SportsTech & Media: the 2019 Review & 2020 Predictions (Part 1)

SportsTech & Media: the 2019 Review & 2020 Predictions (Part 1)

For British sports fans, the on-field highlights of 2019 will live long in the memory. Those Ben Stokes Headingly and Lord’s miracles. Heartache for our fabulous Lionesses. That semi-final annihilation of the All Blacks in Yokohama.

Some of the major developments in SportsTech and Media were just as spectacular. Some heavy hitters got involved in the fiercely contested streaming wars. 5G networks were launched in the UK. Artificial intelligence has begun to change the face of the industry.

However, despite the major advances in technology, it feels like the industry is in flux. Sports TV audiences did not get any younger and are increasingly fragmented. Participation numbers dropped alarmingly in many sports. Some key overseas markets (particularly in Asia) have, for various reasons, lost their allure.

How the UK industry reacts will be fascinating, but so much remains so uncertain. What is clear though is that technology – and how it is embraced – has never been more important for every major sports industry stakeholder.

As we did last year, we asked some friends (all industry titans!) and colleagues for their views and, while they’re at it, to recommend some reading, listening and watching for the year ahead…

Part 2 of this piece is to follow in early 2020.

Frank Dunne, Chief Football Writer, Sport Business

1. Most significant deal / development in sportstech or media during 2019.

Amazon Champions League deal in Germany. It’s official. They’re here. After some gentle sniffing around tennis and a low-cost experimental dip into Premier League rights in the UK, Amazon showed they mean business in the premium sports rights market. Rights-holders, certainly those for the major properties, will breathe a sigh of relief. Although Facebook has made some bets on sport in selected markets, if any of the FAANGs was really going to go for it, it was always going to be Amazon.

2. Favourite sports podcast / book / documentary / film in 2019.

Favourite sports podcast Unofficial Partner. Richard Gillis has found a nice niche here, being someone who understands the business inside out but isn’t buying the hype. Neither is he out to bury the industry, just to understand it, and maybe provide some laughs and knowing nods along the way. He looks beneath the hood in a sharp occasionally sardonic manner. He also has good contacts, which means there is a regular flow of interesting guests prepared to rock up (virtually) to share their thoughts.

3. Prediction for the standout breakthrough tech or media development during 2020.

Amazon will buy DAZN.

Umberto Righetti, Chief Strategy Officer, Atrium Sports

1. Most significant deal / development in sportstech or media during 2019.

I think Vista Equity Partners acquiring Perform to create Stats Perform was one of the most significant deals of 2019. It combined the assets of two groups with a track record of innovation as well as bringing together strong market presence in Europe and US to create a powerful global brand. On a personal front the formation of Atrium Sports and our partnership deal with FIBA, the world governing body for basketball to create the FIBA Connected Stadium initiative was of most significance in 2019.

2. Favourite sports podcast / book / documentary / film in 2019.

I spend more time listening to podcasts than watching documentaries or films. My favourite being “Are You Not Entertained” but also listen regularly to Sports Geek, Unofficial Partner, The Digital Sport Insider, Leaders Sport Business, The SportsTech Allstars.

I enjoyed reading “Legacy What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life” by James Kerr and “Trillion Dollar Coach” by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle.

3. Prediction for the standout breakthrough tech or media development during 2020.

I think 2020 will be the year where we start to see Artificial Intelligence applied to sport, in the way it is impacting other industries, to not only solve problems quicker and more efficiently, but also provide better personalized experiences.

Andre Tegner, Founder and CEO, Studio 54 and director, Leeds United FC

1. Most significant deal / development in sportstech or media during 2019.

Amazon Prime starting its broadcast coverage of EPL games.

2. Favourite sports podcast / book / documentary / film in 2019.

Leeds United documentary (what else could I say!) & the Diego Maradona documentary

3. Prediction for the standout breakthrough tech or media development during 2020

The return of the (OTT) bundle.

Roger Mitchell, Founder, Albachiara & co-host of the fabulous “AreYouNotEntertained” podcast

1. Most significant deal / development in sportstech or media during 2019.

I think it would have to be Disney+. This is a major rights holder taking complete hold of the relationship with the end user. This will change the whole value chain of sport and media, and massively affect the wholesale bundlers like the cable and PayTV companies. I’m short, Netflix.

