The world has dramatically changed since I last shared thoughts on how to attract executive technology talent to the sports industry. One of those changes is the swift acceleration of Digital Transformation across all industries, and the need for innovative companies to respond to this demand quickly. In the last few months, we’ve witnessed companies like Zoom, Twilio, Fastly and Shopify experience the kind of explosive growth that typically takes years to achieve (as evidenced by their earnings and usage metrics YTD). The current environment requires industries and companies alike to elevate their digital strategy; in fact, it’s imperative to their survival. And the same is true of the sports world.
I recently attended a webinar along with the CTOs and CIOs of some of the nation’s most prestigious sports organizations across the NBA, NFL, and MLB. It comes as no surprise that the revenue model of fanless sports games poses an enormous threat to their profitability. So how are sports teams planning to stay afloat in this virtual first environment? It’s about accelerating thematics—and doing so quickly!
Sports is a more traditional industry that’s been slower to innovate, so it now finds itself needing to double down on its tech strategy and expedite its timeline to combat new challenges presented by the pandemic. And because of the fanless environment, it’s more important than ever for sports organizations to escalate engagement and pursue new digital means to do so. Based on the slower moving nature of the industry, it’s now in immediate need of cutting-edge, forward-thinking talent to successfully play catch up and ideally stay ahead of the entertainment curve.
Here are some of the fastest-moving, tech-reliant trends in sports that we’re excited to watch and support through our search work.
Engagement. Is. Critical.
Last year I wrote about the advancement of augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR)/wearables to drive engagement from a fan’s living room. Previously a “nice to have”, this technology is now a “must-have / develop asap” and is at the top of every organization’s priority list. The leagues need to drive the adoption of this technology to monetize fans that will “experience” live sports from the safety of their own homes. The NBA is at the forefront of this initiative; the courts in Orlando are virtually placing live fans in the crowd, enabling them to be on live television through a simple video login on their computer. Participants range from everyday fans to celebrities like Lil Wayne and former players like Shaq and Paul Pierce. This is a game-changing technology that still has room for greater enhancement and growth.
I personally cannot wait for the day that I can put on a headset and “experience” a 98mph fastball, or sit courtside during game 7 of the NBA Finals. This type of virtual participation will be incredibly sticky for even the most casual sports fan. So if you think sports aren’t putting focus and investment towards the advancements of technology (and hiring the necessary talent to do so successfully), think again.
Welcome to The Cloud
Engagement is also the reason why the sports world is investing in the technology stack. The majority of teams are just now beginning to adopt public clouds and moving away from traditional systems. The delay of this migration has been a pain-point for much of the more forward-thinking tech talent participating in the sports industry today; however, because of the pandemic, organizations are finally recognizing the need to have one platform that provides a single source of data.
The tech industry knows this data analysis is paramount, and while the sports industry has been a historical laggard, it’s starting to adopt a holistic CRM platform that provides visibility across its entire organization to drive essential fan engagement strategies and business partnership optimization.
Content Creation Surge
The investment in big data analytics is allowing sports leagues and teams to access more detailed visibility into their audience. They’re then leveraging this information to create more curated content on teams’ websites, podcasts, social media, etc. In fact, one Boston-area team has created over 200% more content since the start of the pandemic to keep fans interested in this unprecedented, virtual sports season. This more proactive, robust content strategy has been successful for several organizations in generating revenue in the absence of ticket sales.
Barstool Sports, a media company, is the most recent example of investing in content. They just announced the hiring of Deion Sanders (NFL Hall of Famer and MLB alum) after he left the NFL Network. Media personalities are looking for avenues to provide raw, uncensored opinions on the state of sports. With the emergence of outlets like Barstool, athletes no longer have to bite their tongue if their opinion differs from the league or network they represent. The ad revenue coming from this unfiltered content is significant; therefore, digital marketing has also ramped up and become an area of heavy investment right now—and those that can do it well are poised for greater success in driving both engagement and revenue.
The Future of Scouting
Like so many other industries, sports are not immune to layoffs due to technological advancements, and the pandemic has only accelerated the reduction in staff headcount. We’ve seen cuts in the scouting, coaching, and training functions as analytics technologies and tools are coming online and being utilized for athlete development. This is most prevalent in baseball, where undrafted college pitchers are posting their Rapsodo metrics (velocity, spin rate, horizontal/vertical break, etc.) on social media and then signing contracts without ever being “traditionally” and perhaps appropriately scouted.
There are so many ways to leverage technology to make processes more efficient, and the sports industry needs to be cutting-edge now to avoid the loss of fan participation. As always, it’s going to require considerable leadership to reshape outdated practices.
Watch This Space!
Tech-reliant initiatives in sports are here to stay. Watch this space as sports organizations continue to acquire top technology talent to drive innovation for fan engagement and revenue generation. To summarize, here are some of the key areas to watch:
- Fan’s adoption of and engagement with new technology (AR/VR/wearables) is critical for sports organizations to pursue. This strategy primarily targets younger generations that are already savvy users and massive consumers of all things technology!
- The collection and utilization of data is crucial to the survival and preparedness of the sports industry.
- This includes: fan engagement; investment in infrastructure and CRM platforms (to better understand customer behavior); and an increased volume of content creation.
- For those of us focused on the technology space, the acceleration in digital transformation we’re seeing today comes as no surprise. We’re excited to see the injection of the “right” talent into these organizations help teams remain relevant and competitive within the entertainment landscape.
To learn more about SPMB and our sports recruitment practice, please contact us at spmb.com or contact Brad directly.