The coronavirus pandemic has impacted our lives in a multitude of ways. Live sport was one of the first forms of entertainment put on hiatus, understandably to protect the lives of fans, athletes, and club staff. We’ve seen football, boxing and cricket scale back their event operations, all adhering to the strict social distancing polices being revealed by the government on an ongoing basis.
Yet, given the business of sport relies on live events, many clubs have found themselves significantly impacted financially by the upended sporting calendar. As a compromise, The Premier League - like many other sports impacted by the crisis - decided to finish last season and kick off a new one without any spectators.
The problem? It’s a difficult time to plan. While original guidance suggested a safe return for spectators to elite sports competitions by 1st October, this has now been delayed in the UK due to an increase in coronavirus cases. Much like retail, travel and hospitality, the sports industry must use data and technology to help get the business back on track.
Luckily, the sports industry is not new to this way of working. In recent years, data analysis has grown in stature and is widely used in sports training strategies to manage athletes’ efforts and optimising on-field tactics. Yet today, in the wake of both a pandemic and recession, sports organisations must do more to protect fans and revenue.
Fan data fuelling potential return to stadiums
Data and analytics has been used in the sports industry for some time now, but there is more work to be done. Let’s take football, for example. Right now, teams should be analysing previous and predicted future ticketing data - such as fan purchases, how many tickets they usually buy, and seating preferences - as well as stadium layouts to anticipate how to get fans back into the grounds.
A shift in this way of operating must not be underestimated - this is when mistakes happen. Instead, sports organisations must embrace data and analytics to plan effectively how spectators can not only remain safe and adhere to restrictions, but also enjoy seeing their favourite team play again in-person.
Predictive and even prescriptive data analytics are more likely than ever to play a pivotal role in helping sports adapt in real-time. This ranges from managing changes in schedules that risk impacting team performance, but also the revenues of sports organisations. Sports clubs generate a lot of their income from the experience of competition, from selling tickets to official stores to catering.
With matches being played behind closed doors or with a minority of privileged supporters, how can sports organisations recover from the crisis? This season should see data and analytics being used as a team asset to deliver real-time business recovery plans at the heart of the marketing and commercial strategies for sports clubs.
Adapting sports business models for an evolving digital revolution
As we now understand, match day revenue is critical to the survival of sports organisations and clubs. Senior figures from several sports, including football, cricket, horse racing and rugby, met with the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden recently to discuss the perilous situation faced across the industry. Millions of pounds stand to be lost across these sports and more and while technology and data can not solve all of the challenges facing them now alone, it can help mitigate the extent and aid their recovery.
While each sport monetises differently, they all have fan-based revenues and risk seeing zero income from game days throughout the winter and potentially into 2021. Although clubs could be sitting on a goldmine of data, many specialists in the sector have not yet fully grasped the multiple opportunities behind the insights collected through their daily activity and their relationship with their fans.
Indeed, data and analytics offer the opportunity to learn lessons from interacting with fans, keeping best practices, discarding the less popular, in order to improve their experience and foster a more qualitative engagement with audiences. The more teams know their fans’ expectations, the better they can meet their needs.
In-app data permissions integral to a personalised experience
Stadiums are increasingly connected, which allows clubs to offer improved experiences through technologies such as predictive analytics and augmented reality, or quite simply a more personalised and interactive engagement through mobile applications, depending on each person’s expectations. Via these apps, fans can access exclusive content during games, such as replays of key moments from different angles, or even learn about stadium services via their mobile devices, including pre-ordering meals and drinks.
But with the live sporting experience so greatly reduced, this new business environment is shaking up practices even more, forcing industry players to innovate in order to generate engagement and revenue streams outside of stadiums. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt live sport, switching quickly to alternative digital offerings will make the difference to teams sustaining their income and retaining their fan base.
But to stay relevant and continue to generate interest, you need a new level of engagement. It is therefore necessary to adopt a more digital-first approach that uses the analysis of data available on social networks or via historical interactions with each fan. This will build a greater personalised relationship, enabling sports teams to propose services in line with the new expectations of increasingly connected supporters, and not only with the usual on-site sales tactics.
Football clubs such as Manchester City offer an immersive 360° virtual reality experience of its games, making it possible to follow the arrival of players closely, preparation in the locker room or even lawn maintenance, recreating the match atmosphere at the heart of the arena. Combined with other interactions at home via social networks, mobile applications or even augmented reality animations in our living room, this new type of experience is able to connect with the fans even if they are sitting on their sofa.
Sports institutions are working hard to understand the challenges ahead of them, and the need for data and analytics to be inherent in business strategies to recover from the ongoing effects of the pandemic. Data analytics must be at the heart of business processes to connect fan expectations with their business goals. Sports institutions and clubs positively combatting the challenges presented by the pandemic are already unifying data, analytic processes and people to develop a data-driven business transformation and put data insights at the heart of their match day plans.
If they have not already done so, then now is the time for sports clubs to reimagine business. The world around us continually changes - investing in their data ecosystem in order to offer new and innovative experiences for supporters will ensure they stay one step ahead of competitors.
Nick Jewell is senior director, product marketing at Alteryx