October 6, 2023
5 min read
How do you give sports fans the best experience? This article draws inspiration from the travel industry to determine the technologies that will make the biggest impact, including solutions that offer personalization, immersiveness, and efficiency,
As an investor in the sports and entertainment business, I often get asked by founders for advice on how to navigate the current world of sports – what types of technologies are executives most receptive to, what's working and what isn't, and what to expect from a pure economic outlook.
On the latter, it's pretty easy.
Today the sports business is booming. More teams are for sale, buyers are lining up, and valuations are through the roof. Since COVID, the sports business has rebounded, and funding of sports tech startups is at an all-time high, with the global sports tech industry estimated to surpass US$40 billion by 2026.
In short, it's an excellent time to be an entrepreneur, but purse strings are getting tighter and more scrutiny will be placed on attracting and retaining new fans while also leveraging new technologies to grow on the top line.
The conversation gets a little trickier regarding which technologies will make the biggest impact. This is because sports, for all of its jumbotrons and NFT fanfare, is notorious for being behind the eight ball when it comes to embracing innovation, with startups themselves too quick to focus on point solutions, while failing to appreciate how technology can transform the holistic fan experience.
My advice is to look for guidance from other industries. Take the travel industry, for example. It's a space with many of the same pain points encountered in sports – from ticketing to waiting in lines and even the venue. The one big difference is that travel, for all of its hardships, has found a way to be one step ahead of sports.
From immersive AR/VR experiences to cutting-edge ticketing to personalized flight boards, it's turning airports into tech-infused, personalized entertainment experiences, and much can be learned from what they are doing.
Reflecting on this, here are some key innovations in travel every sports entrepreneur should take a hard look at. I guarantee you every sports executive is doing the same, and in some cases, they already have.
Discovery: A personalised customer experience
One of the biggest issues keeping sports executives up at night is how to engage younger digital-first sports fans. Millennials, GenZ, and Gen-Alpha have lost interest post-covid and it's clear that a more personalized immersive experience is needed to navigate the attention economy.
Enhancing a customer's complete journey with VR/AR, volumetric video and short-form will open doors for sports and entertainment.
One of the most innovative approaches being deployed in the volumetric space is Qatar Airlines' launch of a novel virtual reality (VR) experience on their website so visitors can tour and navigate check-in areas and cabin interiors. It even introduced the first MetaHuman cabin crew, offering a truly digital interactive customer experience.
Another example is Detroit's Metro airport, travelers can walk through the airport seeing personalised information on large screens for their eyes only. All they have to do is scan their boarding pass and it opts them into their own "parallel reality" journey. These are the types of experiences that sports venues could easily replicate.
Butts in seats: Playing catch up on ticketing
When it comes to ticketing, it doesn't take a congressional hearing to know that the sports and entertainment ticket-purchasing funnel is broken. I can buy a plane ticket on hundreds of websites but when it comes to seeing my favourite team or artist, my options are limited.
The airline industry was the birthplace of dynamic pricing. Long before companies like QCue emerged as the incumbent in live entertainment, airlines were using dynamic data to tailor offerings to customers and today they've gotten even smarter, making 12 million daily changes within its pricing database, up from two million in 2018 according to ATPCO.
We are starting to see a shift toward distributed commerce and social selling models in the sports and entertainment industry. Startups like Project Admission, Season Share, and Fevo represent an emerging breed of ticketing platforms that complement and enhance existing (legacy) players in the space.
The venue experience: Transactional to immersive
Sports venues need to think outside the box (seats) to offer more opportunities for fans, making the stadium, not just a "destination" but an immersive journey. Airports are already doing this. Premium spaces (aka clubs) have transformed into a mecca of digital offerings to make travel less stressful– including seamless biometric entry, mobile ordering, and even your own VR assistant ensuring you never miss a flight.
The departure-day experience– much like the gameday experience– has moved from transactional to a pre and post-flight immersion and airlines are no longer sitting on the sidelines when it comes to personalizing the journey.
Simply put: open the gates earlier, charge more for premium access, go beyond endemic experiences, and immerse fans with innovative technologies that go beyond sports.
Behind the scenes: Creating a frictionless experience
Long lines outside a big game leave something to be desired and take away from the fan experience. Couple this with long waits for food and beverage, it's a problem for almost every sports team– especially in the MLB pitch-clock era. The travel industry understands the problem well, which is why they are embracing technology to address common pain points and inefficiencies downstream and behind the scenes.
The Star Alliance and their push toward biometric boarding have paved the way, with half of its 26 members planning to use biometrics technology by 2025. SITA and NEC are also at the forefront of this frictionless experience, which will not only alleviate congestion but also provide an additional layer of data and analytics (not to mention, add momentum to what will soon be known as a 'facial wallet' or 'face pay'). California-based PopID is one of many companies powering this biometric push.
Airlines and airports continue to rewrite the narrative– turning what was once a massive pain into something entertaining, fun and addictive. It's time for sports and entertainment entrepreneurs to do the same.
Sourcing and supporting venture-backed companies in sports and entertainment is extremely rewarding. Still, as I look to future trends that intersect the industry, I've turned to travel as a source of inspiration and innovation. Flight delays don't bother me as much anymore because being stuck at an airport or on a plane is where I can soak up invaluable learnings and source new investment opportunities.
And it looks like I'll have more opportunities to uncover new startups, as airports are starting to play venture capitalist – joining their airline partners in investing in next-generation technologies.
So, next time I say "I'm travelling," perhaps I'll simply say I'm conducting market research. It seems on-brand to be writing this at 30,000 feet, immersed in my own personalised, tech-rich wonderland.
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