Businesses can learn from sports about digital transformation

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When it comes to how we work and play, technology is turbocharging our lives. In no sector is the G-force more apparent than it is in sports – where work and play combine to create the perfect digital storm.

It might surprise you to learn that the sports industry is the most innovative. In North America – home to the world’s biggest domestic sports market – sports revenue is set to leap by 47% in just ten years, by 2021. That equates to a casual US$25 billion, in one market alone. And digital technologies provide the crucial pivot.

Show Me the Money!

The proliferation of the Internet and connected devices have created a disruptive landscape. For leaders in the sporting industry, this has meant adapting quickly to ensure that they are keeping pace with new trends – and keeping fans’ eyes on the ball. They have embraced digital technologies, enabling the essential agility that comes with digital transformation, to create a momentous tipping point in sports revenue. The opportunity for growth is immense and technology is powering it. But this doesn’t just have to be a success story for sport – other industries should take note, too.

A recent industry report showcases expert contributions from some of the major players in the sports ecosystem. Experts from HSBC, Formula 1, European Tour and DAZN shared their insights around the commercial opportunities that digital platforms offer for sports. Apart from providing an essential roadmap for the digital transformation of sports, it gives other industry leaders a clear view on how these organisations got it so right.

Attract new audiences and stay relevant

Every business, no matter the sector, needs to foster their existing customer base and attract new customers in order to grow, bring in new revenue streams and remain relevant in their market. In the sports industry, this has been achieved through the introduction of new platforms and formats to engage fans, which make sports more accessible for new audiences and keep existing fans loyal. It’s a similar story for retail businesses seeking to make more meaningful connections with consumers. Customers must be enticed to spend time with your brand through a multitude of avenues.

The online experience is key to this, along with the seamlessness of that experience across multiple platforms. In the case of a retailer, mobile apps must interact with the in-store experience effectively to offer the best possible level of customer service and personalisation. Doing so ensures that loyal customers return, and new customers immediately understand the value in engaging with your brand.

Get personal and connect with your customers

The aforementioned report highlights the sports industry’s great success at connecting with customers on an emotional level, leveraging digital platforms, to build brand loyalty. There are great examples of sports such as F1 that have embraced engaging with their customers, i.e. fans, through social media to build a closer, emotive connection with the sport.

In doing so, new streams of revenue open up, as audiences’ passion grows and they are more likely to pay to see a match live at a venue or via a streaming platform. They may even go that one step further and purchase the newest merchandise. While sport may have a natural advantage – as an organically emotionally charged industry – similar tactics can be replicated and implemented for industries at the other end of the spectrum, too.

For example, the financial services industry might seem to be an unlikely case in point – but it is. Being ‘human’, accessible, quick to address and even anticipate customers’ needs is essential for this sector. Utilising advanced disruptive technologies such as AI and predictive analytics can enable this and ensure customer satisfaction and stickiness.

Data and AI-enabled analytics can also be invaluable in other ways – for example as a business is looking to expand into new geographies and establish a new customer base there. Having insights into the lay of the land, how people want to engage with brands on a human level, prior to putting communication strategies into effect can be vastly aided by these technologies. AI-powered tools can be programmed to assist human workers with an understanding of a new culture and adapting to it in a frictionless manner, enhancing customer engagement from day one.

Meeting customer expectations

In sport, the live event will always be the main draw for fans, whether they are in-person at the stadium or watching it on TV. As the digital fan experience improves for fans, many sports are looking at ways to enrich the live experience at venues to match up. We’re seeing innovative applications of augmented reality (AR) and data analytics to give fans real-time insights on players and athletes, while apps are making the (often painful) process of buying refreshments at stadiums easier.

We’ve barely scratched the surface of AR – but while it’s a nascent technology, it could be leveraged across for example in heavy industry like manufacturing for new insights and increased efficiencies. To illustrate, AR can be used not only to diagnose the problems but also to guide people to fix the faults themselves, while under the guidance of an expert hundreds or thousands of miles away. This eliminates the need to bring in a skilled engineer to fix the equipment onsite, saving both time and money.

Services and experiences for the digital world

As people’s daily lives are increasingly optimised with digital technology, their expectations in terms customer service and experience continue to grow – whether in sport, retail, banking, or other sectors – and modern businesses are under pressure to live up to them. Scalability, flexibility and agility are essential facets for data-driven businesses that want to keep ahead of the competitive curve.

Professional services businesses, for example, often have a lot of bright minds, but may lack clarity or resources to identify which technologies are best to invest in. Businesses must consider the opportunities afforded to them by digital transformation to diversify, from a customer-centric point of view. As the sports industry has done, focusing on the augmentation of the customer experience will help businesses to match up with customers’ expectations.

To create that nimbleness, businesses need to enable smarter ways for the business itself to collaborate and access data, and in doing so, productivity and efficiency will be improved too. Arguably, the professional services sector hasn’t been the fastest to adopt new technologies, but these organisations are increasingly building consumer-led functionality within their products, which until recent decades had largely been paper-based.

Indeed, the way we buy products and consume content is changing drastically. Looking to the sporting industry will inspire more traditional businesses when it comes to creating smoother and more consistent customer experiences. In the meantime, making use of technology will ease the burden on employees and partners.

Choose your platforms wisely

There are more ways for fans to watch sports and engage with sporting personalities than ever before – and the same goes for businesses and their customers. But in the rush to make the most of the digital platforms available, there’s a risk that the point may be missed, with little to show for it at the end.

For businesses of all stripes, it is imperative that they focus on the platforms that can reflect and support their organisation the best. Just like in sport, businesses must ensure their digital strategy focuses on the specific areas that provide the best returns on their investment.

The sporting industry is known for its excitement and thrill-seeking – but it’s not all about leisure, businesses from other sectors can learn a great deal from these organisations racing across the digital finish line. Whether you are selling football tickets or insurance, being bold but strategic with your digital transformation goals is the first step to ensure that your customers will see you as a front-runner, stepping up your game.

Written by Srinivasan CR, Chief Digital Officer, Tata Communications

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