Sports Loft CEOs on the big trends of 2024
By their very nature founders tend to have strong opinions of the industry they’re operating in. The CEOs of our member companies are no exception. With that in mind, we caught up with a number of them to ask for their reflections on the past year and their hot takes on the trends and tech that’ll shape the sports and media sectors in 2024.
From big company wins to bold sporting predictions, they've laid it all out. And we’ve even managed to secure some sneak peeks of what to expect from them in the coming months.
Our huge thanks to:
- Ben Reynolds, CEO and co-founder, Spalk
- Daniel Kirschner, CEO, president and co-founder, Greenfly
- Don White, CEO and co-founder, Satisfi Labs
- Erik Londré, CEO and co-founder, Karta
- Nick Pinks, CEO and co-founder, Covatic
- Tom Gayner, CEO and co-founder, Levellr
1. What were your biggest business learnings from 2023?
Don White, Satisfi Labs: “It sounds cliché, but I learned that listening to your customers is vital. There was a lot of buzz around AI in 2023, so when thinking about our product it was important for us to listen to what our customers did and did not want, and not get sidetracked by the hype. Our customers varied widely in their adoption interests. Some wanted to be out in front and try new things, while others wanted to take a wait-and-see approach before deploying anything. The generative AI wave did not play out as many commentators expected, so if we’d listened to all the noise we may have focused on the wrong things.”
Erik Londré, Karta: “The thrill of being a founder is that you’re constantly dealing with new stuff, learning things and working with different people. A major focus for me in 2023 was understanding how to get the best out of people – getting a better grasp of how they think, and improving my hiring and management skills.
“We previously had four company values: ‘joy is contagious’, ‘we're not precious’, ‘you get what you give’, and ‘we talk about it.’ But this year we added a fifth, which is ‘assume nothing’. I think most of the things that go wrong in a business stem from people assuming things – they assume that other people understand them, that other people remembered something, that things are possible or impossible. It’s something I really saw last year, so we’ve now elevated it to a company value.”
Tom Gayner, Levellr: “We're a UK based startup, but Levellr’s revenues in the States outgrew Europe in 2023, which was very exciting for us, but also brought lots of learnings about building multi-market teams and cultures at an early stage in our business. The second learning was on the ability to remain focused with so much noise. As you start to scale, you have more and more opinions, from customers, investors, advisors and the team. You can imagine how many AI conversations came at us in 2023, for example! So I'm proud we stuck to our plan, and that ultimately saw us triple revenue in 2023.”
2. What were your biggest wins last year?
Ben Reynolds, Spalk: “In 2023, Spalk covered more than 30,000 live events in 35 languages, including our third Super Bowl, first MLB World Series, 19 World Championships and the FIFA World Cup. That’s 30,000 events down, but still another 7.8 million to cover in 2024!”
Nick Pinks, Covatic: “It’s a close competition between securing our series A funding round in May, and adding a significant number of logos to our roster throughout the year. In fact, across our client’s platforms, we now have over 68m unique monthly users!”
Tom Gayner, Levellr: “Bringing on Crush Ventures as an investor has meant more than just capital – they’ve been a brilliant strategic team who have helped open a lot of doors. On the sales side, we onboarded two Fortune 500 companies which, so early in our lifespan, was a huge show of confidence in our product. Finally, we have to shout out our work with Fred again.., who has had a crazy year of growth, driven in large part by his thriving Discord community.”
Daniel Kirschner, Greenfly: “This was a really transformational year for Greenfly, with three big wins. First, we added three new senior executives – our CFO, Gabi Loeb, CRO, Mark Keaney, and managing director of EMEA, Nick Shaw. All are very experienced and very senior people. We also made our first acquisition of a company by buying Miro, an AI company, which has the best content contextual analysis platform in sports. Finally, we had a series of major wins in terms of customer acquisition, and we now work with every single major sports league in the United States. So we have the complete set, which is remarkable!”
