In many ways, the sports industry has remained untouched by time. The first international Olympics of modern history may have taken place in 1896, but the event was based on the Olympic Games held in ancient Greece beginning in 776 B.C. People have watched sporting events for centuries.
Still, there are major differences between the sports industry and others. For one, although live events can only cater to a limited number of customers in person, they can be viewed by a virtually unlimited number of fans. Viewers attach themselves devotedly to certain franchises and are often fans for life, perhaps even passing down a particularly revered tradition to their offspring.
While this passion for sports may seem timeless, the introduction of new technology in the industry is changing how sports are played, viewed, and monetized. The following uses of tech are having the biggest impact on the sports industry today.
1. Esports is showing how tech can ‘buff’ the sports industry.
Competitive gaming is expected to blossom into a $1.65 billion industry by 2021, and there’s no sign that its popularity will slow. Large companies are spending money on sponsorships and marketing efforts in esports, and crowdfunded prizes are beginning to reach into the millions.
As esports becomes increasingly legitimized by businesses and fans, its traction with various other audiences is likewise growing. Colleges, including Robert Morris University in Chicago, now offer esports scholarships, and even ESPN is covering the new competitive domain. Summer camps and programs are also getting involved. Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs, which has provided preprofessional programs for 40 years, has created a new esports program that allows students to train with professional gamers to identify their personal strengths in gaming.
Steve Robertson, CEO of JKCP, believes it’s important for the organization’s programs to encourage collaboration among the members of Generation Z, a group that’s helping to legitimize the esports industry. Robertson observes, “Gen Z collaborate in a way that helps bridge that isolation gap.” Like many traditional sports, esports includes teams that collaborate or work together to win.
2. AI is making training sessions and conversations with fans ‘smart.’
Unheard of even half a decade ago, AI and machine learning are being applied to the sports industry in a number of new and exciting ways. Sports teams can use chatbots to converse with fans and share relevant game information, and some media outlets are utilizing AI to generate automated sports coverage at a reduced cost.
In some sports, such as auto racing, engineers are relying on computers to more accurately identify cars moving at fast speeds. AI can also improve human capabilities, and wearables are allowing coaches to gather data that helps them make training sessions more productive.
Patrick Lucey, STATS LLC’s director of artificial intelligence, points out that “We have the ability now to … kind of simulate what players will do in a certain situation, so that’s really exciting.” As AI continues to become more sophisticated, it will no doubt make even bigger waves in the sports industry.
3. Tech is fueling fanbase growth and engagement.
Everyone has data these days, and the sports industry is no exception. From measuring the sales figures of specific channels to monitoring fan engagement, engineers are gaining valuable insights from the sea of data. For example, FanThreeSixty, founded in 2011 by former executives and owners of Sporting Kansas City, has developed technologies that help organizations around the world use data to strategically grow their fanbase.
By gathering customer intelligence data during a live event, companies like FanThreeSixty are helping paint a picture of prospective customers in the most relevant context. Other technologies help measure fan followings on social media because customers are no longer limited to consuming content via traditional broadcast television networks.
The next generation of fans are live-streaming their favorite teams from their mobile devices. Numerous social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, feature broadcast-quality streams. The former broadcast 15 live college football games in 2017 via its Stadium page, while the latter signed a $10 million deal in 2016 to stream 10 Thursday night NFL games. Why social networks? For teams, they represent a way to easily reach a global audience through the channels that audience has demonstrated a preference for.
When you think of the sports industry, engineers, gamers, and tech-heads in Silicon Valley aren’t usually the first things to come to mind. Yet technology is proving to have a significant impact on the industry and those who operate in it, from players and coaches to corporate backers and broadcasting networks. As technological advancements continue to be introduced and refined, the industry will only continue to grow and evolve, just like the abilities of the athletes themselves.