Last week our sports team attended Leaders Week London – a two-day event hosted by Leaders in Sport – that featured a host of talks and presentations, as well as plenty of networking.
It was an inspiring event, packed with insights and learnings, and delivered by some of the highest calibre people in sport and business. They included RedBird founder Gerry Cardinale, Roc Nation Sports President Michael Yormark, and content king Jordan Schwarzenberger, who manages one of YouTube’s biggest talents The Sidemen – with 130m+ subscribers and more than 33bn views.
For those in attendance it was a fantastic opportunity to connect with some of the biggest names and brands in sport. It has already sparked a lot of thoughts and conversations in the office, and we’ve rounded up five key takeaways from the event.
1. Digital connection
The pandemic has seriously affected revenues, and the impact on employees of those businesses continues to be significant – Donata Hopfen, CEO of the German Bundesliga, said that Covid has cost the league €1bn over the past two years.
Sport has had to adapt as a result, and fans have been forced to consume the sports they loved in a new way, too. The industry turned to digital technology to maintain that connection. Whether it be community engagement on social media, or showing games on new platforms, digital tech stepped forward to deliver for fans.
2. Fans’ needs are changing
Digital is changing the way clubs engage with fans. Not so long ago, fans were predominantly local and physical, but they're now global and connected in different ways. Speaking at Leaders, Major League Soccer President, Mark Abbott, explained that the beauty of its deal with Apple was to enable fans to watch every club, every match, everywhere.
Whether it’s in a stadium, or increasingly on a screen, fans (often Gen Z or younger) are looking for a new type of relationship with the clubs they support. Clubs and teams can see they have ‘traditional’ fans and ‘younger’ fans. Unsurprisingly, younger fans are more digitally savvy and looking for innovative ways to connect with their clubs – that means social media, the metaverse, NFTs, videogames and more. Younger fans are digital-natives, and are completely at home with screen-based relationships. This means there's pressure on clubs to create and distribute compelling content.
3. Tech is the future
Technology and sports look set to be more connected than ever in the future, whether that be tech firms helping raise capital for sports clubs and franchises, or tech partners helping distribute valuable content. Big tech is investing huge amounts of time, energy and money into sports, while plenty of smaller, smart disruptors are also entering the game and enabling fans and clubs to connect in new innovative ways. Former Arsenal and France striker, Thierry Henry, electrified the room when talking about how tech innovators, such as VR and analytics company Rezill, are fully committed to using tech to help players and clubs improve their techniques and mentality.
Both big tech and newer innovators will play a major role in how fans of all ages consume sport in the future. Is it in the stadium, or is it in an immersive tech setup in fans’ bedrooms? The answer is both – but you can get your products and messages out to a far larger community via digital means.
4. Care in the community
One of the most heartwarming messages to emerge from the event was how much genuine effort is being made to develop a more caring sports community. Diversity and inclusion across race, gender and other aspects of identity is high on everyone’s priorities. This is very evident in the US, where Julie Uhrman, owner of LA-based women’s soccer team Angel City FC, has helped change the way women’s sport is seen – selling out their stadium of 22,000 for every match. If the willingness witnessed at Leaders London can be harnessed and nurtured on a global scale, then we will be in good shape. Communities and sustainability was also a key part of panel discussions and networking conversations. Being part of the community that wanted to embrace those challenges felt very powerful.
5. Money matters
Covid hit revenues hard and the demands on everyone in sport to achieve a good return on investment is becoming more significant. Things are looking positive though: the demand for sport grows, and athletes and clubs know their value is increasing. One of the key debates at the event was in what form that money is going to be pledged and transacted. Investments, crypto, blockchain and Web3 raised lots of interesting discussion around how the money will flow in sport in the future.
Shay Segev, founder and CEO of streaming sports subscription service DAZN, highlighted that sports consumption is set to become more fun, with more interactive, social and casual experiences – but more investment is needed. To help with that, DAZN has recently purchased London-based sports media group Eleven Sports, and an exciting part of that acquisition was Team Whistle – a short-form content specialist. As these connections are increasingly made, a wider range of experiences will be available to fans.
As we continue to grow our in-house sports specialisms, we’re excited about the future of sports, tech and digital. Many very high-profile speakers highlighted what has happened to the music industry and retail shopping when trying to explain the impact digital tech will have on sports globally.
What is certain is that younger generations today, and the ones that are to come, will consume sports content digitally – on platforms that exist today and some that we don’t even know about yet. Battenhall’s tech and sports-led teams will be at the forefront of this new frontier and help guide companies and brands through the emerging trends.
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