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Sports Tech Trends Shaping Sports Media and Fan Engagement

By: Mike Morrison

Transformation heads into the slip-stream as digital becomes the primary means of interaction between sport and fan

Describing the last 18 months of sport as ‘a period of change’ isn’t likely to sell many headlines. Name an industry and it’s probable that those within it have become well-acquainted with a sentiment of uncertainty and disruption, global sports is no different.

Some might argue that sport is making it’s first steps back to a level of normality, others would have you believe that we’ve settled into the fabled ‘new normal’ and the balanced people out there would suggest that we’re likely somewhere between the two. What no one would argue against is that the way sport works and the way the interaction between sport and fan works is vastly different to the start of 2020.

As fans begin to return to stadiums and sports events, which weren’t given a hope in 2020 finally play out, we took the opportunity to get a gauge on where sports media and sports tech is and where it’s heading. Stats Perform interviewed over 150 sports-related organizations, located around the world, and from a variety of industry verticals, to identify the changing trends in fan engagement. Here’s what we found out.

COVID is an accelerator but it’s not an instigator.

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 and a global pandemic has changed the interaction between any sports property and their fans. That said, this change seems to reflect more of a quickening in the importance of digital media rather than a new idea in itself. The emergence of a global fanbase to complement a more local following has been commonplace for several years now. That emergence, and the growth opportunity which came with it placed a massive emphasis on digital media as the place where fans interacted with their favourite sport. Given that fans were largely unable to enjoy a live stadium experience over the last 18 months, what COVID-19 appears to have done is quicken the adoption of consumption via digital means as a result of the lack of a valid alternative.

This change seems to suggest some level of permanence; 61% of stakeholders across the sports media industry  said that their organisation is moving in a different direction than was initially planned for 2021. A further 74% said that COVID-19 had given their organisation new insight into the future of sports.

Content remains king. 

The content which sits at the heart of any fan experience remains a key ingredient – content creators need to make sure they’re delivering the right content regardless of the platform, be that during an OTT broadcast or on social media. 26% of broadcasters  cited a need for in-depth statistics and sports analytics as what their customers value most.

With any question about content, it’s hard not to ask where the focus should be, on breadth or depth? For many, the answer appears to be both: diversifying coverage while simultaneously bolstering growth of core offerings. That can then be divided into two core areas: what you’re covering and how you’re covering it. Sports data and advanced metrics are now a staple of the fan experience as is video which continues to dominate fans consumption. Both of those look to continue their growth, as fans demand more detail and near-instant video coverage.

In terms of new sports, half of all respondents said that they were looking to break into e-sports coverage this year. Esports is predicted to nearly double its viewership, to 646 million in 2023, from where it stood in 2017. Given esports’ strong penetration amongst late teens and early twenties, a coveted demographic amongst rights holders, brands and sponsors alike, it’s no surprise to see it become an increasingly hot property.

Technology and innovation can’t be separated

Content remains king but 72% of respondents said that their organization was looking into investing in new technology this year. Gut feeling would lead you to believe that those technological focuses would be on the use of immersive technologies such as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, a major theme of any sports media conference over the last few years. That said, the focus is much more fundamental than that; How do we deliver the right content to the individual at any given point. Personalisation, it would seem is what content distributors regard as their big ticket to opening up revenue streams.

A new era of live engagement

The match experience remains the centrepiece of fan engagement. Unsurprisingly, this is most heightened in betting where revenues are tied to in-play markets. The broadcast sector is naturally aligned to this trend as well and is set to be transformed over the coming years through more detailed real-time analysis, mixed reality, virtual reality, and more. It is no surprise that 65% of broadcasters who responded to our survey regarded themselves as pioneers in sports media. It’s also no surprise that betting and broadcast sectors both prioritised live engagement over content which runs across the week.

With competition for sports rights becoming fiercer, pressures rising, and the marketplace becoming ever more crowded, differentiating the broadcast offering by surfacing timely and relevant insights is key to building and securing an audience that will satisfy key rights holders. Fuelling all these experiences is a reliance on the content which sits in them and how that is accessed.

Naturally, these themes all create challenges to any content producers’ business model; How do you produce enough content to satisfy a hungry sports fan? How do they provide the depth they’re after? How do they stand out in a busy and competitive market? Naturally, these challenges lean towards an emerging role for artificial intelligence and machine learning. These technologies enable media companies in the world of sport to produce more detailed content, to do so at scale and to deliver it to sports fans in a way which works for them.

Our research report on Fan Engagement in 2021 outlines these trends and more. Download it now to see where the sports industry is and where it’s heading.