Time for Sports Industry to Share Common Goals- Phillipe Blanchard

December 5, 2011


Beyond sport

The first element I would like to stress is sport is much more than a physical activity. Pierre de Coubertin used to say that “sport without culture is just a military exercise.” If we go beyond this user perspective and address the sport organisations with their missions, we clearly see the growing importance of major sport actors and stakeholders. The decisions of FIFA to assign World Cups to South Africa, Russia and Qatar clearly stress the social, economical and even political responsibility of the sport federations or property owners. The International Olympic Committee members were fully aware of those responsibilities when they elected host cities Beijing 2008, Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016.

On their side, top-level athletes represent modern heroes, social characters whose recommendations and behaviours matter locally and internationally. This can be translated in economic (and sometimes political) values.

A maturing sports industry

The trend of professionalization has followed these new responsibilities: sport organizations have globally grown in maturity and expertise, at least for those on the international level. We must recognize, however, that this professionalization is still mainly outsourced: National Governing Bodies (NGB) and several sport property owners often rely on networks of influential external partners.

One option is to focus on the strategic activities and “buy” external services in a classic “make vs buy” process, but thorough analysis shows that outsourcing goes beyond the technical aspects and also embrace more strategic activities and responsibilities. This incapacity to mobilize internal resources creates strong dependence on service providers and consultants.

For instance, on the legacy side (knowledge, historical archives, photos and films), there is generally limited technical resources and some IFs can boast some records and archives expertise, idem for web and social media (webmastering). But we regularly face situations where those practices have been considered as “additional” instead of “mutational”:

• Limited changes were applied to classic communication activities and the global costs have skyrocketed with the addition of the web and social media activities,

• Information and knowledge management practices – where they exist – are mainly centralised to some technicians.

There are, indeed, counter-examples; organisations who value their audio-visual heritage, knowledge and records bases: since its early days, the International Olympic Committee has established archival and museum activities, it launched organisational audits in 2002 and later decided to formalize and develop information and knowledge management practices; UEFA has a documentation center with several documentalists/archivists; Amaury Sport Organisation runs the historical archives of its numerous sports events.

However, it appears that, for many sport organisations, the global strategy does not include yet how to articulate those expertise, tools and processes and cope with efficient re-engineering options. This is mainly due to the difficulty of assessing the scope, setting key-performance indicators and monitoring the outcomes. IT is globally understood as a must but the organisational layers of information and knowledge management are still in their infancy age. It is as if decision makers were expecting some technical determinism ie that when the platform set, everyone will use it in a proper way.

Heterogeneous but intertwined sports communities

The sport meta-community is, by nature, heterogeneous, with various stakeholders (sport property owners, organizers, sponsors, media and RHB, Athletes, spectators, fan groups). There are, within those populations, several constituents: International Federations with their national governing bodies, themselves with their local clubs; continental and national Olympic committees;

In the future, I also anticipate some secession trends in “structured sports”: soccer (for instance, we see the challenges between UEFA and European Club Association), cycling.

Despite this heterogeneity, there should be a common information pool because there are, within those populations, relations to the same sports, athletes, venues, results. Instead of this harmonisation and standardisation, we see the same data produced and exchanged or duplicated and there is no single source of truth. This has clearly increased the need for data-checking and some associations (ISOH-International Society of Olympic Historians), some individuals experts (David Wallechinsky, Bill Mallon) and societies (Infostrada) have grown an expertise and influence IFs or sport property owners should have kept in-house.

Huge pressure on information availability

It is obvious now that modern, global, sporting event, requires fully functional communication processes in order to cope with the expectations of opinion forming sports journalists, sponsors anxious to see a return on their investments and to comfort the Host-City in its ability to promote its dynamism and infrastructure. Good news being no news, media pressure increased on the search of scoops and corporate governance considerations. Some media and lobby groups focus on the “lack of transparency” claims and sport, due to its specific organisational model, is under intense scrutiny.

Besides the usual requirements, we now also face legion of social media savvy athletes and camera- or smartphone-equipped entourage. The evolution of athlete blogs (or Facebook pages) makes it clear we can expect more pressure on data ability and reliance, while the athletes themselves (and their entourage) develop their own marketing and communication projects.

These event-synchronised information/content needs are clearly understood by everyone. As stated by Claire Ritchie, missing those requirements “is akin to not filling the Aquatics Centre swimming pool with water.” The resources are therefore allocated for the production of the international signal, media (and spectator) services.

But, over in recent years, we have also seen a growing and inextinguishable thirst for “historical” (or post-event) content: images, results, biographies. Fans want higher intimacy with “their sport and their athletes”.

This craving for content showed steep growth: over the last 5 years, we faced an average increase of 30 percent per year for audio-visual content and sport results (in volume), mainly due to web and social media projects).

For the major sport properties, the fan average age grows regularly older and the stakes lie in their ability to rejuvenate their image and address the younger generations. And beyond this “youth challenge” comes the “South challenge”: with an aging population and economic constraints, the Northern hemisphere cannot bring anymore satisfactory growth perspectives to sports organisations.

Conclusion : new objectives and new practices for IFs and property owners

1/ On the sport visibility side (and beyond sports events brought about by ‘American Idol’, ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and so on)

• The pressure on the business model: from an initial model based on ticketing to more complex models based on brand management and financial engineering (with sophisticated strategy involving securitization, Media (mainly TV) rights, sponsoring, merchandising and ticketing).

• This financial pressure on federations impacts on the sport programmes with sport property owners and Federations trying to maximize their exposure.

•  In return, this trend for busier sport calendars will increase confusion amongst sports fan,  as well as issues with the athletes and their entourage.

2/ On the fanbases side

• Fragmentation of the sport communities: lack of critical mass, lack of moderating capacities, abundance of lower-grade content,

• Geo-blocking and localized media-rights,

• Language boundaries,

• Non-textual data retrieval suffers from a lack of current standardization in the taxonomy and ontology for sport activities,

3/ On the financial stakeholders side

• Sponsorship and TV rights represent 60 to 80 percent of the sport revenues. There is a shift from the license model (the rights to use the name & logo) to a situation in which, the need for more services (content-wise) and value-add will increase.

• Notwithstanding the fact that the (sport) financial crisis will give these financial actors more and more leeway in their discussion with the sport governing bodies.

All these elements concur to new constraints, which could enable new transfer of power and responsibilities. I expect current sport industry leaders to engage in attempts to master all kinds of data necessary to increase their legitimacy on one hand and become the ultimate storytelling platform for their sport and the other hand. In the meantime, they will allocate resources to build stronger sport communities.

Better information and knowledge management practices answer strong demands in professionalization. Improved communication and better governance protects the historical legacy and nurtures the knowledge capital, and provides a sustainable development model. Access to the legacy also increases sponsors and RHB value for money.

Thus, the proper establishment of information and knowledge practices can increase financial and intangible values including legitimacy, brand value, corporate and social responsibility.

Philippe Blanchard is a consultant in strategy and organisation. He served as Director for the International Olympic Committee. He was appointed in 2003, to establish new information and knowledge management practices and to secure the Olympic Legacy: records, audio-visual and written archives, knowledge database. His teams provided new services for the Olympic family and internet platforms: content creation, business intelligence, training and access to knowledge bases. He also managed the IOC commercial sales team “OTAB”, Olympic Television Archives bureau in London. Blanchard is an active member of several United Nations working groups (e-governance and sustainable development), of the US and European Chapters of the Internet Society (ISOC) and L’Atelier. Blanchard is currently working on creating shared services platforms for the sports community and has created a network of international experts.

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