How has Digitalisation Found its way Into the Sports Industry?

Sport is just one of many industries that has been affected by digitalisation. Technological advances have changed the relationship fans have with athletes or teams, decreasing the figurative distance between spectators and the action on the playing field. For athletes as well – amateur and professional alike – digitalisation has redefined boundaries, eliminated barriers and enhanced performance. These developments have not happened by accident. The push for greater digital prowess in the sports industry is required to facilitate its present rate of expansion.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the emergence of tablet and smartphone technology might have reduced attendance rates at live games, as people opted to live stream events instead. Both the MLB (Major League Baseball) and NFL (National Football League) had lower rates of attendance than 2007, while the NBA (National Basketball Association) and NHL (National Hockey League) had experienced a decline in attendance since the 2012/2013 season. Simultaneously, OTT (Over The Top) media services had established a strong foothold. This meant that fans could watch sport when they wanted, regardless of the television schedule. Although television ratings for the NFL had dropped, there was a twenty-five percent increase in the number of fans who streamed the games. The role of conventional television broadcasters then became the subject of debate.

Notwithstanding, COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the sports market. Lots of huge stadiums are now deserted, so sports fans are looking for different avenues to remain connected to their beloved teams. Likewise, sports teams are searching for new monetisation options to replace those that are no longer viable.

Certain teams, like the Premier League in England, are trying to enhance the fans' experience in real-time and online. In conjunction with Intel True View, English teams that play top level soccer are providing a different method to watch the games. Fans are now able to select a particular perspective to view the games from - such as the referee, the ball and even specific players. The stadiums have numerous cameras dotted around them, so fans can see games from virtually any angle – both during and after their occurrence.

That is a massive shift for sports spectators, who — aside from an increased choice of viewing platforms — have watched games in a similar way for years. Fans who want to bet on these games can take advantage of scientific predictions on websites like Kickform. Kickform provides odds, statistics and predictions for every Premier League match. The website uses a unique algorithm that allows bettors to develop their own predictive models, without performing mathematical calculations. Statistical betting of this nature appeals to punters who want to gain a long-term edge over the bookmakers.

The NBA's partnership with Microsoft Teams also enables sports fans to take a virtual seat in the stadium to view games. A few hundred spectators can cheer their teams on in 'Together Mode', and a 'Tap to Cheer' icon was added to the app more recently. This allows fans to cheer for their teams, whether they are watching from their sofa or watching virtually.

The BOA (British Olympic Association) is a notable holder of sports rights that has joined the digital revolution. In 2016, they broadcast a live sporting event on the digital channels for Team GB, when England played Slovenia in the women's table-tennis Euro Championship qualifier. This match appeared on a Facebook Live stream. Sportradar are another big player in this shift towards harnessing the impact of digital content and sports data for international clients. One of many examples of their efforts in this field is their collaboration with the ITF (International Tennis Federation), to offer a live streaming service for Fed Cup and Davis Cup tournaments.

Furthermore, we have to mention the evolution of sports betting, fantasy sports and how these industries have been gamified. During the second half of 2020, a raft of new options emerged for fans to interact more easily with sports. This involved league, team and media collaborations with firms like DraftKings and FanDual. These firms and the Sportsbooks in Las Vegas have popularised legal gambling on sport in numerous states. Examples include announcements of collaborations with ESPN and Turner, along with team-level collaborations with the Colorado Rockies and Philadelphia Eagles – to name just a couple.

As sports firms grow accustomed to the digital world, they will strengthen their bond with fans and make the process of creating tailored, innovative experiences easier. This is sure to expand their base of customers further. It is imperative for them to do this, because clubs have to recoup their losses from cancelled sporting events, reduced spectator numbers, impacted sponsorship agreements and unsaleable tickets – in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In future, sport will leverage the benefits of digital technology to reward, monetise and engage its fanbase, with solutions like fan tokens, loyalty schemes and more.

Photo: Getty Images
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