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Why 2021 will be the "Year of Integration & Open Innovation"​ for Sports, Media & Health

“Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.” 
Henry Ford

Only a few weeks into the year, and it’s clear: this year the focus of Sports Technology & Sports Innovation will be on Integration. Until now, it’s very much been about “who has the best sportstech“, whereas now the conversation shifts to “who can do the best job at generating value (sports performance and sports business) from an integrated, end-to-end portfolio approach to sports, media and health. Collection is assumed. Winning organizations are focused on open collaboration. The truth is that we can’t create the best of everything in-house. Partnering together is an “Open Innovation” ecosystem is the winning strategy in 2021 and beyond for sports technology.

Stage 1: We’ve secured heaps of data, now what?

The smartest, cutting-edge sports organizations and governments in 2021 are looking to get their partners and solution providers to aggregate, optimise and work together collectively as a team. It’s the line in the sand moment — in most cases, we don’t need more data, we need to do more with existing data. Until we can achieve that, we can then move to Stage 2.

There are currently 46 billion connected devices in the world.[1] For all our stakeholders in the world of sports – athletes, sponsors, spectators, media, participants, community, hotels, restaurants, charities, host families, civic and political leaders, and businesses – practitioners those that are working on the growth areas of sports and digital recognize that integration has never been more important than 2021. It’s so important — it should be one of the main questions on the agenda in every C-Level conversation on the topic — Data Integration in Sports (even if you don’t understand anything about the digitization of sports, just say this!).

Stage 2: Internet of Things (IoT) and Sports, Entertainment & Digital Health

We finally hit 2021 where collecting data (in most cases) is not the most challenging issue. It’s the seamless, cost-effective and sustainable models of data integration that provide a competitive edge.

Take the connected athlete. We now have wearables that connect shoes, watches, sleep, biomechanics, fitness, DNA — but whom is connecting the full experience? Who is translating and unlocking the end-to-end value for the sports organization or athlete? And perhaps one of the most important ingredients — where is the creativity and entrepreneurship coming from that continues to drive this innovation? Athlete management systems are good — but how are they incorporating artificial intelligence to provide a competitive edge to athlete’s, coaches and sports organizations? How are they integrating both data from on-field performance and the business of sports? Are data ethics and privacy adhered to?

Take everyday fitness and community wellness. Governments and cities are struggling to find sticky ways to make their people more active and well — digital tools are perhaps of fastest, easy-to-access and available largely on mobile photos. How are we creating smart sports communities when we have millions of people with smart sports equipment? (e.g. bikes, wearables), smart apparel (e.g. helmets) and smart sports surfaces?

Take the connect sports stadium and venue. We’ve now seen the rapid emergence of 5G in stadiums and venues, unlocking a world of possibilities (which most technologies can’t even unlock just yet — aside from holographic, VR/AR). Smart ticketing systems, smart food ordering systems, artificial intelligence patron monitoring technologies, fan engagement & fun-creating technologies, wayfinding technologies, etc — again, who is connecting all these valuable bits and unlocking new layers of insights, innovation and business value. Who is paying for the integration (e.g. public-private partnership models) and how are the benefits shared and community impact articulated?

Take the Media and Broadcaster. New models of disruption are emerging rapidly — you can strategically choose to “bet the house’ on your own proprietary technology — or choose to work together on new and ready-to-go solutions that meet your audience, rights holder and brand needs? The clock speed on sports-technology is quickening — I think it’s now 3 years (from when it first becomes an “idea” to when it’s expected in the mainstream.[2]

Take the Esports organizations. We’ve learnt rapidly how to digitize education, big data analytics, audience tracking, sponsorship analytics, etc — now we must learn to unlock end-to-end value for the full potential of sponsorship and brand promises to be fulfilled. And if sponsorship markets will be impacted over the next 12-24 months — will new monetizations models emerge?

Betting, Gaming and Wagering: The often-forgotten area of sportstech that employs millions in jobs worldwide. Perhaps one of the most innovative sectors and best at creating win-win solutions, they are always looking for integration solutions to provide new insights, new value to customers and betting partners. Technology is part of their DNA — and now with the explosion in new regulated betting markets (e.g. United States) and future opportunities (e.g. India who lose billions annually in this area) it will no doubt be more important than ever to leverage their past experience with new cutting-edge partnerships.

