Future Of Sports – Do We Have What It Takes?

{In our ongoing revamp of this blog, we are posting articles published in various magazines and forums. On this one done in 2018, we explored the future of sport as we know it, and its changing ways…read on}

The beauty of sports is the fervor and flavor they bring into sports – some call it legendary, others timeless or the best show depending on what action that you may be watching. Sport makes us change whole schedules, align our calendars according to who’s playing, take or break a holiday.

According to one David Rowe,

“sport…transfers across society and culture in a continuous feedback loop; creating an ‘amoeba-like cultural capacity to divide and reform…”.

Sport in all its forms is an image of a changing society, motivated by varying degrees of attaining excellence. 

This year alone, we have seen technological advances making their way into sport – what with Video Assisted Refereeing (VAR) or Artificial Intelligence (AI). In my previous article, I captured a bit of the convergence happening in media that is now coming into sport.  Beyond the media, there are developments in athletes’ performance as records look to be broken, use of sport as social and political capital, betting and gaming in sport which keeps growing over phenomenally.

Future Stadium? Image courtesy of www.usatoday.com
Future Stadium? Image courtesy of www.usatoday.com

The past World Cup in Russia brought together 32 of the best countries playing for the Coupe du Monde, while in the background there was an equally big tournament albeit on gaming consoles the FIFA e-World Cup in London’s O2. The correlation here being the endorsement by FIFA of a gaming tournament originally developed by Electronic Arts Sports fondly known as EASports.  

To put things further into perspective, the tournament achieved an audience of 29 million viewers on the digital platforms which include live transmission on YouTube and other TV companies mainly through their different digital assets.

The business of sports is immersing itself in fascinating changes – with a shift from amateurism on most sporting disciplines to professionalism; the progress in performance by teams and individuals alike (did I mention Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon record-breaking feat?) and the impact of media and its convergence with digital platforms.

In addition to this, there has been a concerted effort in commercializing sport starting in the late 1970s thanks in part to the likes of Joao Havelenge (former FIFA head honcho) and the late Juan Samarancha – of IOC) and soon-to-retire Richard Scudamore who managed to guide their respective sports into commercial monoliths and commanding huge sponsorship fees and exclusive TV rights – enriching sports administrators and individuals as well as sporting teams with the right mix of capabilities.

To help us understand this better, I will tackle a few of the main highlights that will influence sports at a global level – and some may be making the transition already. 

Population Explosion

When economists (or is it politicians?) tell us “…it’s the number, stupid!” the same happens in sport. Starting with the expected population growth in emerging markets, the shift of influence in the way sport is consumed is changing. Estimates from the International Database and the United Nations, put the current world population at 7.7 billion – with over 4 billion at below the age of 25, yes Millennials are taking over!

But on a serious note, the demographics indicate a need to rethink how the world has fashioned sports and recreation. 

Audiences are slowly moving from the traditionally economically stable North America and Europe to Asia, parts of South America and Africa. While this is still a long way from shifting spending patterns, a different script maybe written for the pool of sporting talent. These changes will continue in the medium into the longer term.

It may seem far-fetched as to the effects of the population explosion in the emerging countries – ask the mobile device companies, telecoms and mobile money innovations to see what potent these numbers have.

Sport Everywhere, Anytime!

Technological innovations have helped in converging media. This convergence is improving how we receive real-time and recorded sports events – it is not uncommon nowadays to know of a game’s latest score by simply switching one’s data capabilities on the basic mobile phone.

Inexpensive technologies such as these and others in development will continue extending to audiences such as shown above in emerging countries. With the cost of connectivity to the Internet dropping considerably and with digital and social media companies taking a critical role in rights ownership and media consumption, it will make sport accessible everywhere and at any time. 

Evolution of the Athlete

Eliud Kipchoge broke the 42km marathon world record at 2hours 01 minute and 39 seconds to become the first runner to do a sub 2hrs 02mins time in the race. This improvement was the biggest margin in improving the time since 1967 – 51 years later!

Futuristic sportsman
Futuristic sportsman

{Update: Eliud Kipchoge lowered this record to a sub 2 hour time of 1:59:40 running against the clock in Vienna on 12th Oct 2019…look-out for an analysis of this in an upcoming post…}

Do we recall how many times the swimming records have been broken since the last Olympics or World Swimming championships?

This is the age of sports science taking performance to a whole new level. While the reputation of many an athlete will be ruined by the banned performance-enhancing drugs, the larger majority are resorting to grit, sweat and nerve-wrecking training regimes. 

We saw what happened when Serena Williams did with her specially designed tennis suit which didn’t seem to impress Wimbledon top officials. Returning mothers will find an easier transition back into sport to perform better and record much-improved performances.

New Engaged Fan

We have seen what and how fans can influence a sport. The fan of the future will be more engaged – this maybe through more interactivity beyond the social media and digital platforms to virtual environments. We have seen this in play at the gaming leel where mainstream sport bodies such football’s FIFA and basketball’s NBA have worked closely with gaming companies including EA Sports to mainstream gaming. Already fans through their viewing experience can manipulate angles, follow particular players, and record certain parts of the game and replays to match these in their one-on-one video gaming sessions.

From a less technological perspective, fans are already creating, generating and distributing their own sports content – thanks in large part to the ubiquitous mobile phone. This includes live-action capturing missing parts of the game(s), unique angles of the game as well as player reviews and even coach critiques. Anyone remember the Arsenal Fans TV channel on YouTube and its bit-part in forcing former manager Arsene Wenger into departing the English club?  No more pussy-footing fans with laggard and lethargic performances lest you face the wrath of these ardent fans.

Sports Arenas Evolving into Greater Entertainment and Recreational Attractions

Sports venues have traditionally sat on acres of land wasting away most of the pre-season. This is changing rapidly. While there is still restricted access to the main areas of a stadium or sports venues, we have the managers of these facilities providing huge screens and sound to follow action taking place in the arena. 

More of these venues will seek to develop theme park-like features complete with team or sponsor-themed attires and merchandise to attract all fans and sundry. Once the season is done, these venues will continue playing host to entertaining concerts and related performances as well as areas for recreational and health facilities. 

Forward-thinking designers will uncover venues which can be done and redone at the end of major tournaments to ensure profitability and a return to investment from infrastructure projects as these. Are we watching what Qatari-based architects propose to do with some of their stadia post-2022?

Extra Time

In addition to this, local governments will play a greater role both at regulatory and legislatively level in sports-related events and projects. With differing needs of sporting organizations, business interests and fans, balances and checks will improve information and knowledge management for sports. This will keep in check media and gaming or betting companies which seem to become over-bearing in their seek of improving sport.

As noted by Aaron Smith and Hans Westerbeek in their book The Sport Business Futire,

‘sport exemplifies humanity, physicality, challenge, fragility, triumph, failure, belonging, comradeship and combat…and it will back in its pure form…’

Are we ready for this future?

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