The Battle For The Youth Sports Market
Technology has made it possible for companies to reach parents, young sports fans, and coaches with greater efficiency than ever before. That has drawn attention from investors like Blue Star Sports, Causeway Media Partners, Portico Capital, Foundry Group, R/GA Ventures, and many more.
At the Sports Innovation Lab, we break the youth sports market into two large target markets that help us think about where there is the greatest opportunity for innovation.
Reaching The Aspiring Professional Athlete
Team & league management platforms (i.e. registration & payments, communication, scheduling, website builder, etc.) and video highlight apps have aggregated enough customer data to become distribution platforms for marketing and cross-selling services. Dozens of companies like Teamsnap, LeagueApps, and Blue Sombrero help parents and leagues sign up youth league athletes and as a result become valuable sources of consumer data. Others like Hudl, Krossover, and GamePlan aggregate highlights and deliver instructional video that inform coaching strategy, skill development, build engagement on social media, and tap into the recruiting market. Some of these companies continue to scale while others have been acquired by companies like Dick's Sporting Goods, NBC's SportsEngine, and Blue Star Sports.
In addition to team & league management platforms and video highlight apps, there are a number of other companies digitizing the youth sports experience in interesting ways:
- Coaching & Skill Development: Atavus, GameChanger, CoachUp, STACK, Coaches Tribune, CoachTube, etc.
- Talent Identification: CaptainU, ScoutDay, LemonAid, CruitCast, FieldLevel, etc.
- Event Management: PrimeTime Sports, Bigfoot Hoops, Student Sports, ProCamps, ACTIVE Network, etc.
Aspiring professional athletes represent a variety of emerging markets ripe for disruption and consolidation. Additional areas of technological impact include, but are not limited to officiating, safety, fundraising, and equipment ecommerce.
Whereas many first generation companies may have found these fragmented segments difficult to scale, well-resourced companies with established brands will find themselves merchandising to a replenishing supply of eager and avid customers.
Big consumer brands will take a driver seat in these markets, whether it be creating professional highlight videos or cross-selling events and camps. It's still the first inning in defining the youth sports experience.
Reaching The Next Generation of Sports Fans
All major sports leagues are struggling to engage their next generation of sports fans. This is top of mind for executives at all the major sports leagues and global sports federations. On one hand, technology is the enemy providing infinite choices for young fans who can easily be enticed to turn away from a game or match. On the other, technology is also providing opportunities that didn't exist before:
Wearables let fans train with their heroes. The NFLPA recently did a deal with a wearable company to collect NFL player data. If/when this data is made available online, young athletes could follow the training programs of their favorite athletes and even compete against them to develop their skills and get closer to the game.
Media distribution gives brands niche reach. YouTube channels like The Whistle and on demand sports content from The Olympic Channel and FloSports make it possible for fans to consume their favorite sports whenever, wherever they want. This choice gives leagues and rights holders even more opportunity to put their content in front of the fans who want it the most and even fans who can never attend a live game. For example, Intel acquired Voke VR and Replay Technologies to make bold strides toward enabling a courtside experience through virtual reality. As this experience takes shape, new global fan bases come within reach.
A foundation of esports is that the games are more accessible. Most kids won't have the size or skill to compete at the elite sports level. But as the NBA and other leagues invest more deeply in esports, their fans will learn the game through playing video games and watching others battle it out during NBA 2K competitions online. In addition to building their sports video game titles like Madden, 2K, and FIFA, major sports leagues and brands can reach and promote their sports to the esports communities on Twitch.
Takeaway: Targeting aspiring athletes as well as next-generation sports fans is a difficult endeavor for any brand given the fragmentation of digital platforms. That said, there is plenty of opportunity for ambitious brands to design an experience that connects with the emotional and functional needs of this large consumer market.
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