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Digital innovation is critical as IFs search for greater financial independence

April 3, 2024

‘Lausanne is the Washington DC of the sports world, not the Silicon Valley.’

That quote from one of our delegates at the annual iSportConnect Lausanne Masterclass last week resonated with me.

It illustrates one of the fundamental challenges facing International Federation’s (IFs). The desire to diversify and grow their sources of (commercial) income are often clouded or get lost in the desire to govern their respective sport.

As audiences continue to spend more of their time and money consuming content digitally, and sponsors and broadcasters follow the audience, IFs of all sizes are trying to test, innovate and adapt.

It was pointed out by one of our panellists at last week’s event that there should not necessarily be a financial cost associated to testing and learning new digital engagement ideas. Indeed, the first step in this process is to question ‘why we do what we do’.

Interestingly a straw poll of delegates revealed that more valued digital reach over digital engagement. Perhaps this is reflective of a room that was full of IFs with little resources who yearn for bigger digital audiences. Clearly, there is no correct answer to this question and it depends on various factors both within and out with the control of the IF.

Customer data was a key topic at the event with delegates agreeing widely that understanding and listening to their audiences is one of the most important capabilities they must have or must acquire. It is almost a cliche now to talk about ‘a single customer view’ but this remains one of the most crucial milestones in the journey towards greater digital engagement and revenue (both B2B and direct-to-consumer). I don’t think many IFs would argue that progress in this respect has been slow for the majority over the past 10 years.

It was highlighted also that it is important to know who we are competing against as IFs and rights owners in general. This list might include organisations like Netflix, TikTok and Spotify, who know the preferences of sports audiences infinitely better than those who govern sport. However, as was pointed out, they have customers, sports (teams and athletes) have fans.

As many sports audiences age, the battleground is concentrated on the next generation and more sophisticated IFs are finding success with loyalty and gamification platforms, greater ‘owned’ digital assets, and new content formats. However, aging populations also present an opportunity for sport at large which cant be neglected.

Amongst all this digital and data talk, one speaker quite rightly pointed out that good, old-fashioned storytelling remains one of the most important capabilities when it comes to building (and monetising) audiences on digital. The story of digital engagement and revenue generation for IFs is still being written.

David is the MD Advisory at iSportConnect, a Co-Founder of SportsTech Match and a marketing and innovation consultant in sports.

The iSportConnect Lausanne Masterclass took place on Tuesday March 26th 2024 at the Synathlon in Lausanne. Click here to find out more about our upcoming events.

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