Disability, Mobility and Allied Health. One of the areas that 2020 showed us was possible (thanks to COVID) was the emergence of new businesses that work at the cross-section of sports technology and health technology. If the best minds of the past decade worked on “clicks for advertising”, the best minds of this generation will work on digital health (and the environment too) which have suddenly become the cornerstones of the 21st century. One of the biggest markets closely aligned to #sportstech is aged care and rehabilitation — the same innovative technology that helps athletes, can help the elderly recover from home, chronic health sufferers to recover more fully and everyday disadvantaged people become more active and mobile. Personally, these days I only advise companies that are new to the #sportstech human performance market to also have a #healthtech market offering — yes, I love sports technology ($40b market size) but digital health is far larger ($560 billion). If COVID has taught us anything, we need both to be resilient and truly sustainable. Investors will expect this too.

Youth, Schools and Grassroots sports teams. So many sports management platforms are available to federations, teams and NSOs — but few have found ways to automate and use artificial intelligence to go to the next frontier? How are they using OTT (live sports streaming) to not just capture brilliant video content of 12-year-old basketballers or soccer players — but how are they monetizing it? How are you monetizing membership models? How are you leveraging new models of game scheduling/match scheduling and artificial intelligence that are finally becoming available to youth and grassroots sports (e.g. with sponsors/partners/stakeholders)? How are you using sponsorship valuation tools and sponsorship marketplaces to access new opportunities in youth sports markets? Another emerging example worth mentioning in youth and grassroots sports: Talent identification and artificial intelligence-led youth scouting will be one of the biggest trends of the next 5 years — if you can find ways to digitize the technical skills (with artificial intelligence/computer vision), the database of benchmarking past human performance, find fun and engaging ways for youth to continuously share their best performances, VR/AR tools to improve technique and model skills on the world’s best performance — wouldn’t this new company be one of the most important companies in world sport? Add coaching with artificial intelligence tools — you have a truly unstoppable combination.


No SportsTech, No Olympic Medals in 2024.

I strongly maintain that the 2024 Breakdancing Gold Medal performance at the Paris Summer Olympics will be won by artificial intelligence and computer vision — the world’s #1 break dancer will learn more from a tech-coaching-assistant in that brief 5-minutes before his/her final medal performance than any human being (e.g. right style, right song, right rhythm, right synchronisation, right choreography, speed, etc). Same could be said for BMX, Combat Sports, Equestrian, Fencing, etc. The role of the coach will be to interpret, inspire and execute — high performance teams that ignore this will simply not be competing for medals. Worst still, the governments that fund these elite sports programs should be aware that they will soon have absolutely no chance if they have no world-class sports technology integration program (which should assuredly include strong focus on video, AI and integration). When there is literally 0.001% between 1st and 4th position — a well-oiled technology support team will be the competitive edge every day of the week. Governments should be ensure their high performance procurement programs are tech-savvy and work with suppliers of services/products that can democratize to the youth and grassroots too — ideally in an affordable, integrated and scalable manner. Those focusing only on their own micro-role of collection will side-lines to those that see the “Big Picture’ of integration. Expect future government-bodies that fund sports to be filled with technologists, data talent and digitizers — given that PwC estimates in many cases over 50% of all sports revenue is generated by “Digital” (ticketing, online sponsorship, e-commerce, broadcast, memberships) — this change will be rapidly seen at both the elite level and grassroots level.

I look forward to the transition from collection to integration in 2021. We celebrate what will come next and the limitless digitization opportunities across the world of Sports, Media and Digital Health. Ask yourself the question — “how can I work together to creating something bigger, bolder and interconnected” — and I guarantee 2021 will be a great year.

Carpe diem




[2] Three examples: Artificial intelligence, for example through Sportradar and Genius Sports, really become featured at the 2018 SportsTech World Series and in 2021, now becomes an expectation with broadcasters and media decision makers to help reduce cost, improve broadcast quality and monetize fan audiences. Take within AI-in-stadiums — Cisco, IBM and Intel really introduced the latest tech in 2017-2018, and in 2021 it becomes mainstream in hundreds of stadiums internationally). Athlete Management Systems were pioneered by Catapult Sports, Kitman Labs, Fusion Sports, EDGE10, Kinduct in 2017-2018 — now you would be absolutely stunned in 2021 if there was an elite sports organization not using a Tier 1 AMS.


John is a leading global adviser on the Future of Sports and Sports Technology. Founder of the world-leading sports tech community STWS, he works alongside C-Level at numerous governments and major sports organizations internationally as a subject-matter expert to unlock the power of data, digital and technology in sports, media and digital health. For more information,