Sports are remarkably technology-driven. The 2011 movie "Moneyball" brought the potential of analytics to light for a broad audience through the story of a U.S. baseball team. The team used analytics to defy the big-spending economics of the sport and find success.

Today, an incredible variety of technology is pervasive in every facet of sports: professional, amateur and fans. In many ways, sports are leading the way in the novel application of data and technology and can offer valuable lessons for traditional businesses.

Go Broad and Deep With Technology

With access to deep consumer passion, and yes, capital, it is no wonder that the business of sports has led the way in the application of technology. After all, sports are first and foremost big — very big — business. For example, the total valuation of MLB teams in the US exceeds $66 billion and that figure takes in the impact of the pandemic.

To support that impressive economic power, technology is being used across the entire spectrum of sports-activity: The training and performance of players both professional and amateur, management on the field of play, the strategic and tactical choices of front offices and ownership, as well as sports-related businesses such as broadcasting, gambling and other entertainment platforms. Technology shapes much of the fan experience of sports and is critical to building, maintaining and elevating overall stakeholder engagement.

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Follow the Audience's Passion

A top English soccer club built a robust, marketable digital fan experience as they expanded their influence and fan base across the globe. Recognizing the “anytime, anywhere” nature of modern soccer fandom, they built a cloud-based custom platform that connected over a billion fans worldwide, across multiple digital touchpoints to provide real-time, engaging, personalized and unified experiences. All of this ties in with their larger modernization and business strategy, to become a major digital sports enterprise.

The Indian Premier League cricket league made a major and very public technology push, not just to power wins on the field, but also to take advantage of available data collection and analytics products to drive fan engagement. Arrays of cameras and sensors embedded in everything from bats to player clothing made it possible to deliver a wealth of compelling information that fans have embraced and loved. In turn, the League's apps and websites create opportunities for advertising revenue, drive sales of merchandise and tickets, and more importantly, help to keep the audience’s attention from drifting to other entertainment. 

Instrument Everything

Sensor technology has become a powerful tool for connecting fans, amateur players, and professional athletes. For example, in cricket, smart stickers and sensors placed on bats make it possible to analyze player performance, giving fans deeper insight into games, but also allowing them to compare their own performance with their favorite stars. Solutions like Batsense, a motion sensing, smart wearable device, have started to revolutionize cricket coaching by providing never before available insights to players and coaches.

The addition of technology to the tools of the sport create new sporting goods products for fans to buy, from the latest team jersey to new equipment, and even the construction and renovation of new stadiums, to take full advantage of the power of technology to enhance the customer (fan) experience.

Learning Opportunities

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The Cloud Approach

While sports are embracing technology, cloud in its truest sense needs to rethink its approach to sports to achieve their maximum potential. We need to not only modernize the digital core, but also to drive continuous innovation.

The cloud approach to sports can achieve “servitization” and reinvent customer experience. It also maximizes business value with a secure and reliable foundation for technology in sports. Cloud-driven technologies are helping to democratize sports broadcasting and content generation, delivering high-quality production online. With cloud-based tech, lower-tier clubs and companies can now compete with the big players, by streamlining operations, micro-targeting specific demographics and sustaining consumer interest.

Don’t Forget the Core Goal

Of course, fans are attracted to winning teams. ITW, a sports, entertainment and media brand management company, tracked viewership of Indian Premier League teams against on-field success and found "the data of viewership numbers seem to roughly go in tandem with on-field performances." But that is just the beginning.

A European football league wanted to precisely track everything happening on the field. The intelligence into outcomes and moment-by-moment activities during a match made it possible to conduct statistical analysis as formations took shape on the field. This started as a tool for managing play, but what emerged was a rich engine for fueling the engagement of all their fans, both inside the stadium and remotely. Technology enriches the existing product and creates entirely new avenues for engagement.

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Expand Your Strategy

The sports industry is rich with opportunity for further enhancement through the application of technology. The lesson for businesses? Don’t think small when it comes to technology and data. Go big, wide and deep. As in sports, there are many more opportunities when one looks beyond just the narrow confines of problem-solving. Taking a more holistic perspective is the best way to maximize the benefits of data, cloud and technology.