All British sports fans know that 2019 will be huge. The ICC Cricket World Cup, the FIFA Women’s World Cup, a home Ashes series, the Netball World Cup and a Rugby World Cup. It’s enormously exciting.
2019 is also shaping up to be a highly significant year off the pitch, particularly in the worlds of sports technology and media. A number of key future developments will have massive implications on the manner in which audiences consume sport, and how industry revenues will be generated. Will, for example, this be the year of Virtual Reality, will rights holders unlock the full power of big data, will more cords be cut, will eSports be fully embraced by the mainstream?
As we tick off (a dry?) January (and the fog of the New Year has definitely lifted!), we asked a wide range of clients, industry friends and colleagues to gaze into the future and predict what lies ahead for the remainder of the year. This is what they see…
Dan McLaren, Head of Digital, SQN (and founder of Digital Sport)
“2019 will be an interesting one for technology within sport as it becomes more accepted and the market is now more mature. It is probably still a bit early to be talking big movements within voice activation, but audio will play a significant role (podcasts, radio). Greater resources are now going into 'immersive experiences' as we look at how XR really makes a difference within the industry. Watch esports especially in this space and ESL's Weavr project. And finally, AI (and I include machine learning in this) as software giants such as Microsoft go big in this area - the repercussions this will have for business and entertainment could be huge.
One other hot topic is remote production, something Tata Communications, an SQN client, offer so successfully to so many sporting properties such as MotoGP, Formula 1 and the European Tour. I believe it will become more prevalent enabling broadcasters and sporting properties to change their business model, saving huge costs and improving quality of life for their employees by sending fewer people to site for events. The low latency, i.e. no delay between what you see at the venue and what you see thousands of miles away, enables the game to change in many significant ways.“
Sarah Whyman, Senior Associate and technology specialist, Mills & Reeve
“I think that another major sports stadium will trial biometric access control for access to a sporting event. This could perhaps be facial or finger print recognition. We’ve already seen it happen at the Yankee Stadium in New York. This could speed up entry for participants and help enhance security, which is becoming increasingly important. Will the top UK Premier League clubs be convinced? I think at least one will be in 2019.”
Carsten Couchouron, Founder, Sports Tech Hub Copenhagen (formerly Marketing & Commercial Director, European Professional Club Rugby)
"The flourishing sports and health tech ecosystem will establish itself in 2019 as a significant driver of innovation leading to positive societal change and better health. Sports Tech Hub Copenhagen intends to play its part by providing innovative sports tech start-ups in Denmark and the Nordics with an environment for accelerated growth."
Riccardo Cestari, Senior Associate, AFL Architects
“This year we should finally start to see the manifestation of smart stadiums and arenas. The main focus will be on fan digital engagement, such as monitoring player’s performances and pre-ordering food and beverage with the aid of cashless technology. Also watch out for Augmented Reality and how it will enhance the experience of remote fans that aren’t able to attend live events.”
Tom Kingsley, Director, Sport Industry Group Leader, EY
“2019 will be all about fan engagement. The headlines will be driven by both the ongoing explosion in OTT and the continuing rise of AI, VR, IoT and other acronymic engagement techniques. Live performance data as fan content will become more prevalent as audiences demand an ever more immersive experience. This will create opportunities and challenges for sports rights holders as they grapple with the technology and the regulatory and competitive questions that will arise from the sharing of this data.
Alongside the on-going disaggregation of the channels through which fans engage with sport, a polarisation of content consumption will mean that while some fans will continue to only be interested in clips and super bite-size content nuggets, many others will be seeking out long-form content with high quality production values. To compound matters many fans will actually be fishing at both ends of this particular content spectrum.
How to maximise the engagement with fans and how to ultimately commercialise that engagement will be what keeps sports rights holders up at night this year. Is sport up to the challenge? Of course it is. It always is. The only real question, as ever, will be who’s going to win?”
Rupert Harris, CEO, Animal Vegetable Mineral
“2019 will be the year when sports broadcasting takes its first tentative steps into 4 dimensions. No this isn’t a rehash of 3D TV, but the advent of the volumetric video era, which will take fans from the stands and onto the field of play, Gamer-style.
What is currently the preserve of game engines will become the state of the art for live action. Gladiatorial sports like boxing and UFC will take the lead, enabling fans with a headset to step onto the field of play and witness just how furious Tyson looks from the end of that jab.
Prediction 2: Putting a lid on Pandora's box.
2020 will see sports clubs and lawyers spend more and more time working out how to get a contractual slice of the social media action from the players they're making famous. In a world where personality is the differential, anodyne club content will look increasingly perfunctory, pushing engagement back into the players hands and their pockets.”
Oliver Weingarten, CEO, LDN UTD
“VR to prove it is not a fad, and is here to stay, alongside AR and MR.”
Andre Tegner, Founder and CEO, Studio 54 LLP and Director, Leeds United FC
“This might be more a wish than a prediction but, while I am still not bullish on VR, I hope to see some nice AR applications in 2019 that go beyond just being a gimmick.”
Sam Barton, Director, Dsrptr
“Esports: Titles such as Fortnite, FIFA and Smash continue to generate strong interest from gamers and the industry is expected to hit a global revenue of approximately $1.5b in 2020. YouTubers and streaming platforms such as Twitch creating engaging content reaching millennial audiences often difficult for corporates to effectively engage.
Athlete performance analytics: Monitoring, measuring, and predicting athlete training, performance and injury prevention will continue to drive value optimising on-field performance.
