The second in a new weekly series that will highlight innovation and draw inspiration from sport around the world as it emerges post-pandemic.
Our hope is that we will provide a means by which Sport for Business members will stay up to date with the latest developments in health, broadcast and fan engagement. Times of great change are also times of the greatest opportunity so let’s see what’s going on.
The most important innovations cropping up in the world of sport are those that assist our athletes, staff and fans to return to action in as safe a manner as possible.
Major League Soccer side Los Angeles FC have partnered with crowd intelligence software company Armored Things to ensure that their stadium is equipped to welcome fans back safely.
Through the leveraging of existing video cameras and Wi-Fi with other data sources, the technology will provide real-time insight into fan flow, enabling instant decisions to be made in areas such as security, sanitation, crowd density and space utilisation.
The software will alert the match day operations team when COVID-19 restrictions have been breached, allowing them to take instant action.
With many clubs still strategising over how they can start filtering fans back into stadiums, Polish team Lech Poznań have already reached that particular milestone, with authorities approving their plan for supporters to attend last week’s home game safely.
Groups of up to six people from the same household were able to sit together and maintain a distance of at least three seats and one row from other fans, a ‘safe zone’ calculated by smart seat technology Roboticket.
With these kinds of dispersed crowds and severely reduced capacities being the realistic next step for many sporting organisations in Ireland, the focus will soon be on how to fairly allocate tickets. Something to look at over the coming weeks.
While we wait to attend sporting events in person once again, we rely on the broadcasters, clubs and independent media to help us feel closer to the action than ever before. This will be a particularly interesting space to monitor over the coming months, as COVID-19 has forced content providers to realign their focus, priorities and delivery mechanisms.
A prominent theme that has arisen following the return of sport has been broadcasters and rights-holders striving to provide fans with greater choice, in an effort to maintain the connection they feel with an event.
The PGA Tour took a ground-breaking step for major events last month, in a new live content arrangement with Twitter. The ‘Twitter Multicast’ offered an impressive nine versions of commentary – spanning across twenty Twitter accounts of various partners – on the opening day of the Charles Schwab Challenge, with contributors including athletes, journalists and celebrities.
We have seen Premier League Broadcasters BT Sport and Sky follow suit in recent weeks, offering channels with artificial crowd noise, natural stadium sounds and commentary from fellow supporters. Some fans are in it for the in-depth analysis and some are just in it for a laugh; this approach facilitates both ends of the spectrum.
While many initiatives have been dreamt up specifically to adapt to issues associated with COVID-19, one would think this newfound emphasis on choice could be one that remains long after normality has been restored.
Unsurprisingly, the NBA have proposed some of the most ambitious ideas for producing engaging content when they restart play at the end of this month.
The organisation has plans in place to provide amped audio of players and coaches (cue jittery commentary teams apologising for bad language), personalised statistical overlays on streams, attachments to a mobile app that light up the arena in teams’ colours, and virtual concerts for half-time entertainment.
Some of these initiatives will be better received than others, so we will keep a keen eye on the response and assess which ones could be incorporated into Irish sport, and which ones are better left on the back burner.
La Liga have teamed up with production group Mediapro to minimise empty seats on display at games.
The Spanish top flight has gone one step further than just having virtual atmosphere; they now have a virtual crowd too. The graphic, however, looks a bit more like something you would find in an early-2000s computer game than the ultra-realistic recreation of the terraces one might have originally anticipated.
Whether or not the technology can develop to an extent that viewers feel it resembles the real thing remains to be seen.
Sweating Your Assets
The accolade for most innovative use of space post-sporting postponements appears to be heading to Minor League Baseball team, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Having previously gained significant attention for putting their stadium on Airbnb, senior management have been getting even more creative since the season was brought to a halt.
The Blue Wahoos are making the assumption that baseball will not be returning to the stadium until 2021 and, resultantly, have restructured to operate as an events company in the short-term, pulling out every stop to get fans back through the door. Recently, they have been drawing hundreds of attendees for movie nights and trivia nights at their restaurant, built a disc golf course in collaboration with Masters champion Bubba Watson, and they are even offering their services to schools and colleges as a safer alternative to indoor graduations.
With many traditional revenue streams now suspended in the world of sport, we rely on innovation more than ever; case in point are the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, set to salvage $2 million in revenue thanks to their exploits.
Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) have taken unprecedented action to raise funds amidst the continued fallout from COVID-19.
Members of the MCC, one of the world’s oldest cricket clubs, have voted to approve the offering up of 1,500 lifetime memberships, enabling purchasers to jump to the top of the waiting list.
The package will cost up to £17,000 for full members and, if all 1,500 are not initially purchased, they will go on offer to associate members for up to £75,000. Should members stump up for the exorbitant scheme, which has attracted allegations of elitism, they will have a stake in Lord’s Cricket Ground, have voting rights on club committees, get special access to tickets and gain exclusive entry to the Lord’s Pavilion.
Whilst the mere suggestion of approaching Irish sport stakeholders for such a gargantuan sum would likely receive vitriolic backlash, there could be merit in the concept of offering long-term reward for supporters in the position to provide short-term assistance.
The German Bundesliga’s two most prominent teams, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, have led the way in confirming alternative plans to the now customary international pre-season tour, which they have cancelled due to COVID-19.
Both teams have instead scheduled ‘virtual tours’ for the same period, which will consist of online discussions between players and fans, digital autograph sessions, virtual fan challenges, and live streams of training sessions and friendly matches.
Nice ideas, all of which could be incorporated into Irish sport as our athletes gradually return to full training.
Beyond the Lines is a weekly feature brought to us by our new columnist, Vito Moloney Burke. Vito is a graduate in Business Studies from DCU and was 2018/19 Students’ Union President. He recently completed an internship with Liverpool Football Club’s Strategy team, and is currently undertaking the MSc in Sport Management at University College Dublin.