With top sports stars like F.C. Barcelona’s Lionel Messi worth in excess of $50 million, the global sports industry equals big business. Clearly, the landscape of the industry in 2017 is vastly different compared to ten or even five years ago. As we enter the final business quarter of the year, it’s a good time to look back at the some of the key business trends that have shaped the sports industry.
During 2017, the focus of sports clubs and teams began to shift to creating high-quality and engaging fan experiences that don’t end at the stadium or sports ground. The mass commercialization of popular sports is starting to influence the way brands design and develop their products, and the advent of the digital age has created a new category of professional sports.
Innovation has been high on the agenda for sports teams and organizations so far during 2017. For example, the NBA team the Philadelphia 76ers’ has dedicated an 8,000 square-feet “innovation hub”, which opened its doors in July. Its aim is to provide support, consulting and investment opportunities to “start-ups with potential”. The Sixers Innovation Lab is situated in the team’s state-of-the-art training complex and business operations facility, and so far, has housed four diverse companies in the hub operating in eSports, pet care, digital cause media and daily fantasy sports. In addition to office and production space and operational support, companies housed by the lab are also able to receive free meals and housing in the Philadelphia area as well as legal services, marketing support and third-party branding.
Another side of innovation has been of benefit to the 76ers’ fellow NBA team the Sacramento Kings. The sports team’s new home, the Golden 1 Center, has been dubbed the U.S.’s first “smart arena”. This $558 million sports and entertainment venue officially opened last September and has already played host to many notable sporting events including the UFC on Fox 22’s fight night headlined by a women’s strawweight MMA bout between Paige VanZant and Michelle Waterson in December 2016, the WWE No Mercy event last October and the Sacramento Kings’ pre-season and regular games during the 2016/17 season.
A full entertainment and sporting complex, its use of innovation shows in both its design and facilities. The 44 x 24 feet court video screens and the 6,100 square-feet main videoboard all broadcast in 4K Ultra HD and free Wi-Fi connections available throughout the arena claim to be in excess of 15,000 times faster than the average home broadband network. According to the construction and development team, the bandwidth capabilities of the network available in the arena and the surrounding plaza extend to the equivalent of posting over 225,000 Instagram photos per second.
A relatively new player in the sports business game is on the brink of becoming a billion-dollar industry. eSports has experienced exponential growth in recent years and is set to become even more popular following the recent announcement that it will become a medal event at the 2022 Asian Games. Seen by some as competitive video gaming, eSports is expected to generate almost $700 million in revenue before the end of the year. Its total audience reach is estimated to be 385 million and market researchers forecast a reach of 589 million within the next three years.
Global sports teams are also beginning to invest in eSports and more interactive ways to connect and engage fans. Four Australian Football League teams including Essendon and Carlton are considering investing in professional eGamers after the successful acquisition of Legacy eSports by Adelaide Football Club. Many club officials in the region view eSports as a natural extension to their teams, opening a new fan base in a demographic that typically engages in online video gaming and content streaming. The AFL clubs expressed an interest in harnessing the potential of eSports to generate content, suggesting the creation of a dedicated eSports studio that will enable the creation and broadcast of games across the genre. The target audience for online gaming includes Millennials and older online and mobile aficionados; meaning that there is huge potential for expansion in the market.
Moving forward into 2018, we can expect to see technology and innovation still dominating trends in the sports industry. We’re already witnessing the transformation of sporting arenas into high-tech entertainment monoliths, and sports media is expected to undergo a similar evolution. On the fields and elsewhere professional women’s teams are beginning to surge in popularity in mainstream culture, particularly since sports organizations are looking for new ways to optimize the experience of fans while increasing their existing audience base.