Angelina Lawton likes to talk about the stages of her business career as if it were an ice hockey game.
The first period was what she describes as her Wall Street years, working within the financial sector for Lloyds Banking Group subsidiary Hill Samuel. But it was during the second period, as the vice president of corporate communications for the Tampa Bay Lightning, when she came up with an idea that would lead her to where she is now.
During her time with the National Hockey League (NHL) franchise, Lawton says she sat in on countless sales pitches for “huge deals”, but grew frustrated as the PowerPoint presentations being made to potential partners lacked the panache to get buyers excited about what it was they were going to be sponsoring.
So in 2011 Lawton founded Sportsdigita, a Minneapolis-based technology company established to help its clients sell their products and services in a more immersive way. According to Lawton, Sportsdigita spent its first five years essentially functioning as an agency that supported professional sports teams with their presentations, before switching focus to become “a true software company” that combines its expertise with the necessary technology that enables its customers to bring their pitches to life.
There’s like a race now to have a digital transformation. Sports teams are all working very hard to adapt to remote selling, adapt to not having someone in the stadium, so they’re being very creative on how they fulfil their partnerships.
The beating heart of Sportsdigita is its Digideck, a cloud-based sales presentation platform that Lawton refers to as “PowerPoint on steroids”. Initially piloted with the Minnesota Twins, the company’s hometown baseball team, the Digideck gives users the power to efficiently deliver immersive presentations equipped with everything from video and motion graphics to animated GIFs and high resolution images.
In addition, the system automatically formats a company’s branding onto signage around a stadium or arena, meaning prospects are able to see exactly what they would be receiving from their sponsorship package. On top of that, the program also has other features like CRM integration and analytics to track the success of a presentation, while Sportsdigita built in a Zoom-like function in the wake of the pandemic so that sales teams can talk potential partners through what they’re pitching without having to open up a separate video service.
It is an offering that is now exploited by the sales and marketing boffins at more than 400 major teams and brands across sports and enterprise, including the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, PGA of America, BSE Global, Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, the New York Islanders, Visa, UnitedHealth Group and Ticketmaster.
Hot on the heels of her inclusion in SportsPro’s inaugural class of ten influential technologists in the global sports industry, Lawton dialled in for a phone interview to talk about her journey in technology to date, how Sportsdigita has been able to strengthen its proposition during the pandemic, and what can be done to create more opportunities for women in the industry.
How does Sportsdigita’s technology make life easier for the partners that you work with?
We always like to say the Digideck is PowerPoint on steroids. We are very much providing an elevated experience outside of PowerPoint. We’re in the cloud, we’re web-based, so we’ve got a lot of potential for a lot of integrations. We have CRM analytics, which is almost like a 360 view for the client. Our biggest feature to date that we just did as part of the Digideck is Digideck Live, which we built during the pandemic. Instead of people using our product to create decks and then going into a Zoom to present it, we built our own Zoom inside of our product, so that’s been a game-changer.
We take a PowerPoint and we absolutely bring it to life with videos, interviews and 360 panoramics of stadiums. For the Lakers we went in and shot their arena, and you can get a visualisation during the game how your partnership comes to life. So just think of PowerPoint, not very interactive, and this is like a movie trailer for your franchise or for a company.
I know this is a sports interview, but it’s important to note that because of the success that we’ve had in sports, we are dramatically growing outside of sports. In fact, last year we were 50 per cent sports and 50 per cent enterprise. What’s happening is the New York Yankees are pitching to Delta Airlines and Delta Airlines is asking, ‘hey, what is this product that you’re using?’ So organically we’re really growing outside of sports because of the proof source in sports.
What are the some of the services you provide that stand out from competitors? Do you help clients understand the platform rather than simply give them access to it?
There’s a lot of tools out there that will help be a vehicle for presentations, but what we do and how we differentiate ourselves is that we actually create their master deck. We are very involved helping them put it together, so we would sit down with the Lakers and actually figure out what is the messaging? How do they want to present? How do they want to sell? So we will get as involved as the client wants us to, and because of our experience with so many teams, it’s always a best practices conversation. So we’ve become that go to for teams to understand what other people are doing in their market.
How did the pandemic affect the business, especially given that professional sports teams were likely making fewer pitches to sponsors due to the impact of lockdown?
