Shaping sport’s post-pandemic future

May 26, 2022

Back in 2020 we had a look at some of the innovations coming out of the sport sector in response to the pandemic. Organisations were turning to digital in an attempt to hurdle the many challenges, financial and otherwise, raised by ongoing covid restrictions. According to FIFA, during the peak of the pandemic, Football across the world lost £11.1bn ($14.4bn). And that is just one sport! 

Now, what feels like an eternity but is in fact only 18 months later, we seem to have come through the worst of it (touch wood) and sports have more or less returned to normal. But with fan attendance and ticket sales no longer a sure thing, which of the digital transformation initiatives are sticking around for the long haul? From streaming content catalogues to fan engagement apps, we explore how sports organisations are iterating on some of their innovations and exploring new opportunities to fuel their profits.

Building on the virtual fan experience

Despite a return to live events and open fan attendance in recent months, sports continue to explore ways to enhance the virtual fan experience to meet the rising global demand. The use of VR (Virtual Reality) allows fans to be seated at home while simultaneously sitting courtside or behind the dugout in a full 360 degree immersive experience. With the rising costs of tickets for sporting events and sometimes difficult logistics in travelling to certain venues, this is a win-win for both fans and sports organisations. In the 2021 season, Formula 1 offered fans two-day Virtual Paddock Club passes for $400, which seems pricey, but is significantly cheaper than a ticket to attend the race in person.

Fans at a Formula 1 race in Germany
Fans at a Formula 1 race in Germany (Photo by Marcel Heil from Unsplash)

The virtual experience can even go beyond the match itself, giving fans access to engage with players. La Liga North America, a venture of the Spanish football league, hosted exclusive watch parties presented by football legends on the LiveLike platform. Fans were able to ask players questions in live Q&A sessions and use live chat during the match itself.

Breaking into the streaming space

The custodians of football, FIFA, have recently announced the launch of FIFA+, a digital platform where fans can view a plethora of content relating to football. This is a huge move in the space, as FIFA have a vast amount of match coverage and historical media they own which is now coupled with new original content. At first the service will be free for users and will utilise an advertiser revenue model, but they have been clear that this may change in the near future. 

This is a prime example of digitalisation that FIFA have undertaken, developing a platform to engage with their audience with this OTT and VOD platform, in a move more accustomed to mainstream media platforms such as Netflix, Apple TV & Disney. Some football clubs have also developed their own in-house streaming platforms, but for the world's football custodians to do so is a seismic shift in the space and we’re excited to see how this evolves.

Amping up pre-match excitement

We have already spoken about how excited we were to work with Chelsea FC on the Play Predictor game within their 5th Stand fan app. They were looking for a way to better engage fans in the lead up to a match and giving fans the chance to make predictions seemed like the perfect way to build excitement and get more people interacting with the app. 

Screens from the Chelsea 5th Stand Play Predictor

After two seasons of running Play Predictor, Chelsea can confidently say that the feature is a significant success and its impact is obvious. It generated millions of entries in the first season alone, even despite the added uncertainty of cancelled and postponed matches. By asking fans to participate and compete against other fans all around the world, Chelsea were able to unlock a new angle of engagement and reach a much larger audience than the average club content and they are already looking at improvements for future seasons.

Increasingly intelligent stadiums

With fans finally returning to stadiums, teams are taking steps to ensure their stadium experience is as seamlessly connected through digital as possible. Tottenham Hotspur’s recently opened stadium is one of many at the cusp of innovation in world sport. Along with structural innovations such as the ability for the turf to be retractable in order to host other major sporting and entertainment events, it also has significant tech innovations including advanced Wi-Fi connectivity to cater for the 62,000 crowd. The fan experience is vastly improved via an app that includes wayfinding, e-ticketing, cashless transactions, and the ability to engage with other fans before a matchday.

The exterior of Tottenham Hotspur stadium
The new Tottenham Hotspur stadium in London (Photo by Omri Yamin from Unsplash)

Following their lead, Liverpool FC recently announced a plan to install super-fast Wi-Fi 6E points which will improve connectivity within Anfield. They also plan to give fans access to tools such as mobile ticketing, digital payments, and AR/VR features. As a result, Liverpool FC will be able to collate more accurate visitor numbers, increase the usage of apps in and around the ground, identify when fans are more engaged during the game, which will in turn give Liverpool FC the insight to better engage with their fans and improve their matchday experience. 

Thankfully, it seems we have come through the worst part of the previous 18 months. Despite the  return to normality, a few of the innovations birthed during the pandemic will be here to stay.  Unpredictable events will always happen, so sports organisations need to remain resilient, expect the unexpected, and be ready to adapt to the ever changing environment we live in.

In order to stay abreast of all these innovations, we will continue to track the growing influence of tech and digital transformation in the world of sport. With our expertise and knowledge, we are perfectly placed to strategically advise on how best to go about this.

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