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The rise of the Ecosystem in Sports

“Fans do not change – the way they interact with their Team changes”. This simple statement came out of research undertaken by Neilsen / LaLiga Tech.

Simple it may be but with profound implications for the business of Sports. It’s a realisation that the fan in the stadium remains the same person - when they are sitting on the terraces, when they watch the game at home or when they seek out analysis on their smartphone whilst talking with friends at the local bar. Sports Fans are as varied as any other (large) group of people and can’t be pinned down or easily categorised. However, the one characteristic that draws them together is their high level of loyalty to their chosen sports brand.

Retailers, for example, learnt the importance of this some time ago – they realised that a potential customer could walk into a store, browse their website, or click on a social media post. The way they consume does not make them less of a customer. As such, the best retailers place the consumer at the heart of their interconnected physical, e-commerce and digital activities. This allows the customer to discover, engage, socialise, and ultimately purchase whilst seamlessly switching between the physical and digital worlds.

Sports have some way to catch up. For sure, Sports teams are generally good at working with the fan in the stadium (like retailers used to be focused on building bigger and better stores). But when that same fan watches the game at home or seeks out analysis on their smartphone, or even interacts with fellow fans or team players – they do so on other people’s platforms (broadcast, e-comm, news sources, social media). None of these is connected to, or in many cases even shares data with, the host Team. But yet, this is the same fan.

The simple result of this disconnection is that despite their intrinsic global following – the world’s largest brands are now worth over 400 times more than the largest sports teams in the world.

Digital platforms have the potential to change everything for Sports – but only if Teams understand this fundamental point – that it’s the same fan. This is not to say that the Team has to take control of everything – but it is to say that the Team has to control the customer data and align partners within a digital eco-system – where they can see, serve and activate the fan to add direct value to the fans experience and the Teams business.

The good news is that Sports teams today are in a position of power:

  1. The demand for sports is as strong today amongst all ages as it was before. The average sports fan will have an affinity with over 6 sports. Global interest and engagement remain high. Fans are loyal and closely connected with their sporting brands of choice and absolutely want to be part of the community.

  2. The remarkable rise of Over-the-top (OTT) consumption has seen almost 50% of fans preferring to consume content via streaming. This historic change from broadcast to internet-delivered content offers fans convenience and control. But whilst it is a clear challenge to established broadcast models, it provides a massive opportunity for Teams that ultimately generate the content.

  3. The consumption is moving from passive to active – as it is now “normal” for fans to multi-screen whilst watching the game. They socialise, play games, seek out analysis and stats, act as their own “fantasy” manager, place bets, rage at their team and purchase all at the same time. Here younger fans are driving this change. 55% of Gen-Z fans are looking for and consuming live statistics during play. Access to data is now a normal part of the experience.

  4. New revenue opportunities are opening up all the time – Sports Betting, E-Sports, Gaming, NFTS, Affiliate Merchant Networks etc…. All of which are seeking access to your fan base and are prepared to connect to your eco-system and pay for the access.

The challenge for Sports today is to change their thinking. You are a “Brand” with an extraordinarily high level of loyalty and trust. This translates into a lot of commercial growth potential as businesses (from automotive to travel, gaming to crypto) seek to access your community.

To unlock this value Sports Brands need to shift to an interconnected ecosystem. A play that is slowly beginning to take shape as technology opens up. Today, the ability for Teams to craft a hyper-personalised end-to-end customer journey and value proposition that reaches across multiple touchpoints, systems and providers is there. For the Sports Team at the centre of this ecosystem, the impact on their data, communities, fan relationships, revenues and ultimately valuation will be transformative. The ultimate realisation is that "every fan counts".

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