Erik Londré, Karta: “TWICE Square, our Roblox experience for the K-pop group, was an enormous success. It’s become one of the biggest brand experiences on Roblox and has generated a lot of revenue. Wrapping up the funding of our seed round in July was also fantastic and we’ve now got some incredible investors and strategic advisors on board. More personally, one of my biggest wins as a founder was managing to go on a week's holiday without working. A week on a remote beach on the Kenyan coast without sending any Whatsapps. It was incredible!”
Don White, Satisfi Labs: “The Context LLM technology that we developed, filed for patent, and rolled out with a large number of clients, including MLB, was a huge milestone. We didn’t plan on doing this when we set up our roadmap for 2023, yet found ourselves rapidly developing it to meet requests from our customers. It was really fun to see a group of smart people rally around a single purpose and not only solve a really hard problem, but also document how they did it for others to learn from.”
3. Away from your company’s area of focus, which technologies do you expect to impact the ways fans engage with content, their teams and their sports in 2024?
Daniel Kirschner, Greenfly: “We're going to see significant evolution of the broadcast experience, thanks to the involvement of big tech. You can already see these companies are thinking differently and creatively in this space. For example, the way that Amazon is approaching ‘shopability’ around advertisements is much more sophisticated than what’s gone before.”
Nick Pinks, Covatic: “Chat and generative AI are poised to significantly change the way people engage and interact with sports. By enabling conversational chat, the game can be dynamically customised to cater to each individual's unique interests and level of understanding of the game. Additionally, AI will have the ability to generate an abundance of personalised content that can be effortlessly distributed to every single fan – provided rightsholders have a method of comprehending their fans’ interests and demographics.”
Ben Reynolds, Spalk: “Gen AI should be the focus of anyone looking to drive fan engagement. There’s a lot that can be done with these tools to create personalised experiences and drive deeper engagement using bots to create custom and interactive content. For example, using a bot to engage with fans directly in the voice of their favourite athlete or coach!”
4. Which broader cultural trends will impact the sports and media landscape in a major way?
Tom Gayner, Levellr: “The increasingly global nature of fandom will continue to impact sports. For most teams, the majority of fans now live outside of the club’s city, and may never buy a ticket to an in-person match. Therefore, membership programs need to evolve. If rightsholders can successfully foster their fan communities around the world, it will result in increased broadcast numbers, a boost in retail sales, and new opportunities for sponsors. It also means more diversification of fans in regards to gender, age, background and geography. The return on investment can be huge for those willing to tailor social feeds to emerging markets and provide spaces for new markets to build online communities.”
Erik Londré, Karta: “The trend for better and more customer-focused experiences is going to continue. There's a lot of innovation to be done in making the live sports experience more exciting and pleasurable for fans. One thing that’s been a big inspiration to me is the US gas station, Buc-ee's. They’ve innovated and disrupted the act of filling up. It's like a party inside – there’s good food, good vibes and good prices. If I lived around there, I’d never go to another gas station again! Similarly, going to a football game doesn't have to be like going to a football game last year. Like Buc-ee's, let’s make people's lives better and give them something that makes them smile.”
Don White, Satisfi Labs: “Investors, whether institutional capital, athletes or celebrities are taking stakes in new and niche sports. For years the technology has been available to make these sports more widely enjoyed, but it’s only now that the investment is beginning to flow that you can see the results. My youngest daughter plays competitive volleyball. She’s witnessed the launch of a new league and can stream matches featuring college athletes she admires, which is an experience my other daughters didn't have.”
Nick Pinks, Covatic: “The rising cost of subscriptions across the likes of Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime has become unrealistic for many consumers. As viewers and fans vote with their feet and cancel memberships that are deemed too pricey, I predict an increase in direct-to-consumer (D2C) platforms adopting an ad-supported model, rather than relying solely on subscriptions. Sports won’t be immune to this shift.”