2. Favourite sports podcast / book / documentary / film in 2019.

I’m biased but the podcast has to be “AreYouNotEntertained”. Book would be Red Card (about FIFA). Documentary would be the segment on The Grand Tour about Jim Clark by Richard Hammond. Film would be Maradona.

3. Prediction for the standout breakthrough tech or media development during 2020.

I really believe that we are on the brink of a real step up in predicative machine learning in sports data. Taking things like xgoals to a new level. People will be astonished. This will change the evaluation of players and how clubs are run for trading profit. The same type of tech will start to reduce the huge cost of injuries. By predicting the likelihood. I am long Zone7 in this field.

The other interest I have is in what the Unreal Engine type rendering can do for sports that are missing compelling storytelling and full stadia. People like SmartSportz will lead this. Putting sports in these environments will do for the entertainment value what green screens have done for movies.

James Bunn, Chair, 20 WORLDS ™ - The World Cup of Film

1. Most significant deal / development in sportstech or media during 2019.

As you know I’m currently leading a scoping study for a highly confidential high-level government initiative to bring media (including sports coverage) to the nations in the Pacific region. I’ve recently been in Tuvalu and Kiribati where, and it’s not very high tech, the airstrip is the most popular venue for barefoot football, soccer, rugby and volleyball. When a plane is about to land they pick up the ball at the sound of a siren and run for cover, but their ball skills are a match for anything you’ll see at Stamford Bridge or Twickenham.

As I say, it’s not very high tech, but advances in technology will see Tuvalu.tv and Kiri TV launch to give the locals a voice and advances in technology and local skills and awareness are hoped to slow climate change and the rise in the sea level mid-way between Chile and Australia.

2. Favourite sports podcast / book / documentary / film in 2019.

My favourite sports ‘cast this year was that outstanding semi-final in the Rugby World Cup in Japan, where both England and the All Blacks played magnificently. It was a wonderful moment when England gave the Hakka the ‘V’ The game and tournament was full of tremendous innovation by Eddie Jones as coach so it was all the more sad when England ran out of steam the following week. I think we may be moving into a golden age for English Rugby nevertheless.

3. Prediction for the standout breakthrough tech or media development during 2020.

In the New Year I’m looking forward to our own merging of Sports and Entertainment using social media for the 20 Worlds World Cup of Film. Perhaps however the standout breakthrough tech or media development during 2020 is likely to be around the advance of Esports. I’ve seen some incredible ‘mixed-reality’ entertainment and competition facilities around the world and I predict mainstream family entertainment fast evolving into this sphere…

David Murray, Co-Founder, Fozmuz (formerly head of sports rights, BBC)

1. Most significant deal / development in sportstech or media during 2019.

Amazon’s successful streaming of live EPL matches. While not a game changer as I still can’t see Amazon buying major EPL packages given their cost, it illustrates the changing nature of sports rights as we move to a digital world. A clear marketing success for Amazon, followed by its acquisition of Champions League rights in Germany. If the price is right, Amazon will enter the market.

Honourable mention for BT’s acquisition of Champions League, re-enforcing its (previously shaky) commitment to sport. 

2. Favourite sports podcast / book / documentary / film in 2019.

The Peter King Podcast - previously the MMQB podcast at Sports Illustrated, Peter moved to NBC Sport seamlessly, and now has a broader reach appearing on Sky and NBC’s Pro Football talk. The guru of all NFL experts and necessary listening for anyone interested in the sport.

3. Prediction for the standout breakthrough tech or media development during 2020.

The Tokyo Olympics - the summer games is generally when there is a step change in digital investment and coverage. It will be interesting to see what Discovery (and the BBC) have in store for us this time.

