Jon Ford

As the BBQ fired up and tens of thousands of people tried to get used to the crushing reality that Austin no long “does” Uber (hello, RideAustin!), SXSW Sports kicked off the annual festival of music, film and technology with three days of deep discussion.

And alongside Seven League’s rapturously received* panel with our friends from Barcelona, Leicester City and Juventus, there were a number of other talking points that came up over, and over again.

*Standing ovation, deafening cheers, thrown bouquets of flowers sending name cards flying…

In no particular order …

1. Virtual Reality is still speculative

Could it replace the live sporting experience? Could it enhance it? Where does data fit into the picture? And what about the commercials – could this be a lucrative premium offering? In summary, there’s no single right answer yet.

Most people in the room have tried VR, many understand the difference between VR and AR, and some have begun to take steps in their area of expertise.

But tried and tested models? Ready to release result publicly? Not just yet.

While panelists looked to a future of AR athlete training, bringing the global fanbase “into” the stadium, and the ability to monetize the opportunity, we look ahead to #SXSW2018 to see how these plans develop.

2. Revenue is fragmented

WWE spoke candidly about the success of the WWE Network.

At $9.99 per month, the team explained how the story begins on traditional broadcast, is supported on social media, and completed via the Network subscription.

Michelle Wilson, CRO/CMO of WWE, spoke of the “long dark corridor” in 2014 as the company began work on the Network offering, but was happy to report the doubling of PPV revenue, video consumption increase of 40%, and the way in which they were forced to learn and change as fans demanded changes to their proposed subscription model.

3. The NBA are ahead of the game

It was great to hear that our clients, the NBA, are leading the field in technical / data-driven areas. With a younger fanbase than other US sports (approximately 10 years younger), their consumption demands are different, and – being an early adopter – the NBA feels they are “the early bird that got the worm”.

Elsewhere in basketball, players also have greater data demands; team management have moved from wanting no data, to wanting all the data, to wanting the right data.

With thousands of data points, and career long capture, the NBA are moving to a situation where – in the future – injuries could be forecast, and outcomes could be predicted.

4. Data is not just cool, it’s an expectation

Kids understand it, athletes expect it. Personal data is now available to NBA players following the draft, and – while it can’t be used to inform draft decisions (yet) – this is yet another place where technology and participation intersect.

As data sets increase, the accuracy around predictions will also increase.

Is a player in danger of injury? How serious could that be? Post-match, if the coach had played player A instead of B could we have seen a different result? Pre-match, if the coach plays players C instead of D, what effect would that have?

With data sets stretching from early teens to the end of careers, how accurately can we predict the future?

5. Physical experiences can be awesome too!

As part of our ongoing work with Tottenham Hotspur, Seven League is assisting with the creation of a new museum to be built within Spurs’ brand new stadium.

Speakers from the New Museum in New York and the American Museum of Natural History showed what the future of museums could look like, demonstrating where traditional exhibiting and digital interaction and display can intersect.

360 audio modelling, a cat scan of a shark, the visualization of real time data, and the transection of old and new artifacts were just a handful of examples shown that may inform our future digital planning.

6. Don’t forget the content…

Of course, content was at the heart of many of the discussions. How do we balance free and paid content? And how do I move my fan base from free to paid subscriptions?

How can I surprise a digitally sophisticated fanbase? How do I really localize effectively? And – really – what should we be using VR for? It’s quite expensive, isn’t it?

Just a few of the topics for discussion, as teams, rights holders, brands, and tech enablers grappled with a key part of their business and an ever expectant fanbase. 

In Summary

SXSW remains a crucial hub for sports tech discussion. Learnings can be directly relevant, or find application disparately, where you may least expect them. The future of sports and tech are undoubtedly bound together and, as some lead and some follow, the fans are still at the heart of everything.

Their support, at the ground or on the other side of the world, is key to defining your next move. This was demonstrated exceptionally by our friends at Spurs as they handed over their Snapchat to local supporters club Austin Spurs, to tell the story of what the FA Cup means to them, at 8am, in a bar off a freeway, waiting to be able to legally buy a morning beer, almost 5,000 miles from White Hart Lane …

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