Technology is changing the world of sport in many ways and its use is growing rapidly. It contributes to athletes’ training and performance on the field, how clubs engage with fans as well as how the venues are constructed to provide a great experience. Post pandemic, stadiums will be competing more than ever with the at-home experience. Most clubs form an important part of their community and social impact is often at the heart of the club’s mission. Supporting innovations that can benefit the general population – not just the stars of the teams – is an important consideration. eSports form a radical example of how a new technology, digital games, can provide an opportunity to engage with new fans with a completely different profile to traditional fans. eSports is driving a lot of new investment in sports technology surpassing a total of $2.5 billion in Venture Capital (VC) funding in 2018. Within traditional sports, basketball remains at the forefront of innovation, followed by football and baseball.
VC funding in sports technology on the rise
The creation of new innovative businesses requires ideas, talent and capital. Financing wise, Sports Technology represents a growing category for Venture Capital investments. According to SportTechX, investments in sports technology increased to €364 million invested in 2018. This was a 27% growth in comparison to the growth rate of 21% for European venture capital across all categories. The amount of €364 million represents about 4% of all the European venture capital investments made in 2018.
According to a market research by MarketsandMarkets, the Sports Technology Market was valued at $8.9 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach $31.1 billion by 2024 with North America having the largest share of the market in 2018. This enormous increase in activity has attracted the interest of investors who have launched dedicated sports tech accelerators and venture funds. Analysis of hundreds of deals that have taken place in the last five years showed that the ecosystem has welcomed new investors across the value chain, from seed to late VC rounds.
While capital is in strong supply, the availability of experience based on high level achievement is scarce. Partnerships between clubs and entrepreneurs are one way of providing access to sports experience for entrepreneurs with strong ideas.
A survey conducted by Scrum Ventures asked about which technologies would make the biggest impact on the sports industry. An overwhelming 78% selected fan engagement technologies, such as live streaming, eSports and content platforms compared to technologies related to athlete performance (16%) and stadium experience (6%). When asked, which technologies were most interesting from an investment perspective, the top three were media and content related platforms, eSports and data analytics businesses.
Gen Z, the first generation of truly digital natives, are used to living in multiple digital worlds at the same time. They follow their sports teams continuously but their attention spam is short and switches quickly from one world to another. Therefore, the intense focus which sports clubs assume creates engagement for fans is totally different. Gen Z fans may prefer to engage through bote sized chunks of deep analysis of the game through statistics, live match analysis and predictions distributed through social media.
The corona virus is likely to accelerate the trends towards eSports and the at-home experience at a faster rate. Clubs will have less money to invest and so expensive projects such as new stadiums are likely to be postponed in favour of rapid improvements in the at home experience which can justify subscription revenue models to reduce dependence on gate revenues from live events.
Sports Clubs leading the innovation table
Last year, Barça announced it was Facebook’s chosen sports club for the development and use of its new Fan Subscription service, a digital fan club where subscribers can access a wide range of exclusive contents.
Barça is not alone in pitting its faith in technology. Clubs across the world are attempting to attract a different audience; an online fanbase that expects much more than just the live experience of a match. And if this was important before the coronavirus, now it’s key. As a consequence, many sports clubs are applying technology in new ways. Sacramento Kings is leveraging technologies such as AI, AR, blockchain, and eSports to deepen connections to their brands while customizing and personalizing fan experiences. Always looking to enhance the experience for their fans, the Golden State Warriors were involved in the first ever VR Live stream NBA game in 2015. Levi’s Stadium, the home of 49ers has about 1,700 beacons spread across the venue to improve fans experience. You can even get hot dogs delivered to your seat.
In Europe, Bayern Munich introduced an AR app that allows their fans to take selfies with the team’s stars. The team also places a very strong focus on big data and they have a partnership with SAP, the largest software company in Europe. Manchester City was the first club to host a hackathon and has embraced the use of Virtual Reality. AS Roma is using technology to expand its global fanbase. Liverpool has achieved great success by incorporating data analysis into the decisions it makes.
Barcelona is the third city in Europe for the number of startups in the Sports Technology sector, after London and Paris, and has an enviable reputation as a place to start new businesses. FC Barcelona through its innovation hub is aiming to be a force for entrepreneurship in sports wherever it is found. The club is already partnering with several startups to co-develop products to enhance different areas, its athletes, the fans and the general population.
If you are an entrepreneur wanting to partner with Barça you can submit your proposal HERE.
Tània Vié Riba