Professional sports have blossomed into a booming industry that rakes in billions every year. This revenue comprises multiple streams, including ticket sales, television deals, sponsorship agreements, and merchandising. Sports betting is also a big part of the industry, with most online bookmakers competing hard for market share by offering free bet promotions to encourage new customers to sign up to their site rather than a rival. As the online industry takes off throughout the USA and other markets here in Europe, how sports betting operators target customers in this highly competitive market is certainly something we should watch out for in the coming months. But what are the other trends we can also expect to see in the sports industry?
Streaming is a new technology, at least relative to the tools and systems it has replaced. For example, the number of people watching traditional linear television shows has been declining for some time.
But that doesn’t mean people are watching their screens less. Instead, people are switching to over-the-top (OTT) streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+. Even YouTube is building a market share in the space, taking viewers from traditional TV too as the quality of the user-created content on the platform now rivals that produced by large organisations.
Streaming has also become a major part of the music industry and posed a major challenge for movie studios and cinemas who now have to adapt to changing viewer tastes..
Sport is not immune to this trend but the complexities of the industry have held it back so far.
Primarily, this is because professional sports leagues make the majority of their revenue by selling broadcast rights to TV networks. Upsetting this apple cart comes with risks and is both technically and legally complex.
Despite this, we are already seeing streaming make its way into professional sports. Over in the United States, all major leagues already have their own streaming services where fans can pay to get access to live broadcasts of NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB games, as well as view highlights, full replays, and analysis content.
In the UK, the English Football League has also done this, though it has to play a careful balancing act for domestic viewers due to the strict laws in Britain that don’t permit the broadcast of football games that start at 3PM and the fact that Sky Sports holds some exclusive broadcast rights.
It is rumoured that the Premier League is also planning to launch its own “Premflix” service, though when that will come to fruition is unclear. If it is able to do this, it would, at least in theory, be able to increase its revenue from broadcasting several times over.
We are, therefore, likely to see many more top leagues venture into streaming, right across Europe and the rest of the world.
It won’t be just major leagues either. It is likely that smaller professional, semi-professional, and even amateur leagues and teams can benefit from streaming technology as they may be able to reach audiences that had previously been unreachable. This is because the cost of setting up a streaming service is exponentially smaller than creating a traditional TV broadcast, rendering it profitable even at small scale.
Live broadcasts are not the only change we’re likely to see on streaming services. Fans have always had a desire to get closer to the action, feel like they have a connection with their chosen team and/or athletes, and even have a say in what’s happening.
In the past, fans would have to join a fan club, often at a cost, to receive un-personalised and generic content, often just in the form of a newsletter.
Today, however, technology has made it possible to offer much more. For example, social media provides a way for teams, leagues, and players to keep fans up to date with their latest updates, give them a glimpse of what happens behind the scenes, and even run polls on some things relating to their operations.
Over time, it is likely we will get to see even more of this too as new forms of social media, such as the short-form video content and live streaming offered by TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram, plus whatever will come along next, make content creation quicker and easier, while also making it feel more personal.
That’s still not all the content either. Television documentary series that provide a different perspective of the goings-on in professional sports, such as the hit Netflix show Drive to Survive are helping leagues, teams, and individuals better shape their brands, reach new audiences, and engage existing fans in ways that have not previously been possible.
It is through this new use of streaming technology that Formula 1 has been able to crack into the US market far more than it had managed in the past, leading other sports to follow suit.
Esports are another recent development in both the gaming and sports industries. Like streaming, this new technology is still in its infancy too, but is still showing a lot of potential. Essentially, esports are competitions that use video games instead of some form of athletic prowess and agility.
While some may categorise esports as a threat to traditional athletic competition, the truth is, the two can complement each other in several ways.
Firstly, video games based on sports, such as EA’s FIFA and Take-Two’s NBA 2K series allow their respective leagues and teams to reach new fans who may be more interested in video games and engage existing ones further by making an interactive element that they can take part in.
We can see this with the NBA 2K League, the ePremier League, and the F1 Esports Series. In all three, existing professional teams take part with talented video game players to compete for their respective esports titles.
That’s not all though. There are many professional sports teams, including some of the biggest ones, that are either starting their own esports teams or partnering with established ones to take part in competitions like League of Legends, Fortnite, Dota 2, Call of Duty, and more.
This allows traditional sports teams to build relationships with people who would not otherwise be interested in their activities. They may, eventually, be able to persuade them to watch a football or rugby match at some point, or they may choose to stick to their favourite esports.
Either way, these teams build a larger audience than they would previously be able to do with this approach. With esports growing at a CAGR of around 9% per annum between now and 2025, it is likely that we will see even more of this in the years to come.