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2020 the Year Sports Technology Enters the Mainstream

“In your life, there are going to be constant demands for your time and attention. How are you going to decide which of those demands gets resources? The trap many people fall into is to allocate their time to whoever screams loudest, and their talent to whatever offers them the fastest reward. That’s a dangerous way to build a strategy.”

― Clayton M. Christensen (1952-2020), How Will You Measure Your Life?

The past two months have deeply impacted the DNA of Sports and Entertainment forever. Jobs of millions of people involved in the Sports industry have been impacted, and the world stopped for among the first time in 100 years for a pandemic virus that has killed over 70,000 people. Sports events, tourism, training, broadcasting has halted to a sudden standstill. Sports organizations have sacked or stood down staff, in some cases, up to 80% of team and league employees. Fans have been starved of live sports attendance. Sports, albeit wounded, will bounce back moving forward, but the real question keeping Sports Executive awake is how to re-imagine the industry for 2020 and beyond in the most sustainable, successful way that maximises enjoyment, entertainment and mass participation.

Two major changes I anticipate for 2020-2021 for the Sports industry.

1.The Digitization of Sports goes mainstream

As incredibly hard and frustrating as 2020 has been for everyone, the one major positive result is that Sports organizations will have a blank white canvas to rebuild. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to re-imagine their sport and bring data, digital and technology into the mainstream. Digitisation can help every aspect of a sporting organisation. When organizations begin to rebuild from the devastation of coronavirus in the coming months, the best organizations will re-build strategically, boldly and creatively, both at elite sports level and grassroots. For example, where an organization previously spent $1 million on staffing in a specialist department, they will rightfully ask the question, can I do this better, faster and cheaper as part of the rebuild? Sponsors will begin to ask the harder questions, can we measure our visibility better? Can we automate that? Stadiums will begin to ask the question, can we do “that” more sustainably and profitably? (waste, energy, traffic flow, event optimisation, volunteering, etc). Leagues will ask new questions around monetisation of content and protection of their communities? (e.g. non-game day content). Teams will explore new frontiers in talent identification and importantly, new business models as their organization becomes leaner.  Sports technologies will be a key innovation pillar.

Sports organizations will begin to ask forward-looking questions focused on:

  • Smarter athlete measurement, concussion and injury testing technology (i.e. without athletes, there is no sport. How can we invest in our athletes wisely)
  • Measurement and automation of Sponsorship & Brand Measurement (i.e. without sponsors, there is no sport)
  • Talent Identification, Coaching and Scouting technologies and tools (using data and benchmarking. Less guesswork)
  • Media and Broadcast technologies (e.g. 5G can reduce backend costs by up to 40%)
  • Youth and grassroots management and ticketing platforms (intersection of fintech)
  • Wearables and smart devices partnerships (making their organization smarter, safer and connected)
  • Recovery home and fitness (coronavirus has taught us we can maintain fitness from home)
  • Disability and mobility technologies that allow a more inclusive culture.
  • Life after sports learning e-programs (entrepreneurship, investing, up-skilling).
  • Scheduling Optimization (how can we maximise wellbeing, minimise cost)

Important note: Those unfortunate to lose their jobs will be perfectly positioned to become leaders, advisers, pioneers, creators, evangelists and implementers of the sports tech industry. When man invested the car in 1885, they argued that was the end of humans, when in fact, it was the birth of innovation in car technologies and movement science for the next hundred years. The sports tech skills gap will be closed quickly as existing moves to adapt and improve. It’s estimated that less than 3% of the global Education market is “Digitised”, I suspect the growth in Sports Digitisation skills will see similar acceleration.

2. Business Model innovation

Sports organizations will assuredly seek new Business Models to survive, diversify and thrive in case an event such as coronavirus were ever to occur again. 

  • Grants, tickets and sponsorships have been the traditional revenue path for the past 100 years.
  • Future revenue paths for Sports Executives will be driven by diversification of cash-flow sources and improved monetization of data assets. I believe Sports Executives will become more sophisticated and innovative, everything from investing in future sports retail, OTT, 3D printing, sports holographies, AR/VR in sports, artificial intelligence, automation, sports equipment and sports apparel). Esports has been the path travelled by early-adoptors, I envision a wider focus on startups focused on cash-generation models with synergistic audiences with applications still within sports, but just in different aspects of the supply chain.
  • I don’t think sports organizations will go crazy with diversification, but the coronavirus has shown the importance of having some underlying exposure to areas outside sports (such as property, health/medical, ICT, professional services)
  • Sports Executives will never again just spend “1 million dollars on people hires”. They will ask a deeper question, such as how do I secure the best value for my investment? Technology, data and digital will inevitably be a cornerstone of the future sports everyday investment stories.

Final Thoughts

Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea have been among the prepared for the coronavirus outbreak in 2020, largely because they were deeply awakened and impacted by the SARS pandemic in 2003. In a similar reassuring way, I hope sports organizations and entrepreneurs that survive the current climate will be significantly smarter, wiser and better prepared for the next crisis that will assuredly occur in the next 20 years.

Digitising the modern sports landscape to become leaner and smarter is the next step. Creating robust and diversified cash flows will also be at the top priority list. Rest assured, we are witnessing the mainstream emergence of the sports technology industry as a creator of jobs and strategic advantage to the modern sports organization.

Carpe diem.


John Persico is a Director of the Sports Tech World Series, the world’s largest community for Sports Technology professionals.