The Exponential Growth of Data and Insights in Sport

Over $1 billion were invested in sports tech during 2015. Why? According to one speaker at a conference I attended in Boston last weekend, the sports industry had been so backward for so long that new and emerging technologies had created a massive opportunity to innovate. As a result, we are now seeing a paradigm shift in how sports teams and athletes connect with their fans.

The themes of technology, data and insights were central to the tenth annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference – and what a conference it was. Bravo to all the organisers for putting on a flawless two-day event.

The year-on-year growth of attendees – which numbered 3,900 in 2016 – together with the calibre of senior executive panellists and speakers, which included representatives from the worlds of sport, social media and commercial sponsorship, highlighted the growing importance of analytics in sport around the world, from boardrooms to living rooms and from commercial gyms to professional training centres.

There can be no doubt that data, analytics and insights are at the heart of every sports company right now.

Jessica Gelman, VP of Customer Marketing & Strategy for The Kraft Sports Group, talked about the importance of the three Cs: Channel, Consumption and Content. The insights her analysts constantly glean allow them to create compelling content that’s perfect for the fanbases of the organization’s sporting assets, which include the New England Revolution and New England Patriots.

They know that 60% of all emails they send are viewed on mobile, so the experiences they offer have to be mobile-friendly. They know their audience so well, in fact, that their content is centred around a ‘lifestyle’, rather than simply being about pushing tickets and merchandise. Their communications feel personal and customised because KSG invested time and money into making the fan the epicentre of their world. Without data and analytics tools, such insights would never have existed.

When Dan Reed, who heads up global sports partnerships for Facebook, talked about their incredible growth, he focused on the need to inform, engage, and entertain. As a Facebook user, I’m one of the platform’s 650 million sports fans and follow multiple teams and athletes (the average Facebook user follows 12 sports-related pages). Athletes and teams drive fandom, and Facebook’s knowledge of what we like, post and share helps its partners to create more compelling content, grow their audiences and create new experiences like the innovative Facebook Sports Stadium.

‘Fan engagement’ – those two words must have been mentioned in pretty much every discussion at the conference. Whether they are at home, at work, in the car, in sports stadia, on the bus, or even in aeroplanes 36,000 feet up, sports fans can now engage with their favourite teams and players through hundreds of different touch points. New technologies have revolutionised these relationships.

The brilliant Jim Pallotta, President of Italian football club A.S. Roma, no longer wanted to treat his team’s website as “just another” football site. Instead, Jim’s vision and confidence in where to take the digital platform resulted in a website that was centred around fan engagement, allowing Roma fans to upload content and creating a ‘crowdsourcing’ environment.

The bottom line is that it’s never been easier for sports fans to get closer to their favourite teams and athletes. At the same time, it’s never been easier for teams, sponsors and agencies to use data intelligently and to personalise and customise their engagement with fans.

The sports industry isn’t backward anymore. It still has a lot of work to do – European clubs in particular have some catching up to do before they start thinking like US sports teams – but this space is exciting and I know the other 3,899 attendees at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference will agree with me.

Were you at the conference, or did you watch it streamed live on YouTube? Which subjects most resonated with you? Are you a sports fan? How would you like to see your relationship with your favourite team evolve?

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By | March 14th 2016|0 Comments

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