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Playing Digital: How the Sports Industry can Build Digital-first Ecosystems

Playing Digital: How the Sports Industry can Build Digital-first Ecosystems
February 10, 2020

As digital transformation takes businesses by storm, the sporting industry is in a unique position to capitalize. The introduction of new technologies has already enabled the industry to expand its reach through omnichannel delivery and consumption of content. Basic customer touchpoints within the sports ecosystem have been completely transformed – allowing consumers to do things like see the view from their seat before buying a ticket, pre-order meals, and receive an immersive experience both inside and outside the stadium.

The impact of technology is felt on the field as well, from tech-assisted refereeing to the application of data and analytics to improve players’ form, technique, and on-the-ground strategies. By analyzing the game using data from field cameras and portable sensors embedded in player gear, coaches can construct highly personalized training regimens for their players targeting areas that will generate the most improvement.

With that said, digitalization within the full sports ecosystem is still limited – mostly to a few applications and websites, and often with underutilized performance data from the players’ perspective. Much more can be done, and to unlock this potential, operators in the sports industry must turn inward and build a digital ecosystem at the core. Only by embedding digital into their operations will such organizations ensure they stay ahead of the curve.

The Time to Shift to Digital is Now

While true across industries, this statement holds special relevance for organizations operating in the sports domain. With streaming devices on the ascent, in-game attendance which was once the major source of revenue is decreasing, as people switch to consuming content online.

A unique advantage that organizations in the sports industry have over others is the fact that their audience is highly interested in the content being produced. As such, leveraging digital to get closer to the customers, personalize their experiences, and even let them dictate how and what content they consume, will open new revenue streams while strengthening the fan base.

Consider the second screen. People today watch live sports on their television with a smartphone, tablet, or laptop in hand. From a user standpoint, this second screen is being leveraged to make the experience more immersive by connecting with others watching the same event, searching for and sharing additional content, and posting opinions on social media. This presents an opportunity for sports programmers and marketers to reach users when they are most engaged. High-speed, cloud-based solutions enable sports enterprises to offer exclusive real-time content such as live interviews, additional camera angles, and relevant statistics. Phenomena like the second screen make it a strategic mandate for organizations to ensure digital integration, or risk losing out to competitors.Through a digital-led, omnichannel strategy, companies can have personalized interactions with fans at scale. By leveraging data and analytics combined with cloud technologies, sports franchises can build highly immersive experiences that rival in-stadium attendance – and may in fact surpass it, by tailoring the experience for different fan personas.

With a digital-led, omnichannel strategy, sports franchises can deliver personalized experiences to fans, at scale.

Challenges to Digital Transformation in the Sports Industry

Migrating to digital-first operations is a significant effort, requiring enterprise-wide commitment and orchestration. Disparate initiatives by business, IT, and clubs all lead to the creation of a siloed, inefficient digital ecosystem. One example is the muddied user experience created by multiple mobile apps and web platforms from the same organization – oftentimes built at different times using different technologies.

Apart from siloed digitalization leading to shadow IT and isolated digital ecosystems within organizations, other common roadblocks include:

  • Lack of leadership directive
  • Organizational inertia
  • Monolithic or legacy technology systems
  • Archaic decision-making that doesn’t leverage data
  • High level of investment required for holistic structural and operational change

To push through these roadblocks and scale digital rapidly and sustainably, organizations within the sports domain should prioritize the following actions:

  • Assess the current technology landscape
  • Classify initiatives by risk, complexity and timeframe where digital can be leveraged
  • Arrive at a technology roadmap to guide decisions such as which processes to rebuild into APIs or outsource to a cloud-based partner
  • Upskill, reskill, and hire resources with a focus on digital execution
  • Create digital capabilities through in-house teams/external vendors
  • Focus on governance, security, and content delivery
  • Leverage data to discover what customers want and act accordingly

Making the Transition Work

Sports organizations should see themselves as forward-thinking enterprises that can leverage digital operating models to create holistic experiences for their fans and all other stakeholders.

A basic process to follow includes:

  1. Identify key stakeholders – beyond fans, these include sponsors, players, administrators, volunteers, and support staff who make the game special.
  2. Prioritize the touchpoints – decide which fan experiences and stakeholder engagements deserve the most focus, based on criteria such as engagement analytics, revenue potential, and core competencies relative to competition.
  3. Build a composable core – create a modern technology architecture that is nimble and adaptable, using a combination of proprietary APIs and vended solutions. This is how digital transformation is enabled.

Most importantly, avoid the common pitfall of focusing on the end user experience without rethinking “back office” operations. Any large-scale digital transformation requires one to rethink the structures, processes, and talent that support it. Focusing on modernizing the customer experience while ignoring these crucial internal layers will create bottlenecks and prevent the agility that digital transformation aims to produce.

On that note, culture is possibly the most undermined dimension in digital transformation initiatives. When an organization moves from delivering initiatives in months to weeks and even days, it requires careful attention to the culture that exists. As the enterprise becomes digitally optimized, it’s critical to support and enable employees to become adaptable to new ways of working and resilient in the face of change.

Sports Transformation in Action: Cricket Australia

In view of all these challenges, organizations may consider working with a competent digital transformation enabler to avoid pitfalls and prevent wastage of resources. To take an example of a comprehensive approach to digital transformation in sports, consider HCL’s recently established partnership with Cricket Australia, the governing body for the sport of cricket in Australia. HCL together with Cricket Australia aim to extend cricket’s position as Australia’s national sport by providing world-leading digital experiences for fans, players, partners, employees and volunteers across cricket communities. Doing so will require the engineering of a digital core for Cricket Australia through a composable platform that will be modular, auto-scalable, data-driven and experience-centric. The result will be personalized fan experiences, and deeper engagement with the community and partners, and higher performing teams.

This type of transformation is far-reaching, but it is accessible to any organization willing to invest in reinventing at its core. Sports industry players who take the time to look inward and reinvent themselves now will reap the benefits in both the short term through fan engagement and revenue, and the long term in having a composable core that will enable faster and more effective future change.