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Tech survey | What is the industry’s top priority? Who are the market leaders? Who’s getting investment?

To mark the launch of Ignition, SportsPro’s Tech Innovation Survey sought to canvass the views of the industry, uncover pain points, and gain insight into the technologies being used.

15 February 2022 SportsPro

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Technology will transform virtually every part of the sports industry. From backend operations through to on-field performance, new innovations will change how sport is organised, consumed, and played. However, sports organisations are at different stages of this transformation journey and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Conducted online between 13th December 2021 and 13th January 2022, our bespoke technology survey also explored the maturity of technology strategies, identifying the financial and strategic commitments being made and areas of focus.

With respondents from the buy and sell side of sports technology, the survey provides a valuable insight into the current state of play.

Data analytics, media and fan engagement are top priorities

Nearly a third of respondents (30.7 per cent) said data and analytics would have the greatest impact on the sports industry within the next 12 months. This conclusion is perhaps unsurprising. Within all types of businesses, gleaning a greater understanding of the customer base and the markets in which they operate is increasingly seen as a major competitive advantage.

That respondents gave themselves an average rating of 5.8 when asked how well they use data suggests there is room for improvement and explains why analytics remains such a priority. Media and consumption (28.1 per cent) and fan engagement (27.2 per cent) were the next two most popular answers, highlighting the role of technology in building and maintaining audiences.

Takeaway Respondents believe data and analytics will have the greatest impact in the next year, ahead of new approaches to media and fan engagement.

Budgets are growing… but are still not enough

The majority of respondents (60 per cent) said their technology budgets had increased over the past 12 months, while 25.5 per cent said theirs had remained static, and only 2.7 per cent said theirs had fallen. These figures demonstrate that technology is no longer seen as a cost sink or as a ‘necessary evil’ required to support the rest of the organisation.

Digital technology is now integral to overall business strategy, as demonstrated by the increased involvement of senior management in technical projects and the appointment of dedicated executives. However, budget (29.5 per cent) and lack of management buy-in (21.4 per cent) are still viewed as the two biggest barriers to the adoption of new technologies, indicating there is some way to go.

Takeaway Only 2.7 per cent of budgets decreased in the past year, with organisations prioritising tech investment.

Internal skills are deemed important, but collaboration is key

The third biggest barrier to adoption was skills (15.2 per cent) and it’s clear that respondents value internal capabilities. Over a third (37.7 per cent) said in-house skills or a dedicated digital department were the most important factor in developing a successful digital strategy.

Most respondents work with up to ten technology partners and these are a combination of major vendors that can offer a range of services and innovative startups. There was no general consensus on whether these partners need to be sportsspecific suppliers, suggesting that technological capability is the most important factor during procurement.

Takeaway In-house skills and collaboration are prized abilities, but employee buy-in and adoption is considered less important than fan engagement.

Basketball is seen as a technology leader

Basketball has cultivated a reputation as a technologically progressive sport and this view was shared by 27.1 per cent of respondents. The National Basketball Association (NBA) in particular has experimented with different media consumption models, data-driven fan engagement products, and works closely with the startup community. Soccer was a close second with 25.3 per cent of the vote, followed by esports (14 per cent), football (13.1 per cent), and Formula One (5.6 per cent).

Takeaway Basketball leads the way, ahead of soccer and more technologically native sports like esports and Formula One.

Takeaway A lack of budget and management support are bigger barriers to adoption than infrastructure or security, suggesting many sports organisations are not addressing structural or cultural issues when devising their strategies.

Takeaway Sports organisations tend to work with few technology partners but this could change as digital strategies mature.

Takeaway Technology investments reflect strategic priorities, with analytics, fan engagement and media receiving the most attention.

Takeaway Off-field growth and commercial revenue generation are valued far more than operational efficiencies and on-field performance.

Takeaway An average score of 5.8 is promising but also indicates there is room for improvement.

This feature was originally published in Issue 116 of SportsPro magazine. Find out more about the edition here. To learn more about Ignition, SportsPro’s new home for the sports industry’s technological transformation, click here.

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