Sports is expanding beyond broadcast with new innovative digital experiences. Redefining what it means to connect teams with fans, the sports world is working to create and engage with younger generations and address decreasing viewership amid the shift to streaming.
Here are some of the new developments we saw this year and what to expect moving forward.
It’s now an experience environment
Stadiums across Europe and around the world are upgrading their connectivity. Ericsson installed 5G mid-band technology to serve fans attending the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France. Liverpool Football Club and Manchester United stadiums now have Wi-Fi 6 connectivity.
European sports venues are also working with companies like Signify to install LED lighting to provide fans with more vivid viewing experiences. The European Olympic Committee offers a virtual fan experience to allow people who can’t attend European Games’ events to have rich experiences through augmented and virtual reality. And HPE’s partnership with the 2023 Ryder Cup used data analytics and connectivity to give fans tailored content, insights and statistics.
New venues are immersive, interactive and social. And there’s a significant shift towards enhanced digital infrastructure to support these superior and seamless experiences for fans and improve operational efficiencies and new revenue opportunities for teams and venues.
Sphere in Las Vegas is another experience environment. More places with digital XR screens that make you feel like you’re at the game are opening. Instead of going to a sports bar, you go to a modified AR theater, order food and share a new type of experience with other people.
The audience is now part of the production
The move to deliver such experiences maps to what’s happening with consumption habits.
Younger generations don’t want to passively consume content. Production is now a more creative act that may involve an in-seat view of a fan as they watch and react to the content.
Technology is breaking down boundaries between in-person and at-home experiences
Using a native mobile app of the stadium that you’re sitting in, you can watch the latest replay, check stats, order refreshments and monitor your fantasy football league all from your phone.
This is part of a larger trend of sports organisations working to keep seamless conversation and excitement going with fans whenever and wherever they are. This is valuable because you can only put so many people in seats. But digital technology allows you to create engagement and build revenue streams that extend the experience across boundaries and go beyond game day.
Alternate productions are working to engage the next generation
The industry needs to captivate younger generations in a new way or it will lose them to Esports and social media. That’s why Disney and Nickelodeon are scanning players’ movements and animating the athletes to look like popular cartoon characters to engage younger audiences.
The National Football League, Disney and Pixar recently joined forces to deliver an animated broadcast of an NFL game that took place in London. By introducing young viewers to sports through characters they know, you instantly expand your addressable market.
Generative machine intelligence and data will allow for reuse and new kinds of content
You typically don’t get a lot of reuse of live content. However, if you can deliver that game or that play from a different angle or perspective, with personalisation, you can get additive value.
AI empowers you to create packages in a way that matters to the viewer, their interests and the things they subscribe to and are betting on. AI can create additional frames to turn standard shots into slow motion. By creating frames and using AI to understand different camera angles, you could allow consumers to watch a game from the perspective of a player on the field.
Winning organisations will approach infrastructure the way engineers approach software
The industry is ripe with opportunities for innovation. Going forward, expect more digital, social, interactive and immersive in-stadium experiences as teams seek more ownership over their relationships with fans. In 2024, point-based AI solutions that enhance the frame rates of cameras, allow all cameras at a facility be slow motion, and potentially deliver extended angles and automated graphics will appear. That will set the stage for even more AI-driven experiences.
With AI, gamification will reach a whole new level. A fantasy football fan could cap off their day by generating a program showing how a game that never existed would have been played. That’s just one example of how data generated by a game can keep fans engaged.
But delivering amazing new experiences requires us to think, build and partner in new ways.
The new model is to build flexible solutions, venues and production facilities that can evolve to meet changing business and customer needs. This is similar to the software engineering approach, which involves agile processes, continuous improvement and regular updates.
The software-centric approach aligns with cloud services, which scale on demand; allows for seamless integration and scalability for the Internet of Things; and provides the flexibility and power to support data analytics and machine learning for content customisation and audience insights.
Taking a software development approach to media systems integration also fosters a new kind of partnership among vendors, integrators and clients. Traditionally, vendors supplied hardware for integrators to implement, and there was limited opportunity for customisation. But the new approach encourages continuous interaction and co-creation. Vendors now often provide modular, software-based solutions that can be tailored to client needs and involve integrators more deeply in the customisation and optimisation process. This positions integrators as consultants who can offer installation expertise and ongoing system refinement and adaptation. And clients become active participants in the development process, offering real-time input and having a greater say in how the final product evolves. This collaborative model leads to solutions that are more closely aligned to evolving needs and can adapt as new technologies emerge.