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Disrupt, Innovate, and Growth In The Sports Industry

You could argue that IOC President Bach's "change or be changed" motto, highlights the model of disruptive theory. In a world where change is part of any growth story, the acceptance and adoption of change is a necessary step to improvement. When I was headed into my 4th Olympics, I knew that to stay at the top of my game and to get better for myself and my teammates, I had to periodically look at every facet of my performance for areas I could improve. I needed to "disrupt" myself to find those few inches in my hockey game that might lead to another gold medal. Most people would question this change while I was at the top of my game, but I think the theory of disruption would applaud it.

Technology, in my opinion, is the dominant driving force of change in every industry today – including sports.

At the Sports Innovation Lab, we have been following the major trends in Sports Technology and are bullish on the future. The sheer volume of capital being deployed into sports technology is a testament to the revolution that is happing all around us. The adoption rate of tech in sports has been historically slow moving, but today, that apprehensiveness is changing and technology is finally being adopted and integrated at exponential rates.

For example, the last three TOP Sponsors of the IOC are tech companies, Facebook and Amazon are finally bundling and offering sports content into their services, and Artificial Intelligence such as IBM’s Watson are helping athletes, stadiums, and broadcasters all make better decisions.

Sports technology, broadly defined, is literally changing the way sports is played, bought, sold, and consumed.

Quantified Athlete as an extension of Quantified Self

Athletes are using technology to help their performance on and off the field of play. This proliferation is apparent with over 300+ companies we have found in the "Quantified Athlete" space alone. Athletes – who mirror as an extension of human performance – now have literally hundreds of options when it comes to monitoring, measuring, and predicting overall health and performance. These devices will continue to proliferate the market for the foreseeable future, as they are enabling athletes to extend their careers and get more out of each day. Investors also understand that these devices will slowly migrate into the mass market with much higher volume, with elite sports as just the right market to test these products for the rest of us. We predict that by 2021, there will be over 1.3 billion devices worldwide in this "Quantified Athlete" category.

This trend of monitoring, measuring, and predicting health and performance is here to stay and will continue to enable athletes and the masses to harness tech for self-improvement.

Smart Stadium as an extension of City

Fans have more choices than ever before when it comes to consuming live sports – and the pace of technological change makes the experience of watching a game at home or on a phone more compelling each day. Teams are therefore investing significant resources in new features – things like faster WiFi, interactive displays, personalized promotions, biometric security measures and cashless payments – to make sure that the in-stadium experience keeps pace. The result is the rise of the Smart Venue, a connected stadium or arena which may form the centerpiece of a mixed-use development incorporating a wide range of entertainment, retail, dining and housing options.

Indeed, the line between a Smart Venue and a Smart City is beginning to blur, meaning that the stadiums and arenas we track are now becoming proving grounds for technologies that will eventually change how we live, work and play far beyond the world of sports.

Esports as an extension of – but possible threat to – traditional Sports.

A year ago I would bet most people had never heard of esports. Today, you cannot go anywhere in the sports world without it being mentioned. Esports has the potential to disrupt traditional sports simply because it is delivering a sports like experience, but with a fully consumed and engaged audience- something you might question when you attend traditional sports and many fans are looking at their phones instead of the field of play. The barriers to access for esports content are lower and less expensive than traditional sports and are broadcast in a way that allows fans to engage directly with the broadcasters themselves. Fans are also able to use the same basic tech to watch esports, play esports, and broadcast esports, thereby democratizing the fan experience in a way that traditional sports cannot yet provide. Many are investing in this "wild west" sector in hopes of finding opportunity, while others have seen esports as a possible threat to their existing portfolio.

With the median age of sports fans pushing 50 years (and often older), traditional sports companies must make inroads to esports' fertile audience of 18-35yr olds. At Sports Innovation Lab, we believe that both sectors have opportunities to learn from each other, and we’re currently researching how traditional sports companies can engage esports’ younger tech-savvy audiences.

Sports media consumption as an extension of traditional media consumption

I attended the Rio Olympics as a member of the International Olympic Committee this past summer, where over half of the world's population watched the Games on some device. So, while it is broadly known that linear views were down worldwide, the figures for digital and social were through the roof, which netted the largest audience ever for an Olympics. No surprise that there is a mass movement towards creating more ways to watch and consume sports content through OTT platforms, digital, and social media integration – what we call the "Immersive Media" trend. Sports media is also migrating toward content that can be created and shared by worldwide sports fans themselves (think the next generation of sports fans) who want and demand the ability to actively participate in any event. Immersive media is changing in sports in parallel to the "real world" and the sports world's traditional business model will need to keep up with this change if it wants to create and capture value. The good news is that sports content is as relevant as ever and the demand for live sports content will only increase … it just might need to be created and delivered to fit the needs of cord lovers, cord shavers, cord cutters, or cord nevers.

As you can see, the game of sports is changing.

Back in 2010 when I was training for the Vancouver Olympics, I was ecstatic that I could track my heart rate in real time, or be a first to join a social media platform called "Twitter" to talk directly to my fans. Seven years ago, I had the first glimpse of performance analytics in the quantified athlete space, I witnessed firsthand how social media was shifting the power from traditional media to the athletes and/or content creators, and saw one of my sponsors shift their athlete activation strategy by focusing on digital activation over in-person appearances. That was seven years ago …

Today, there are over 2000+ companies in the sports technology market that we, at the Sports Innovation Lab, have tracked, organized, and analyzed.

We can analytically see that the sports game and industry is fundamentally different. We believe that to remain relevant, the sports industry must embrace and create disruption in order to innovate and create value. Yes, there will always be a risk of adopting tech for the sake of tech and not because it is the right solution that adds true value. Yes, technology can distract the core business or be wasteful and expensive. But, at the same time, the right technology can disrupt a stagnant business and help it flourish. The right technology can be the perfect way to engage and retain customers.

I co-founded the Sports Innovation Lab with Joshua Walker and Isaiah Kacyvenski to help the sports industry leverage technology in the world of sports. We all love this industry and want to help it move forward, harnessing the power of technology to create more value – so that athletes can run faster, stadiums can engage more fans, sponsors and broadcasters can reach more people.

Sports have the power to unite the world and display human potential. Let’s ensure the future of our industry is bright and that we can all take advantage of the power of technology to give sports the best possible trajectory of growth.

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