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Opinion | How technology could help sports survive the pandemic

Jason Neureiter, corporate account manager for broadcast and sports at Adorama Business Solutions, discusses the role of technology in helping the sports industry overcome pandemic-related headwinds.

by Jason Neureiter
Opinion | How technology could help sports survive the pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic is revolutionising business, and some industries have been more prepared for the changes than others — the sports world falls in the latter camp. 

The sports industry has been mind-blowingly lucrative for decades, with teams earning big bucks from ticket sales, broadcast partnerships, and licensing deals. These three revenue streams have only grown with technology’s rapidly changing evolutions. From 2011 to 2018, the global sports industry valuation grew 45 per cent to a whopping US$471 billion in 2018, according to World Economic Forum. Entering 2020, the year of the highly anticipated summer Olympics, life in the sports world looked brighter than ever.

Of course, we know how this story ends. When March 2020 rolled around, the sports industry, as well as the world, catapulted into chaos overnight. The multi-billion-dollar Olympics were postponed. The money-maker that is March Madness was canceled. And, as the Covid-19 tale goes, other teams and leagues followed suit. This begged a terrifying question for those in sports:

How does the sports industry stay afloat without, well, sports? 

The answer wasn’t clear, but leagues and broadcasters experimented widely. ESPN and Fox Sports made classic games and archived content readily available to engage fans. The National Basketball Association (NBA) capitalised on its own esports adaptation, NBA 2K, which had players streaming content from their own homes. And the Naitional Football League (NFL) took sports nostalgia a welcome step further by making every single game since 2009 accessible for streaming via Game Pass, a direct-to-consumer channel priced at around US$99 per season. 

Lucrative or not, experts know these strategies are mere Band-Aids—and sadly, these Band-Aids just don’t add up. With shortened seasons and no in-person fans, these changes really altered several billion dollars of revenue streams. 

As sports leagues and broadcasters enter new territory—a mix of teams playing reduced seasons, and largely (if not entirely) without fans onsite—they’re navigating new revenue options to keep a key income driver—fan engagement—alive. Fans lead to advertisement views, and advertisement views lead to potential revenue. It’s a tale as old as time in the world of sports advertising. But in 2020 and beyond, that ever-valuable fan experience will look quite different—and despite the bleak circumstances, that may ultimately lead to some long-term positives. 

Using live streams to recreate the fan experience

Live streaming is not a new idea in the world of sports, but it’s taking a new shape, and priority, as leagues and broadcasters brainstorm new revenue options. In the past, live streaming was an enhancement of the broadcast. It was there, but more so as an extra stream of revenue. Now what they’re going to have to do is make it more readily available. They’ll need to improve upon it, make sure it’s top-notch quality, and perhaps even bite the bullet by not focusing solely on revenue stream, but also perfecting the fan experience in this new virtual sports environment.

Services like Pixellot have further expanded the options for sports broadcasting. No longer do you need a full crew or production team; the service allows for inexpensive live coverage for seamless streaming. 

While multiple tech options make live streaming easier than ever, PTZ cameras—cameras that pan, tilt and zoom via remote controls—are flying off the shelves and saving big bucks across the industry. The only thing is, these cameras don’t have the same quality calibre of a traditional broadcast, because traditional broadcast cameras are very high-spec. That’s a trade-off we’re seeing clients adapt to engage fans while staying within tight budgets.

Making social media a main, money-making priority

Just like live streaming, social media has always been important in the world of sports, but it’s never been a top-level priority. That will soon change, if it hasn’t already. Social media is an essential tool for fan retention, which is more critical than ever given fans don’t have in-person events and nearly as many games to engage them. Since fans equal potential advertisement views, and advertisement views equate to revenue, social media could mean major dollar signs for the sports industry—at a time when they need it most.

Following the death of George Floyd, amid the subsequent protests and rallies, numerous broadcasters decided to craft content showing their support or brand take. And, in an unprecedented move, they used this content solely where the conversations were happening: social media.

I had one client call me up to say they needed a set of cameras, cables, microphones, lights and so on, because his company gave him US$50,000 to create six one-hour specials on equality. We’ve also had teams create timely social-media content around staying safe during Covid-19, how to watch the game virtually, or even ten-minute one-on-ones with players since fans couldn’t come to practice. This is where social media has, and will continue to, play a major role moving forward.

Home studios are the new broadcast sets

As the pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders grew, more and more broadcasters turned to home studios instead of in-person broadcast sets for the safety and health of their staff. 

Home studios are not only growing in popularity; they’re also surprisingly affordable, with just a few essentials like lights, cameras, microphones, and tripods needed for the perfect kit. Even better? Most people don’t realise that with traditional mirrorless cameras, you can plug right into the internet with the correct adaptors, then live stream to the masses.

So that’s an affordable first step for clients creating home-studio kits. From here, our team suggests lighting options, tripods, and streamlined audio configurations to round things out. 

Content quantity is the key to a sustainable short-term future

Like it or not, the pandemic shows no signs of letting up. That means sports seasons may be shorter, games will inevitably be canceled and content quantity—the bread and butter of the sports industry—will continue getting reduced. Except, it doesn’t have to. 

From esports adaptations to live streams left and right, the sports industry has already shown its prowess when it comes to content creativity. Now, it’s time to monetise as the rest of the pandemic shakes out. 

About the author: Jason Neureiter is a 20-year veteran of the media, broadcast and sports worlds having specialised in both transport and content management. As a corporate account manager at Adorama Business Solutions, he helps both sports teams and leagues as well as broadcasters achieve their goals of creating, capturing, storing and monetising their content in the best way possible.