliver integrated and immersive experiences that speak to some of the tech trends in sports we’ll see in 2018.