In recent years, technology has dramatically changed how people consume sport, be it watching, attending or participating. Advances in mobile, wearables, analytics, broadcasting, materials and equipment, smart venues and fan engagement technologies, to name but a few, all mean that sports technology is now big business.
The sports analytics sector alone is forecast to grow from $125 million in 2014 to $4.7 billion by 2021. And attendances at sports technology conferences such as SEAT and the MIT Sports Analytics conferences are growing exponentially year on year. In the US, Venture Capitalists have spent over $1 billion on sports-related deals over the past year. And governments are seeing the value by establishing sports technology hubs in countries such as Ireland and Australia.
Sports technology start ups are proving to be very attractive to investors which is testament to the value of sports. Companies such as Seat Geek, (ticket search engine), Catapult (wearable sensors for athletes) and VenueNext (stadium app) are all recent high profile beneficiaries of funding from strategic investors. AngelList lists 386 fantasy sports start ups that have attracted over 43,000 investors!
In 2015 we have started to see the big sporting organisations get in on the act. Manchester United and the Los Angeles Dodgers have established technology labs and accelerator programmes. Dublin’s Croke Park has seen the value of the stadium as a potential digital petri dish for those start ups developing in-stadium technology.
LA Dodgers Launch Accelerator Programme
LA Dodgers partnered with ad agency R/GA to launch the Dodgers Accelerator which targets startups developing products for services “at the crossroads of sports, technology and entertainment”. Deliberately broad, the programme seeks companies developing solutions in training, ticketing, CRM, 2nd screen, smart stadium, apps, virtual reality, fantasy and gaming.
It’s opening day at the Dodgers Accelerator! #sportstech A photo posted by LA Dodgers Accelerator (@dodgersaccel) on
10 companies were selected for the first programme, including Appetize, a POS mobile ordering platform, Doorstat which helps businesses analyse foot traffic and demographics, FieldLevel, a private social network for sports recruiting and ProDay, an app that lets anyone work out with a professional athlete.
The programme taps into the LA Dodgers sports expertise as well as that of its high profile ownership group to provide access and exposure to the wider sports industry. R/GA brings its strategic marketing, branding, design, and technology-focused methodology as well as its agency services. The programme provides up to $120,000 in funding for each start-up with optional co-workspace facilities provided in LA.
On why the Dodgers partnered with R/GA to create the Dodgers Accelerator, Dodgers CEO, Stan Kasten, said;
We saw an opportunity to go beyond the business of playing baseball – our brand extends throughout the business world”. And therein lies the key. Larger organisations no longer see themselves operating purely within the sports industry. To grow they need to broaden their horizons and identify new growth and innovation opportunities.
This is visionary stuff from the Dodgers. And its not all altruism as this is business.
In exchange for a 6% equity stake, participating companies will receive $20,000 (and all of the benefits of the programme). The accelerator may also invest $100,000 in convertible notes.
And because the Dodgers would be part-owners in any company that strikes gold, the owners could secure additional millions to invest in its team and facilities.
The PR value for this programme has been enormous. It has also had the impact of transforming the Dodgers brand to that of innovator, a term more synonymous with teams further north in San Francisco and Sacramento.
Croke Park expects 150 tech companies to trial ideas
In September Croke Park, a stadium in Dublin, Ireland, announced it would make it self available to trial a whole range of new technologies. The Smart Stadium project is a collaboration between Dublin City University, Arizona State University, the GAA and Intel.
Up to 150 companies are expected to trial sports technology ideas at the stadium. Current projects are focused on pitch quality monitoring and stadium microclimate, athlete performance and predicting traffic.
When we think sports technology we often default to mobile apps that offer features such as tickets and in seat ordering. The Croke Park project seeks to go significantly broader than that by looking at opportunities across the stadium’s entire operation.
The goals of the the stadium are less financial and more innovation focused as well as playing its part in a broader plan to make Dublin the world’s first ‘internet of things’ city.
Croke Park Smart Stadium Forum Interviews
Prof. Noel O’Connor, DCU’s Director of IT and Digital Society Research & Enterprise Hub said;
The next 5-10 years will see exponential growth in the burgeoning IoT sector and we have an opportunity to lead Ireland’s test bed facility with Croke Park and Intel in order to bridge the research to market gap. Ireland is rich in high potential startups and SMEs that can both get value and bring value to the Smart Stadium concept which will draw on multi-disciplinary expertise in Irish universities to focus on problem-solving on a national scale,
I recommend reading #SmartCrokePark: Inside Dublin’s IoT Stadium to get a better feel for some of the projects that are already underway.
Manchester United launches United Xperience lab
In September, Manchester United announced a global partnership with Indian IT services company HCL Technologies. HCL has come on board as United’s “Digital Transformation Partner”.
As a first step, HCL will create a state-of-the-art United Xperience Lab to be housed at Old Trafford stadium. The purpose of the lab according to Manchester United is to;
explore revolutionary ways in which the club uses technology to create a unified fan experience for supporters; and in the process set a new engagement benchmark in the world of sport.
The lab will focus on three areas; fan experience engine, managed content and analytics, with the aim of elevating the overall fan experience through delivering content in new and exciting ways
I recommend reading a recent Forbes article Why Manchester United Selected HCL As Its Digital Partner to get a better handle on the drivers behind the partnership.
Through the partnership HCL is seeking to develop its own replicable template for other organisations who want to create similar co-innovation units.
Anant Gupta, CEO, HCL sums up the future of business best from HCL’s perspective in the Forbes article.
The enterprise of the 21st Century will possess five defining characteristics: 1. Experience-centric; 2. Outcome-based; 3. Agile and lean; 4. Service-oriented; 5. Ecosystem-driven. Manchester United will become the first sports enterprise to deliver all five, not just transforming the franchise itself but creating a new 21st Century model for all forward looking organisations in the world.
Innovation is hot at the moment in the sports business world. Larger organisations are adding VP and Director of Innovation roles. Progressive ones are thinking outside of their core business and this partnership definitely reflects that shift.
The Benefits for Sports Organisations
As a venue or rights-holder, the experience of the LA Dodgers, Croke Park and Manchester United give us five key insights;
New revenue opportunities and increased valuations
The experience of the Dodgers shows us that they are looking at each start up entering the accelerator program as new business opportunities, taking an equity stake and mentoring role in technology that may help reshape their business, but more importantly may be utilised by the sports and entertainment industry.
Manchester United have brought in board new capability while at the same time securing a major commercial partnership.
Although not exclusively fan focused, all three feature clear opportunities to improve the fan experience either at the venue or digitally from any part of the world.
Brand transformation through innovation
All three case studies demonstrate the benefits of having a defined innovation strategy and the positive impact that this can have on the organisations brand.
Simply google all three projects listed above. The online and offline media coverage has been enormous. As I said earlier, innovation is hot right now, and those organisations who embrace it will create significant earned media opportunities.
Wider community role
The Croke Park project is just part of a plan to enable Dublin to become the first true Internet of Things city. Furthermore the stadium is playing the role of good corporate citizen in opening its door to start ups to trial new sports technology.
Partnerships with companies with sports technology expertise
HCL are bringing replicable templates to the Manchester United experience and expertise that an organisation even the size of Manchester United simply would not have in-house.
Do you know of other good examples of sporting organisations embracing start up mentality and fostering innovation?