Ben Reynolds, Spalk: “We’re witnessing a pivotal period for social media. Facebook is in decline, Twitter/X is losing users and Instagram has some worrying signs with regards to growth and engagement that suggests the platform could be entering a period of flux. These three platforms have been the cornerstones of sports leagues and teams' marketing strategies over the last decade. I’m interested to see if teams are going to pivot their social strategies around the more video-focused platforms of YouTube and TikTok – and whether we’ll see more importance placed on driving traffic to owned platforms.”
Daniel Kirschner, Greenfly: “I expect the growth of women's sport to continue, and the success of leagues such as the NWSL in the US and women's football in Europe and globally will accelerate. A lot of dynamics led to the disappointing performance of the US women's national team at the World Cup, but one of the factors was simply the significant improvement of the international game across the board. The fan experience has also improved markedly. I live in L.A and Angel City has really set a high standard for attendance, community building and cultural impact.”
5. What should we expect from your company in 2024?
Erik Londré, Karta: “We believe that the gaming industry is still evolving and maturing, and that the potential for incorporating brands into the experience hasn't been fully realised. Whilst we might not match our competitors in terms of headcount, our focus is on building credibility and trust and I think we're doing a very good job of that. Karta will also introduce an exciting new model and offering to the sports industry. We hope to present it to clubs and athletes in the next few months.”
Daniel Kirschner, Greenfly: “Our goal is to be the core infrastructure for short-form content in the industry. Next year, we'll focus on growing our international presence and continuing to be a sophisticated enterprise product for major leagues and complex organisations. Beyond that, while we already have an incredible experience for players on the platform, and an amazing product for people capturing content in the field, we’re continuing to think about how we build tailored experiences for the other types of users on Greenfly – including leagues, broadcast partners and sponsors.”
Tom Gayner, Levellr: “So far we’ve had great successes in the music space, helping to nurture, grow and monetise fandom for artists like Maisie Peters and Fall Out Boy. This year, we’re going to do the same in sports as we launch a number of tier one rightsholders and rapidly expand our team. Expect us to share some really exciting sports case studies in 2024.”
Don White, Satisfi Labs: “Since starting Satisfi, we’ve had the vision of ‘making AI hireable’. A big part of bringing that vision to life will be deploying a workforce tool to our customers that will give them the power to build and manage their own AI teams. We’ll launch this product in 2024.”
Nick Pinks, Covatic: “Our objective for this year is scalability. We’re expanding our product across multiple platforms, including TVs, smart speakers, mobile devices and the web. With a new platform and enhanced device support, we’re poised to take our services to a wider audience, and initially have our sights set on the US and German markets. But you should expect to see us even more widely than that.”
Ben Reynolds, Spalk: “The name of the game for Spalk is about covering more live events in more languages every year. There's a clear commercial win for our partners every time they can unlock a new market through localised commentary, and we are working to do more match-making between leagues and teams and broadcasters who may have an audience for their rights – all enabled and produced via Spalk's Virtual Commentary Studio and Talent Marketplace.”
6. And finally, give us your boldest prediction for the sports world (either on or off-pitch) in 2024!
Daniel Kirschner, Greenfly: “It's very soon, but I predict that the 49ers will win the Super Bowl. I'm a 49ers fan and they are the best team in the NFL right now – so I don't know if it's a bold prediction!”
Nick Pinks, Covatic: “This is more of a plea than a prediction. Please can West Brom get back into the Premier League, and can the Bills make the Super Bowl!”
Tom Gayner, Levellr: “It’s coming home… Gareth is finally going to get his hands on a trophy.”
Ben Reynolds, Spalk: “2024 will be the year of Fanatics. 2023 saw their acquisition of Points Bet and in 2024 they will officially become the jersey partner for NHL. On top of this I can see them IPO and start to develop their media and broadcast strategy, which could include some local media rights due to the RSN shake-up.”
Don White, Satisfi Labs: “The 2024 Super Bowl Champion will be a first-time winner.”
Erik Londré, Karta: “Sweden to beat Team GB in the points table of the 2024 Olympics in Paris.”