I was lucky enough to sit on my first panel for LSTN (London SportsTech Network) last week and discuss some of the emerging trends in SportsTech. This was my first panel so I was very appreciative when Dan thought to ask me to be involved. It was a learning experience for me and hopefully for those who attended also. The second panel was filled by industry veterans Charlie Greenwood and Andre Tegner who shared some great insights about the SportsTech investment ecosystem. I have broken my thoughts into 2 areas; SportsTech Investment Ecosystem learnings and SportsTech Trends.
SportsTech Investment Ecosystem Learnings:
Knowing your audience: Charlie Greenwood made a good point on the differences in pitching style between European and US startups; something I have experienced myself. US startups are quick to point out the opportunity and what could be achieved if everything goes perfect. Whereas European startups often take a much more measured approach and focus instead on what they have done so far before moving on to the larger vision.
I have felt sceptical of US startups and their grand vision without yet achieving much and I imagine US investors may sometimes question why European startups are lacking a bigger vision. Charlie’s comments help put some perspective on what is really just cultural differences.
Lack of Professional European Athletes in the venture space: Another insight from the second panel helped shed some light in what can only be a positive for sports tech; which is former professional athletes taking up second careers as venture investors. In fact, earlier this year our Series A vehicle, the ADvantage Sports Tech Fund, welcomed it’s newest venture partner, former NBA All-Star Michael Redd (read more on that here). Andre Tegner even went as far to point out that some high profile stars are considering west coast teams just to be close to Silicon Valley.
Yet we haven’t seen this same approach from European athletes, namely footballers. That being said they also brought up some key points as to why that may be. Most professional footballers do not take up a college education and with that a network of friends and associates operating outside the football pitch. What will it take to change this and have these high profile athletes out of the broadcasting booth and into the boardroom?
Sports Tech Trends
Sports Subscription Fatigue and Competition-We had a great discussion on the transition of content being sold as subscriptions and the idea individual consumers will subscribe to a finite number of subscriptions (my Co-Panelist Lenka Istvanova’s company 7League) pointed out from their research this number to be 4.9. This is for total subscriptions across all entertainment. So Sports Content providers need to realise they are competing with Netflix, Amazon and Disney for these 5 spots with a consumer and find a way to differentiate their offering.
I thought about this a bit deeper after the panel where we spoke about the potential for bundling content to be the way forward (whether that’s TV combined with written content or sports with entertainment media). Another way to bolster their offering and compete on this front is with a higher level of personalisation. This can come from using emerging technologies that provide the ability to switch camera angles or control replays in slow motion to enhance that content.
Read a bit more about sports fans demanding personalisation and flexibility from broadcasters here.
The Rise of TikTok
A question from the audience came up about TikTok and the consensus from the panel is if you aren’t on TikTok as a brand/team/league then you need to be. The NBA, and in particular the Chicago Bulls, have had great success here and have been smart to do so with 66% of worldwide users being under the age of 30. Although Snapchat has a similar audience demographic to TikTok, the inner workings of TikTok lend themselves to the needs of brands. TikTok content can easily be shared across other socials meaning it reaches other generations as well as the much-coveted members of Gen Z that spend their time on it.
Unlike the established social media platforms, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter where the focus is on teams pushing their existing content to a wider audience, TikTok is about connecting with audiences on the content they already find appealing and interesting and applying it to their team. The most successful teams are quickly jumping on existing trends such as #2Spooky and #DifferentPeople (think Harlem Shake and the number of players and teams getting in on the fun).
Virtual Influencers -Another emerging sports trend discussed that could be seen as an emerging trend across all industries is virtual influencers. Lenka quickly pointed out Lil Miquela and “her” 1.9mm followers on Instagram. When I think about sports and in particular esports, I think the industry is built for virtual influencers to take flight. As a young Miami Heat fan, the mascot Bernie was a real joy to interact with (or try to) at Miami Heat matches. I can see that exact relationship been possible, but even more interactive with young fans in particular as they interact with sports teams virtual mascots. It hasn’t happened yet but I expect it to and I expect eSports teams to lead the way in this.
eSports Training- I alluded to this trend on the panel but wanted to expand on it a bit further here. eSports is in its infancy although gaming is not. And because of that there are still some habits left from the days where gaming was for fun and not to compete on the biggest stages with some of the largest prize-pools. Gamers grew up playing long sessions and living on a diet of energy drinks and various junk food. It’s a massive opportunity and sports science startups are only just beginning to explore optimisation of training routines for eSports athletes. Many teams have begun to work at it by putting a focus on nutrition and physical exercise for their teams but I am excited for when data is used to optimise these training habits. Look at how the NBA has changed their approach to managing their top stars load; often sitting them out to have them in top form for the finals. One startup operating in this space is G-Science as they look to create a cognitive load monitoring system to help eSports Athletes peak at the correct time in the season. I’ve been speaking with the founder of G-Science for a few months now and truly believe in their mission to make esports athletes happier healthier and more successful.
If you made it this far then I appreciate your attention span and if you have any comments or would like to chat further on any of these topics you can reach out to me on Twitter.