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5 Key Trends That are Improving the Business of Sports

In-game Data and Analytics

Data and analytics have been growing at an accelerating pace in sports. Ever since the notorious 2002 season of the Oakland Athletics, largely fuelled by the data-driven roster building and strategizing, sports franchises have been trying to implement their own “Moneyball” strategy to their own team and their own sport.

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The appearance of this new desire for franchises to adopt a data-driven approach to running their teams has birthed a whole industry of specialists who can provide not only the data collecting, but also the quantitative analysis that teams can make use of. One of the most successful of such businesses is StatsPerform, which is currently used by the NBA. StatsPerform’s main service is SportVU, which offers optical tracking services, where many cameras are installed around an arena or field to closely follow both the players and the ball during a game, from all relevant angles. Today, StatsPerform is the Official Tracking partner of the NBA and has also been used by football teams such as Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus.

The value lies in the sheer volume of data points that are collected and analyzed by the teams, and used to improve the game. At first glance, it would be easy to imagine that sports franchises are going overboard with the data gathering. The problem is, they deliver results. It’s best to have too much data than not enough, since you can pick and choose which data points to analyze and which ones to ignore. Not gathering data may set a glass ceiling for your team when compared to others.

Not only can data gathering be helpful for team-building and strategizing, it can also be useful when it comes to player health. Collecting extremely detailed data-points can help coaches understand the limits of their individual players better. Knowing how many minutes is best to leave them on the court before exhausting them, or, in the long term, using data to predict the likelihood of injuries and working to prevent them.

The Second Screen

The consumption of sports is becoming more and more complex. Gone are the days of turning on your TV for game-day, watching your favorite team play, and turning it off after the final whistle is blown. Fans are becoming more and more invested in sports, and it’s reflected in how they watch it.

The most telling sign of this evolution is the appearance of the second screen during a game. Sure, the TV could still be the main screen, but fans are constantly using their phones (or another secondary device) while watching. There are a number of ways the second screen could come into play:

  • Social media: This is a big one. Fans are constantly tweeting, snapping, posting stories and statuses about games in real time. It is a great source of fan engagement and is a very important part of the fan experience now. Many teams are trying to capitalize on this trend and join the second screen experience on social media. Teams and players find an opportunity to shine as personalities on social media much more than they do on the field. It allows for direct interaction with fans, and the creation of a personalized brand that fans can identify with outside of competitive success.
  • A branded team app with games within the game: Fans can be checking their fantasy football stats and points during a game, adding real time excitement to their favorite game. The option to check your performance in fantasy without moving away from your TV can motivate fans to start playing fantasy, which greatly increases engagement and interest.
  • Alternative viewing; It may be called the “second screen”, but sometimes it's the only screen fans have access to. When schedules don’t allow for a match to be watched through the broadcast, live, fans can turn to their second screen to get quick updates about the game they’re following, whether it's through the team’s app, social media, or sports news outlets.

The second screen is vital to extending the viewer’s experience beyond the official broadcast. It allows for players and teams to exist within their fans lives outside of the weekly match they play. It is one of the most important current trends, and it seems to only be growing in importance. Not only is it a place to increase engagement, but it is also a place where teams can work with sponsors to increase fan’s exposure to them.

The Rise of “Smart” Stadiums and Arenas

Franchises all over the world are looking for ways to capitalize on mobile technology, outside of the traditional “second screen” applications mentioned above. They also want their fans to use their phones for activities that relate directly to their in-stadium experience. Many of the newer venues offer mobile apps for checking in, ushering you to your seat, indicating the shortest bathroom and concession lines, seat upgrade options, offering cashless commerce, and some stadiums, such as the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium can even offer in-seat wifi and wireless charging. In return for these convenient features, stadiums and teams can gain valuable information and insights about their fans, to better understand and serve them in the future, as well as make sponsorship and branding decisions.

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As well, stadiums are less about offering seats to watch a game live, and more about offering a complete experience. From multiple screens on all the levels, in the bathrooms, and even outside the stadium, to introducing gourmet restaurant options and even microbrewries on-site, franchises know that the fans aren’t just there to sit still and support their team. They’re there to socialize and have an experience that matters.

Smart sponsorships

Data isn’t limited to in-game numbers. The rise of data collecting has allowed franchises to be more intelligent when finding partners and acquiring sponsorship deals. With the amount of fan engagement and direct feedback that can be gathered from social media, it has never been easier for teams to find a sponsor that empirically suits their brand, reducing the need for executives to trust their instinct when striking deals. Making deals with companies like Nike and Adidas is easy - you don’t need data to tell you whether football fans will identify with these brands.

Things can get trickier when the brands don’t match so naturally. This is where data can be extremely useful. Data can be used to predict your fan base's reaction to a potential sponsor, and can diminish the risk of having a deal fall through because of fan backlash. A good example of this is the McDonald’s/Olympic Games partnership, which had to end after outside pressure claiming that the Olympics should not be partnering with businesses that contribute to obesity. Using data to understand your brand and your fanbases expectations can make these oftentimes large-scale businesses decisions much less risky.

On the other hand, sometimes intuition plays a huge part in selling sponsorships. For example, the MLS Portland Timbers signed a deal in 2014 with a local chocolate company called Woodblock Chocolate, to distribute a Timbers bar at the stadium and across the city. This wasn’t done because the data showed that Timbers fans were chocolate-fanatics, but because helping a local brand would also help theirs.

Globalizing your Hometown Team

With so much fan activity that occurs via mobile and social media, leagues are now ramping up their global programs and exploring new markets. While the various major sports leagues certainly aren’t shy in their home markets, and somewhat internationally, there’s been a large push to secure international sponsorships and grow awareness in new markets. Chelsea, for example, signed a partnership with US based Delta Air Lines, during a US tour in 2012. This is just one example of a football team expanding their reach to North America.

Globalizing your franchise can also extend beyond partnering with a brand; it could also be extending your team to a completely new market and country altogether. Several years ago, the NBA’s Sacramento Kings co-owner Vivek Ranadive, who is Indian-American, translated his team’s website into Hindi, hosted an international Google+ Hangout during games, and even sent some of his team personnel on outreach trips to India. This raised the profile of the team, generating fan interest over 7x higher than other NBA teams at the time. Noting that basketball was the fastest growing sport in India, this idea was a successful example of expanding a franchise’s reach. Especially if that country is able to generate a home-country player, that would organically increase fan interest even more.