Professional Sports Going Digital by Embracing ICT

June 17, 2016

Contributor: Laurence Goasduff

In an effort to gain a competitive advantage, professional sports teams are leveraging ICT and digital technology.

With the line between success and failure now razor-thin in professional sports, these teams have been increasingly turning to information and communication technology (ICT) in search of innovative ways to balance effectiveness on the field with efficiency off it.

Leveraging digital technology on and off the field

“Use of ICT in professional sports is well underway at all levels,” said Petr Gorodetskiy, senior research analyst at Gartner. “For the wealthiest teams in the top leagues (Dallas Cowboys in NFL, Real Madrid in Liga BBVA and so on), their vast revenues will be counterbalanced by huge expenses that they need to manage. At the other end, smaller teams need to compensate for their funding disadvantage with innovative management techniques.”

“ Use of ICT in professional sports is well underway at all levels.”

While the extent of investment is tricky to quantify, there are examples from both these tiers. Football club Bayern Munich, who dominate the German Bundesliga, have an agreement with SAP whereby all aspects of its activity are automated through an adapted SAP Hana solution, from player performance analysis to global fan base management. Further down the scale, the English Premier League's Southampton FC have broadly adopted wearable electronic performance and tracking systems (EPTS) during training, and finished last season in their highest ever Premier League position.

ICT is not implemented at just the club level, of course. Examples of more broadly implemented solutions include IBM's event management system for the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, plus real-time analytics app for fans. In the U.S., the NFL has a deal with Zebra for RFID data sensors in players' pads and helmets, which help with match stats as well as damage diagnosis, while IBM helps to optimize competition seasonal schedules for the league.

TSPs getting into the game

“ There are opportunities for TSPs to offer specialized versions of their existing products for sports.”

The professional sports industry represents a lucrative opportunity for technology and service providers (TSPs). Gartner divides the market into four areas, each with examples of unique technology application:

Performance assessment: Devices to track player performance and team interaction in matches and training sessions; tools to publish match stats online in real time; long-term assistance/monitoring tools to help with team selection, tactics, coaching and development, contract negotiations, and recovery from injury. Technology areas: Internet of Things (IoT), electronic performance and tracking systems, big data, social media, payroll management

Relationship management: Management of databases for fans, media and sponsors; segmentation and analysis (sentiment, demand, etc.) of fans; online fan engagement with real-time match data and loyalty/reward schemes; brand growth beyond domestic market; and league schedule organization/monitoring. Technology areas: Multichannel customer relationship management, big data, social media 

Venue automation: Stadium asset management; crowd and queue control/monitoring; ticket office, merchandise store and catering services/monitoring; and real-time entertainment/multimedia content delivery to spectators. Technology areas: E-commerce, surveillance, IoT, asset management, big data, digital signage 

Match technology: Devices and software to assist with officiating, such as Hawk-Eye or GoalControl. Technology areas: Motion tracking, and communications

There are opportunities for TSPs to offer specialized versions of their existing products for sports. Start looking for partnering opportunities with sport clubs, sports associations, leagues and governing bodies. Segment the market by country and/or region, as well as by sport, considering popularity, organization and culture.

“The most popular sports in North America and Europe will likely present the most lucrative opportunities, and the smaller and less-advanced leagues within those will offer the best way in for most,” Mr. Gorodetskiy said.

He added: “Target minor teams and focus on them going digital with big data and IoT/EPTS solutions. They may have less budget than larger teams, but will likely be more open to outside innovations. Larger clubs may have the resources to enable in-house digital development.”

Beyond products and services, TSPs need to pay attention to a holistic implementation of digital business, instilling a new philosophy across the personnel of the targeted organization. Becoming a partner or sponsor will also help position them as a digital expert within an industry that is set to become increasingly digital. 

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