SPECIAL REPORT: Predicting the future of sport

September 19, 2016

Sport has arguably changed quicker than it ever has done over the last 10 years.

In 2006, Facebook was still limited to University and College students, Twitter was just an idea in a notebook, foreign owners had yet to seriously arrive into football, and the iPhone was still a year away. In fact the most popular phone on the market looked like this:


Each of those things, social media, foreign ownership and mobile fans have gone on to reshape sport immeasurably in 10 years.

TV rights fees have also increased 500% – in 2006 domestic Premier League rights were valued at around £1.7 billion, now it’s over £5 billion.

Predicting what shape sport will take in the next ten years is hardly an exact science, but Professor Simon Chadwick of Salford University has helped several top brands try future proof their strategies. iSportconnect asked him where the next major change will come from. His response was clear:

“Asia, full stop.” Said Chadwick. “That’s west Asia, including Turkey and the Gulf region, right across to east Asia, most notably China, but also South Korea and Japan. There’s a lot of money involved, inevitably. You can see that in various Gulf airlines investing money into sport. But there are significant investments being made into sport, but specifically into football from China. We have to understand the prominent role Asia will play in world sport over, I would say, the next 50 to 100 years.”

That move already looks to be underway, with several Chinese consortiums having taken over some of Europe’s leading clubs.


Something Chadwick cautions on as well, is overestimating our understanding of the digital landscape. Many marketers will feel they have a good grasp on modern social media and digital strategies, but Chadwick was quick to remind the industry on how it had come in an incredibly short space of time, and how quickly trends can come and go:

“Something which crosses my radar frequently, is digital and social. Everybody talks about it, but what we tend to forget is this is a relatively immature part of the industry, it’s still emergent. 10 years ago everybody was talking about MySpace! Now you mention MySpace to most millennial consumers will ask what it is. It’s a very fast moving environment, and it’s one that I don’t think we truly understand yet.”

Linked to that, is how we understand fans. Sports franchises traditionally were confident that once they had established someone as a fan they would seek them out to engage with them. But Chadwick thinks the new wave of fans will split their attention not only between multiple clubs, but multiple sports and multiple entertainment streams. Teams will have to fight harder than ever for attention, and look at other industries with how they keep their audience:

“The other trend we have to be aware of is fan engagement. We can’t assume these old loyalties that many of us have with sport. I was born with my football team and I will die with my football team. But I am increasingly untypical of others, who will switch between teams, who will switch between sports. But I think crucially, and it’s really important that industry acknowledges this, people will switch between different entertainment products. It may horrify some people to think about switching from a football team to a Hollywood blockbuster franchise. But that’s whats happening. I think we have to look outwards as an industry, not just to entertainment, but to other industries for trends that we need to learn from, because they organisations and these sectors are our competitors, as well as the next team in the next town: it’s not just about them anymore.”

Sport is changing faster than ever, and history has shown that the brands that fail to adapt quickly get left behind… With more and more people fighting for the audience’s attention, that job is getting even harder.

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