Whether it's VR headsets to stream motorsport races or deploying 5G in stadiums, sport as we know it is being transformed by emerging tech
It’s no secret the impact of technology on sport is growing by each season, but many teams and organisations aren’t extracting enough value from it. Rory Burghes, a UK vice-president for global tech consultancy Capgemini’s accelerated solutions environment and applied innovation exchange programmes, outlines how they can take greater advantage.
It’s no secret that digital technologies are redefining sport.
From leveraging data analytics and deep learning to analyse a player’s performance, to helping umpires reach fair decisions through computer vision – the latest innovations are already evolving gameplay across the globe.
However, while technology continues to turn professional sports into data-driven, digitally-enhanced competitions, its biggest impact is perhaps felt off the field.
Because while technology is playing an increasing role in athlete performance, it is the fan experience that offers a significant opportunity in terms of brand value and growth for the industry.
Being a fan was once a fairly passive activity that involved going to games or watching them on television.
Now sports fandom is a whole new ballgame, with the development and use of interactive content, social media platforms, wearable tech, connected venues and even a new football league controlled by fans.
And these developments are being embraced by their audience.
In fact, recent research from Capgemini found that 69% of fans think that the use of emerging technologies has enhanced their viewing experience.
In 2020, sports organisations must seize the opportunity to capitalise further on the appetite for heightened sports fan engagement – here’s how – and why – they can leverage technology to do so.
Harnessing emerging technology in sport for a better fan experience
Across the globe, we’re already witnessing a number of organisations edging ahead when it comes to delivering an enhanced fan experience.
To date, much of the innovation has been focused on augmenting the fan experience at home with new ways of consuming the broadcast.
Technology that creates 3D footage to layer over broadcasts is innovatively being used to stimulate the in-stadium experience.
Elsewhere, FOX Sports teamed up with virtual reality specialist Next VR to allow fans to use VR headsets to stream NASCAR races, US Open Golf Championship matches and Premier Boxing Champions.
The platform gives sports bodies valuable insights into fans’ viewing habits.
These immersive viewing experiences are growing alongside a spike in online consumption amongst fans.
These days, people expect to be able to watch anything, anytime, on any screen – and sports are no exception.
What’s more, pushing the boundaries between sports and fan engagement even further is the rise of eSports.
By allowing not only professionals but also amateurs to actively participate in games, eSports are creating new opportunities for traditional sports to grow their fan base and attract new audiences.
As proof of this, Capgemini’s research found that nearly 50% of fans below 35 feel that eSports have increased their engagement with traditional sports.
But fans are not only engaging with emerging technologies to consume sports, they are also willing to reward organisations that offer them a good tech-enabled experience.
When a fan has a good experience with technology – either in or out of the stadium – it has a positive knock-on effect in terms of their overall engagement.
For example, 56% of those who enjoyed their tech-enabled experience said they have gone to more physical matches at their team’s stadium as a result, while 60% said they have increased the number of matches they stream online.
A positive tech-enabled experience also offers a significant commercial upside.
Capgemini’s research found that nearly half of fans (49%) said they have often increased their spending on merchandise following a good experience, and 92% said they increased their spend on online subscriptions for watching matches (either often or a few times).
In 2020, there is a clear return on investment for deploying technology both on and off the field.
Paving the way for a data-driven approach in sport using new technology
In order to successfully leverage technology and optimise commercial opportunities, organisations must take a strategic data-driven approach.
Data about an individual plays a critical role in enhancing the viewing experience, as it allows you to personalise it.
Realising this opportunity, however, represents a significant challenge due to the ongoing consumer mistrust of data use within organisations.
To combat this, sports organisations must seek consumer consent to how their data is being used.
While this may not yet be a legal requirement everywhere, it can go a long way in building consumer trust and acceptance in areas such as biometrics or collecting personal identifiable information.
Organisations must be transparent about the use of consumer data and share with fans the steps that are being taken to protect it, which also involves building awareness of the kind of data being collected and how it is used.
Critically, organisations must also demonstrate the value that consumers stand to gain from this data exchange and share incentives where applicable.
Mapping back to expectations
Gaining consumer trust is one thing, but organisations must also identify user needs before investing in and deploying new tech if they wish to do so successfully.
This requires them to map out and understand the needs and expectations of fans, identify which technologies can support those expectations, and then curate experiences that significantly enhance the overall fan experience.
Added to this, they must consider what the ROI potential is, and whether services are sustainable.
At the moment, technology’s success in meeting fans’ expectations is patchy.
Capgemini’s research analysed a number of tech use cases deployed inside and outside the stadium – such as biometrics or high-speed Wi-Fi – and found a considerable degree of dissatisfaction.
Given that high-speed internet connectivity is critical to the in-stadium fan experience, networks and connectivity have to be state of the art.
With an eye on the future, the deployment of 5G in stadiums could be key to meeting these expectations, enabling better VR capabilities and increased social media traffic driving greater online engagement.
When selecting technologies and designing solutions, it’s vital that businesses keep the fan experience front of mind.
In order to truly map back to expectations, design should be led by fan experience, not technology.
How technology can add to fans’ passion for sport
People are passionate about sport. And with today’s emerging technologies, the sports industry and its major players have an exciting opportunity to make that relationship with fans even stronger – building brand value and driving new avenues of growth.
But, to make the most of that opportunity, they will have to change the way they play the technology game.
They need a laser focus on the user experience, a data-driven approach and a strategic perspective on technology adoption.
That is what it will take to be a game changer.