Robert Blaszczak, Founder, The Sports Attaché

1. Most significant deal / development in sportstech or media during 2019.

It only materialised in the homestretch of the year but I cannot look beyond Amazon successfully taking the Premier League broadcasting rights directly to their Prime customers in December 2019. It effectively turned upside down the commercial model for Europe’s most lucrative sports property that has ruled the media landscape since the early 1990s. Whereas streaming sports content D2C in 2019 isn’t innovative or ground-breaking itself, convincing old-fashioned UK TV viewers to embrace this new format may finally (1) encourage the Premier League to pivot to a “League Pass” type of distribution, and (2) tap into the potential of FAANG as a destination to commercialise tier one sports.

If I could add a second place… the successful launch of the subscription-based (and initially VC-funded) the Athletic in the UK. It seems to have taken the sports media industry by the storm – and ruffled some feathers, too!

2. Favourite sports podcast / book / documentary / film in 2019.

Podcast: There is something fresh about the recently launched Front Office Sports’ “Office Hours” podcast series with sportsbiz leaders talking at ease about their challenges and vision for the industry (albeit US-heavy for now). The Ringer’s “Book of Basketball 2.0” as a close second. Watch out for the Athletic’s podcasts in 2020!

Book: “Gridiron Genius” by Michael Lombardi is an insightful study of leadership in American football. Even those not following NFL religiously would find it interesting and easy to digest.

Film: Stretching this category to TV mini-series, Netflix’s “Maradona in Mexico” (Spanish: “Maradona en Sinaloa”) is a breath of fresh air. More spontaneous and chaotic than “All or Nothing” series (“Hold my beer,” we could hear Tottenham warning us!), it captures the beautiful and unpredictable nature of sports – all that in fascinating Mexican surroundings!

3. Prediction for the standout breakthrough tech or media development during 2020.

Proliferation in augmented reality (AR) advertising in sports broadcasts would get my vote. Three main factors may lead to that: one, a significant downturn for in-venue advertising has been reported as clubs are getting less and less money for brands appearing on perimeter LEDs; two, lowering costs and availability of AR advertising solutions mean it is no longer only for tier one properties; and three, more broadcasts are consumed on personal mobile devises leading to a better understanding of each viewer’s preferences.

Julian Moore, Head of Sport (London), Mills & Reeve

1. Most significant deal / development in sportstech or media during 2019.

The headline development was of course Amazon’s first successful round of Premier League broadcasts, which is a real sign that the long-established traditional Pay/Subscription TV models are no longer relevant. Another sign of this was Sky making Premier League highlights available for free on YouTube.

But the most surprising (and pleasing) deal for me personally was Sky’s sharing with Channel 4 of its live broadcast of the ICC Cricket World Cup final. Great PR, yes, but also a reminder that linear free TV remains the perfect platform for important sporting events that capture the whole nation.

2. Favourite sports podcast / book / documentary / film in 2019.

Podcasts: Too many to mention as I’ve become a bit of a podcast addict! Favourites though are AreYouNotEntertained, Unofficial Partner, the Grade Cricketer, the Cycling Podcast, Tables Turned, Tailenders and Stumped.

Books: Has to be Derek Pringle’s ‘Pushing the Boundaries’, but with a special nod to the brilliant ‘Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket’ by Stephen Fay and David Kynaston.

3. Prediction for the standout breakthrough tech or media development during 2020.

Club fan engagements being used more positively and to build or enhance local communities, and not just to sell fans merchandise they probably don’t need. In other words, properly engaging fans to feel part of the heart and soul of their club and the town or cities in which they’re located - and to build lasting and stronger club/fan/community relationships in the process.

Michael Flynn, CEO, DataPOWA

1. Most significant deal / development in sportstech or media during 2019.

Paddypower's 'save our shirt' campaign for Huddersfield Town, which saw domestic shirt sales for Huddersfield in the top 4 of all UK football club shirt sales in 2019 despite dropping out of the Premier League. It increased new registrations with Paddypower considerably too (well into a double figure percentage). Proving that 'equivalent advertising media value' metrics are not fit for purpose.

2. Favourite sports podcast / book / documentary / film in 2019.

Ben Penkert's 'Sports Tech Allstars' podcast show.

3. Prediction for the standout breakthrough tech or media development during 2020.

AI data driven sponsorship deal valuations & players transfer valuations.

To be continued…

Tune in for the next part of this blog in the new year!

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