Sports organisations seeking to maximise opportunities presented by big data and analytics must step out of their comfort zone, according to Y Sport managing partner Sally Hancock, who will be among the prominent speakers at May’s SportAccord World Sport & Business Summit in Gold Coast, Australia.
Hancock, who has advised organisations worldwide on effective sponsorship strategy planning, design and delivery for more than 25 years, will participate in a panel session focusing on marketing and customer behaviour during SportAccord’s main conference programme, which will take place under the umbrella theme, ‘The Future of Big Data and Analytics.’
Looking forward to the session, Hancock believes International Federations (IFs) and sports industry stakeholders have to get to grips with data to understand more effectively how to engage future generations.
“The sports industry now has access to data and insight on fans and participants that could only be dreamt of 10 years ago. The sector has had to evolve very rapidly, and is, in my opinion, in a period of huge transition. The winners will be those that can translate this insight into loyalty and revenue,” says Hancock, who underlines the “continued rise and rise of women’s sport” and “the esports phenomenon” as key developments in the sector.
“Importantly, sports are recognising the value and importance of the right sponsors, not just those with the biggest budget or the greatest political leverage,” she adds. “These brands recognise the unique value that the right sports partnerships bring, in amplifying reach, providing greater depth and delivering personalised value-adding content, to their customer bases and beyond.”
Hancock highlights PwC’s 2018 Sports Survey, which found that 71.8 per cent of ‘sports industry leaders’ believe ‘the shift in consumer behaviour of the younger generation’ is the biggest threat facing the sector.
“I’d argue that this is less of a threat and more of a positive disruption, extending sport content beyond its traditional boundaries and engaging with the next generation of fans, players, consumers and advocates,” Hancock adds.
“Critical to this, in my view, is enabling and creating impactful, meaningful content that is relevant to diverse audiences – which, whilst younger people are critical, should not preclude the interests of older audiences with potentially greater spending power.”
Adopting the right approach requires agility, the right creative and IT resources, and the right ticketing, marketing and licensing technologies.
Regardless of the sport, Hancock says, real-time analytics, automated processes and intelligent applications are becoming increasingly integral.
“IFs must embrace, celebrate and lead on this if they are to fully maximise the value, and indeed performance, of their stakeholders and athletes, engage fans and attract new audiences, and commercialise their sports on a global basis,” she adds.
However, when it comes to the question of whether IFs are not only aware of the importance of big data and analytics, but also whether they have the right structures in place to maximise the opportunities, Hancock acknowledges that it is a “very mixed picture at the moment”, with niche sports often setting the benchmark.
“The real ‘challenger brands’ in this area are often the smaller sports – those attracting younger audiences and taking their cues from the gaming world – that are not only recognising the importance of understanding their athletes and their performances – to a level of detail we’ve never seen before – but the brand loyalties and behaviours of fans and potential fans too,” she says.
“This requires sport organisations to step outside their comfort zone, bring in expertise from sectors far removed from sport per se, and create a modern and dynamic culture that fully embraces digital technology and data analytics – integrated, but not working in isolation from traditional channels, which are predicted to continue to grow, albeit at a slower rate.
This ethos needs to flow from the very top to the bottom of sports organisations.”
The fact that IFs and sport’s stakeholders are “living in uncertain times” only adds to the challenge, Hancock says.
“Communities, however we might define them, are vital, and sport, music, film, and entertainment – the boundaries of which are increasingly blurred – provide us with distraction, and a positive impact on our mental and physical health,” she says.
“Secondly, the impact of celebrities and influencers on the lives of young people is hugely significant. There is a constant stream of content, wherever and however they want it, shared, discussed, liked, and otherwise. With a few notable exceptions, the sports sector is having to play rapid catch up.
“Thirdly, the awareness and importance of active lifestyles outside of traditional sport has seen new forms of sport and participation emerge, often community based, with low or no cost of entry, open to all, and highly data-driven. I find this fascinating and positive, as it challenges the status quo and brings in new participants whose needs are not being met by more traditional sports providers.
“Finally, and at the risk of stating the obvious, gaming, esports, the rise of global leagues and teams, the mind-blowing combination of state-of-the-art cinematography, graphics, music, teams, leagues and competitions, are requiring us to reconsider our conventional understanding of sport.”
SportAccord week, running from May 5-10, will feature a variety of conference sub-streams, spanning sports event-hosting matters at CityAccord, plus LawAccord, MediaAccord and HealthAccord, as well as the main conference, the SportAccord Summit.
Each sub-stream will feature stellar speakers, with SportAccord introducing this year breakout Summit Hub sessions, allowing delegates to delve deeper into the key issues with the experts in small workshop-style groups.
Hancock is looking forward to the “two-way dialogue between the speakers and attendees”, allowing for detailed discussions about vital trends in the sponsorship industry.
It is worth noting that whilst some of the world’s biggest sports properties are experiencing a decline in viewership, brands are continuing to invest in sponsorship, with growth of 4.9 per cent expected for 2019.
“Fans are continuing to engage with live sport in vast numbers, across multiple apps and channels – but on the move,” Hancock concludes. “IFs and sponsors must embrace this, with innovative content that’s relevant and mobile-led, that adds value to their experience of the sport, and with the means to respond quickly.
“This means listening to fans and influencers, staying relevant and value-adding, and understanding their motivations and actions. Real-time data, insight and speed of response will be key to future success and strong brand loyalty.
“The barriers between fans and athletes or players are breaking down. The old rules of engagement will no longer apply.”