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Member Insights: Predictions of trend in the sports biz for 2024

January 17, 2024

The new year always heralds a flurry of articles predicting the likely trends for the sports industry over the coming year. In this Member Insight piece Richard Brinkman summarises some the key trends from these articles and observes that a simplicity of approach might be the best way to manage the wide range of challenges and vast array of opportunity that the sports biz appears to face

Beyond a number of consistent and obvious comments around in women’s sports and an impact from a European summer Olympics there were some interesting observations across a range of different topics. One of the most interesting things being the sheer range and breadth of themes that different commentators offered up as being business critical across the coming year.

Below I have tried to summarise and collate the top 10 key sports business topics that I observed in the articles I read:

  1. Impact of technology on the sports business – this can be applied a range of channels such as distribution of content/amplification, player performance, fan experience and revenue generation.

  1. Esports – is its influence growing and can its way of working with its core audience give a glimpse to the future of traditional sports business models.

  1. Athlete branding and Personal brand endorsements – is this really anything new and does it represent a new more cost-effective route to cut-through. Or is it high-risk and merely setting the athlete up for distraction and criticism?

  1. Globalisation of Sports leagues – how can sports best structure their competitions to appeal to international markets? Super Leagues, LIV and franchise cricket – market driven disruption or ego-driven greed?

  1. Sustainability – are eco-friendly practices practical in an ever-more globalised industry and do the audience actually care as much as sponsor brands do?

  1. Financial challenges – post COVID-19 and in a new era of more expensive borrowing how can the short-term initiatives that will drive long-term growth be financed?

  1. Innovations in fan engagement – what is the return on improved fan engagement and how best to leverage certain techniques amongst discreet fan segments.

  1. Role of Data analytics – the continuing battle to use data better in sports marketing and fan engagement strategies whilst analytics continue to revolutionise player performance and business decision-making.

  1. Legal, ethical and governance issues – how are decisions reached and who is enacting them given that they can literally make or break not just livelihoods but also entities that have a social value to many that far outweighs any sport’s financial value.

  1. Diversity & Inclusion – Social responsibility vs strategic business imperatives. Widening fan appeal and audiences, increasing financial success and driving positive societal impact without losing or diluting what a sport already has.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all I read about! However, it nonetheless covers a lot of ground. There is an awful lot for the leaders of any organisation within the sport business to potentially think about. Indeed, I am sure that, at times, devising the optimal route forward can seem quite bewildering! 

However, help is at hand! And it was all across our (UK) screens in early January. Courtesy of Matchroom the PDC World Championship darts and Masters Snooker events (both at Alexandra Palace) remind us that when operating in a maelstrom the best tactic is to keep it simple. There is a purity, rawness and straight-forward quality to their approach that, whilst warts and all and certainly not to everyone’s taste, is very winning.

This simplicity of approach is, of course, anything but simple and obvious. However, it is built around firm foundations and a consistent approach that can be replicated by any sports organisation.

The first building block is to double-down on a strong and clear “reason why”. In Matchroom’s case this is to make the sport and event they are delivering as entertaining and popular as it can possibly be without losing sight of its heritage. 

They then have clear, defined and measurable goals as to how they are going to best do that. These will be different for snooker and darts but it will be a consistent approach with the same end in mind.

In defining these goals strong consultation involving others (such as players, venue, sponsors, broadcasters etc) will have taken place, as will as a good deal of thinking around possibilities and priorities, in order to produce a plan that all stakeholders have strong levels of self-belief in. Each stakeholder is then empowered with the personal responsibility to enact their element of the plan but in such a way that all stakeholders appear ultimately to be pulling in the same direction.

In so many sports the governing bodies do not start with a strong and clear “reason why” – their well-intended purpose becomes too stretched and/or worthy, akin to trying to be all things to all people. This will clearly dilute and muddy goals and lead to a situation where too many different stakeholders do not have belief in the plan, do not “buy in” and have competing priorities. Often poor governance (which means that the correct people are not involved in the right way from the outset) is to blame for this.

So, given the time of year, if I were to recommend one resolution to all sports organisations it would be to keep it as simple as possible. Of course, be mindful of the context, possibilities, challenges and opportunities open to you but when it comes to building a plan follow a as simple a path as possible.

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