I think that, at first, the pandemic was a shock to the teams and to the sports industry. Obviously they were the first ones really hit. So I think there was a bit of a lull there last year in March, April and in May, so we were a bit worried, but like I said earlier, the enterprise side of our business came to life.
I will tell you that the pandemic – the pandemic is horrible – has been very good for our business. What I’ve seen is the sports teams, there’s like a race now to have a digital transformation. They are all working very hard to adapt to remote selling, adapt to not having someone in the stadium, so they’re being very creative on how they fulfil their partnerships, and our tool helping them is really the go to for them. We’re part of the sales enablement market, which is a US$1 billion market, and they’re saying in the next five years it’s going to be US$3 billion plus. So we’re seeing sales enablement become a very high priority with sports teams, and what that means is they are putting together a very aggressive sales tech stack, they’re figuring out how they’re going to present better, they’re going to really be in tune with their CRM system, they’re going to make sure that they’ve got the right tools so that they can meet their partners online, whether through Zoom or things like that.
It’s really a digital transformation that’s happening in sports right now, and it’s great to see because we were always preaching that prior to the pandemic. We were more of a nice to have prior to the pandemic, and now we are more of a gotta have after the pandemic.
The sports technology space has historically been a male-dominated industry. What do you think needs to be done to create more opportunities for women to break into the sector?
I think the number one thing is that women need to be confident to go out and fundraise, but then there also has to be a conscious decision by all of these big PE firms to invest in women. I think that there are more and more of those type of scenarios happening out there, but I think it starts at the fundraising level. I think it starts before that, I think you have to have the confidence. Technology is male-driven, sports is male-driven and financial is male-driven. I’ve been part of all those three sectors, and the biggest thing is having the confidence, but then really understanding where to go to on fundraising and getting more women-led venture funds, things like that. I think that technology [is] obviously male-dominated, but I’m seeing more and more of us out there that are trying to do that. I think it’s being more embraced just now with everything happening, but I would say fundraising and supporting and financing women would be a great next conscious movement.
What would your advice be for women looking to start careers in sports technology?
For me it’s a little bit more than that. It’s sports, technology and it’s also sales. I think that women shy away from those three type of industries, and I think that women really need to rethink that. I think that when women hear sales or numbers or finance or technology they immediately shut down, so for me I like to mentor young women, women that are breaking into sports just as far as really embracing that, learning that, and not shying away from that side of the business.
The number one thing is that women need to be confident to go out and fundraise, but then there also has to be a conscious decision by all of these big PE firms to invest in women.
I think that networking is such a big thing in sports, there’s such great networks for women now, they’re popping up all over and in technology, so I think really embrace that as well, really make sure that you’re understanding who the players are. There’s four or five big conferences in sports here in the US that people should be at, and they’re starting to have a technology track. Usually they have a sponsorship track, then they have a ticketing track for the day - now it’s starting to be a lot of this technology track, and I’m seeing a lot more women in those tracks.
How do you see the sports technology industry evolving in the wake of the pandemic?
I see the continuation of organisations really focusing on their digital footprint, how they can help their sales teams, how they can help their marketing teams, how they can make their company successful while remote. We just don’t know when people are going to get back into the office yet and when they do it’s going to be a lot of hybrid, so you’ve got to really have a digital footprint that embraces the entire company, through communications, through selling, through onboarding new clients. Technology has never been more at the forefront than it is right now, so the people that are filling a need are the ones that are going to win, and they’re going to win quick, and people are moving very quickly.
I’m seeing a lot of movement in our space alone. We consider ourselves part of the sales enablement industry, and I’m seeing a lot of quick movement on roadmaps, very agile dev teams working extra hard to really keep up with the demand because there’s such a demand out there for the whole sales tech stack. We use that word quite a bit here at Sportsdigita when we’re talking to clients: what does your sales tech stack look like? What are you embracing? And really we’re coming in and making sure the sales tech stack all communicates, so if they’ve got a Salesforce, we connect with that, if they’ve got a Marketo, we connect with that, if they’ve got a Gong, we’ve got a connection with that, we’ve [also] got a connection with Canva.
So we’re really embracing everything and making it that one stop for people to be able to excel during this pandemic and post-pandemic timeframe.