Immersive media: The evolution of the media channels, Internet, HDTV, OTT continue to drive fan engagement by honing in on the content fans want to see and consume as and when they like.
Smart venues: New stadium developments are seeking to optimised the fan match-day experience using technology to simplify ticket and food purchasing, incentivised marketing at the game and returning safely home. Keep an eye out for a stronger focus on Esports enabled venues.
Gambling: Following the USA Supreme Court decision in May 2018, allowing individual states to determine whether to legalise sports wagering, it's rare to see a pitch deck which doesn’t comment on how gambling can be built into a revenue model.
Co-watching: Camera-equipped devices connecting fans via video and chat in their living rooms also an emerging area of interest.”
Dan Bedi, Founder and CEO, JAFA
“Sports fans will begin to use Twitter less and use more bespoke platforms around differing discussions and original content.
Athletes will engage with fans less on social media and more through bespoke platforms (managed environments).”
Laura Canham, Associate and technology and IP specialist, Mills & Reeve
“I think we’ll have an exciting 2019 in SportsTech; I am hoping to see an increase in the use of fan engagement platforms (like JAFA) and more sponsor and broadcaster investment in eSports to further accelerate the growth of clubs, leagues and gamer wage packets.”
Sanjiv Arora, Senior Sports Business and Integrity Lawyer (formerly with FIFA and beIN Sports)
“Many of the big digital platforms and OTT services experienced (or saw their competitors experience) serious problems in 2018 in the streaming of a number of major sports events, including the FIFA World Cup, the US Open tennis, Serie A and La Liga. As such, those digital platform operators will use a considerable part of 2019 to learn from those experiences to prevent a reoccurrence. Before taking the plunge in 2019 on an acquisition of further premium rights, including Premier League matches, most operators will want to be absolutely sure that those sorts of problems are a thing of the past.”
Julian Moore, Head of Sport (London), Mills & Reeve
“The brilliant Netflix documentary, “Sunderland Till I Die”, has set new standards for the production of non-live/behind-the-scenes sports content. Expect the creation and release of many more similarly deeply engaging, real-life and gritty sports documentaries, in particular from the real stars of the show, the athletes and players. The days of bland, saccharine, glossy content are behind us. Also, on a more personal note, by the end of the year we’ll see Luton Town in the play-off slots in the Championship and diggers and workmen lining up to start work on its shiny, new, state of the art, smart/connected, town-centre stadium.”
Robin Jellis, Commercial Strategy Manager, DAZN
“We’ve seen a shift towards OTT distribution in recent years – with the rise of entertainment services such as Netflix, the roll out of DAZN in multiple territories, and legacy media players pivoting to have an OTT offering of their own – and I think this trend will continue to grow this year and beyond. OTT services offer much more flexibility than traditional TV and provide unrivalled access to unlimited content at a lower price point than most traditional pay-TV subscriptions, so I think it’s a sector that will continue to flourish.”
Frank Dunne, Chief Sports Writer, Sport Business
“The caution and confusion which entered the thinking of Chinese investors in 2018 will claim another major victim this year, following the sudden and dramatic collapse last October of the MP & Silva sports marketing agency. This could be a big sponsorship or media-rights deal going south, another agency or a sports streaming service.
The sports broadcasting industry (rights-holders, media, agencies) will finally get serious about making a concerted effort to tackle piracy, which is now an out-of-control bush fire that threatens to burn deeply into margins. They won’t find a technical or legal solution. The emergence of cheaper and more a la carte sports media offerings is a more likely long-term outcome. But even that probably won’t work.“
Chris Synnott, Director of Media Rights, FIA World Rally Championship
“In 2019 it will be vital for international rights holders to create and operate a reliable, dynamic and engaging OTT service – this will become a ‘must have’. In a sport where the action takes place over 3-4 days with an enormous volume of potential content, the WRC Plus OTT service delivers fans a 360 experience for the first time in the history of the sport – live coverage of each day, all day supplemented by a range of ‘add-ons’ such as live maps, tracking and different on board camera angles. It’s a rights holder platform that engages directly and deeply with our passionate fan community worldwide and, at the same time, is complementary to existing broadcast deals.”
Hass Aminian, Founder and CEO, Millennial Events (Singapore)
“Sports events themselves have a role in planning and operating events more efficiently, and with proper management, likely to being financial benefits and more by lowering their environmental footprint. In 2019 these changes will begin to feature in more events as event promoters and organisers look to save costs, and attract a younger audience, more aware of their footprint on the planet.”
David Murray, Co-founder, Fozmuz (formerly head of sports rights, BBC)
"With England hosting (and hopefully winning) the Ashes and the Cricket World Cup, media interest in cricket reaches a post 2005 peak. The timing of 2020 to launch The Hundred and the ECB’s new media deal, including live free to air coverage for the first time since 2005, suddenly looks inspired. The many wrinkles seem like mere detail in what will be the biggest year for cricket in the UK for a generation."
Charlie Heyworth, Gaming and eSports coordinator, Formula E
“With the future of the industry going electric, 2019 will see Formula E seismically shift to become the most relevant motorsport series in the world, in terms of transfer of technology. The championship is developing new audiences and spreading the message of sustainability through fast and competitive wheel-to-wheel street racing. As more governments look to ban the sale of combustion engine cars by 2025 (Norway) and 2030 (France, Ireland, India etc.), the Formula E championship will become increasingly attractive to investment from both manufacturers and host-cities from across the world.”