Inside Track

The Shift: 2021’s Dramatic Changes in Sports Technology

When we look back at 2020, we’ll remember how vital the connection of sports was to technology. We’ve spent the last many, many long months trying to figure out the riddle of it all and exploring the many questions that linger about how we move forward and help get sports back to where they once were.

Well, here is our answer to that question.

True, most sports are back on track but the fan experience is nowhere close to returning to pre-pandemic norms. While some sports welcome back small groups of fans in protected settings, we still have a long way to go.

We’ve partnered with some of the leading innovators, influencers, and sharpest minds in the world of business, media, sports, and technology to help us get fans back and cheering like never before. We are getting to the point where we can see a new path forward for both fans and athletes, thanks to technology.

Not only is it our belief that the innovations developed over the course of the last year and into 2021 will not only get fans back into the stadiums and venues to cheer on their favorite teams — but, these innovations will positively impact and change sports for decades to come.

We’re sure that some of the startups that emerge from our accelerator will be part of one of sport’s greatest comeback stories.

We’ve examined the data and our research analysis shows these four things will be vital to how the sports tech landscape shapes out in the coming years.

Buckle up, here we go.

Social Justice Fires Up Athletes, Brings Positive Change

Turns out COVID-19 was just one of the many stories of great change and upheaval in the last year. Generational social justice issues became front and center and the demonstration quickly advanced into the world of sports and broadcasting. The impacts were seen directly in the NBA as the Milwaukee Bucks walked off the court before a game and players and coaches wore shirts with the words “I can’t breathe.” NASCAR banned the Confederate flag at its events in a move designed to be a cultural shift that would define the future of the sport when it mattered most. “That was an important move for our sport,” said Craig Neeb, the company’s Executive Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer.

“We want all race fans, regardless of background, to feel welcome and included at our race events. More than anything, NASCAR is about great racing and the family-oriented community it creates. Everything we do needs to communicate that message to anyone interested in a great day at the racetrack.” In the future, expect more bold moves that will show broadcasters, teams, and players are becoming important voices calling for positive social change.

“African-Americans are trying to search for ourselves and ask where we stand in the world and where we stand in America. And we don’t know. We shoulder a lot of the burdens of our community, but I think a lot of that responsibility should fall on the majority, and those who are the lawmakers and who are supposed to ensure that every man and woman is treated as an equal.”
— Andre Iguodala, Miami Heat Forward, First Vice President, NBA

The Shifting Streaming Landscape

Gone are the days where we had to tune in live to catch our favorite game. Long gone are the days when we had to record a game we wanted to see if we weren’t around the house. We’ve progressed from the days of VCRs (don’t record over our wedding video, honey!), to DVR (don’t record over my Bachelor, honey!), to the days of not having to worry at all about recording over someone’s show and just beaming the games directly to the devices we hold in our hands all day.

Now, you can find a way to see a live sporting event on your mobile device no matter where you are. And, if you tried to wait to watch a recorded event, good luck not seeing the result on social media.

It’s hard to say that a pandemic is a good thing, but it’s OK to feel excited about how the pandemic helped fuel fans’ openness to seeing the value of streaming sporting events. But, it goes far beyond just consuming a sporting event — it’s about being able to connect and engage with athletes that fans admire and follow. In addition, media companies and broadcasters are getting much more creative about how they create content, and where their resources are. Also, they’re getting bolder about pivoting away from paywalled bundles which restricted fans from finding the content they wanted to watch.

“You have to get creative around how to produce live sports when you can’t have 100 people at a golf course operating 30 cameras.”
– James Clement, Director of Operations, Sky Sports

The Key to Building Sporting Community

The pandemic caused many sports fans to feel disconnected from the teams and players they cheered for. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Technology and the rapid ascent of mobile experiences have enabled fans to get closer to the action than ever before. In fact, technology has been a huge reason why fans have been able to get closer to not only the game but the players themselves.

In the future, our mobile phones will be just one channel where fans can receive updates and watch the games live. Augmented reality and virtual reality will be a driving force to connect fans to the game in ways we could never have imagined. In addition, artificial intelligence will also be available to help inform fans of news, metrics, stats, and updates that will supplement our knowledge in new ways.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly weakened physical entertainment, reinforcing the value of both immersive and interactive technologies to compensate for sports’ diminished visual and social experiences.”

Athlete Performance 

If you were unable to watch your favorite team compete during the pandemic, just imagine how it must have been for your favorite player. Or, what about Olympic athletes who had trained their entire lives for an event that was canceled and pushed a year out.

In the coming years, technologies that will better help athletes train to become better, faster, and stronger will take on new importance. Even more important will be the products and technologies that will help them reach peak cognitive levels.

“Anxiety and stress are just absolutely deadly for players, athletes and their coaches, and the whole team to have to deal with, especially when you talk about scheduling and planning.”
– Matt Barbini, National Team Director, USA Swimming

Dive Into Our Research

So, there you have it. A couple of key things that are shaping the future of sports and technology. Now, we invite you to download and read all the research from our colleagues, partners, and analysts.

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