Sports Loft member CEOs on what they expect from 2023
For tech startups to succeed their leadership teams must have the ability to look ahead and spot tomorrow’s opportunities and challenges. To tap into this insight, we’ve reached out to CEOs and founders at our member companies and asked for their biggest learnings from the past 12 months, and their predictions for what's to come – both for their organisations and the industry at large.
Our thanks to:
- Anthony Ganjou, co-founder, Move.ai
- Ari Daie, CEO and founder, FEVO
- Ben Reynolds, CEO and founder, Spalk
- Daniel Kirschner, CEO, president and co-founder, Greenfly
- Don White, CEO and co-founder, Satisfi Labs
- Nathan Peterson, CEO and president, Tagboard
First, we asked those that took part last year how their predictions for 2022 held up.
Last year's predictions
Don, last year you told us that: “Everything is on-demand. The expectation for immediate experience and answers is already here but it is only going to get stronger in 2022.” Has this happened to the extent you expected?
Don White, CEO and co-founder, Satisfi Labs: “On-demand is definitely a trend that's here to stay, whether we're talking about ordering food at home, or wanting immediate communication from the brands we interact with. Customers today are 'always on' and they expect businesses to be open for business 24/7. We're seeing this reflected in our customer base, who use conversational AI to increase their communication capacity and speed. Satisfi added over 150 customers this year, bringing us to over 400 in total, so it was an incredible year of expansion. More live experience providers see this technology as a requirement instead of a luxury or early adoption.”
Nathan, last year you told us about the growth of alternative commentaries. Have these materialised to the extent you expected?
Nathan, CEO and president, Tagboard: “Absolutely. Media companies accrue huge expenses when acquiring live sports rights, and 'alt-streams' are one of the best ways to capture a substantial return on that investment. Amazon is setting the standard for this with their Thursday Night Football coverage of NFL games. Using the primary broadcast as a foundation, they cook up multiple lightweight alternative productions and the output is a broadcast buffet that feeds an audience with diverse appetites. This leads to more viewers of their productions, more targeted ad opportunities for their sponsors and more returns on their spend. Sports will carry on this trend, but I believe entertainment and news outlets will follow their lead.”
Daniel, last year you told us that there will be “a realisation that digital content is more important than TV broadcast.” Has this happened to the extent you expected?
Daniel, Greenfly: “Yes it has. The value attributed to short form content has continued to increase. But instead of social media being the focus for distribution, short form content is being delivered via rights holder-owned and operated platforms. The relaunch of the NBA app, FIFA+ and NFL+ are evidence of this. The leagues have long had apps, but they’re now much more content oriented, offering live streaming alongside a ton of auxiliary content designed for casual and die-hard fans alike. Short form content is no longer a tool to drive the ‘core experience’, it’s now central to the core experience.”
What were your biggest business learnings or takeaways from 2022?
Ant, Move.ai: “Artificial intelligence is revolutionising every aspect of the creative process across multiple industries. And 2022 will be seen as the year that the groundwork was laid for how content generation can be both automated and revolutionised in ways that a few years ago would have been unimaginable. Tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney are only scraping the surface of the future opportunity. For Move.ai it's been an incredibly exciting year with a major seed fundraise closed, major client wins and the rapid development of our mobile app solution, that’s now in beta before a March 2022 launch.”
Ari, FEVO: “I have a couple. The first thing is that when things look too good to be true, they are. And when valuations and markets soar too high, there is always a correction coming. One of the biggest things I learned was not in '22, but in 1987 and ‘91, and then again in ‘98 and in 2000 and 2007, where you had these market crashes. They’re cyclical. They happen every five to 10 years, and it's never different – they always come.
“Secondly, it pays to have great partners. When we raised capital in 2021, investors were telling everyone to reframe themselves as a crypto or blockchain company to get a higher valuation. Thankfully our investors aren't like that. They helped us stay the course and saw that we were a company that didn’t need to chase market hype. Because of that, when things dipped this year, we didn't suffer the way other companies suffered and were able to go out back into the market and raise money at a premium and grow our business. Finally, the way we work has fundamentally changed since Covid. Everybody wants to have the flexibility to work from home, but the people who are aggressively “non-stay-at-home” are gaining a critical advantage over peers and competitors. Those who get out there, have face-to-face meetings and make personal connections have a major advantage. You can’t do everything through Zoom.”
Ben, Spalk: “Everyone has always known that cloud production had cost advantages over traditional production techniques. It costs less to park someone at home than it does flying them to a stadium. What has been revealing in 2022 is how leagues and broadcasters took advantage of all of the other benefits of cloud production to drive results. Multilingual productions, influencer commentary, betting specific feeds, sponsored alternate commentaries. We’ve seen a lot of new approaches used to drive and retain audiences.”
Nathan, Tagboard: “Content creators are trying to capture the attention of the most distracted audience ever seen. The data shows that 80% of audiences watch television with a second device in their hands. To cut through the noise you have to produce interactive content that your audience can consume whenever they want.”
Daniel, Greenfly: “2022 was the real ‘new normal’. Coming out of Covid, we can now see how that period has made a permanent impact on the world. In sports, one of the major trends of 2022 was the fever pitch around valuations and sales of clubs, with more and more institutional investment going into ownership. It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out in a more challenging economic environment throughout the sports sector.
“This is also an interesting moment for the tech world. Economically, there is a lot of turbulence, with many companies undertaking layoffs and things like that. But there’s truth in the notion that in times of uncertainty there's often opportunity. We’re hiring some key roles right now, and there’s some really exceptional people out there who might not have been available even a few months ago. This is very exciting for a company like ours. We can also expect to see consolidation around the sports tech space. Companies that are having a harder time will often look for an exit and companies that are doing well will look to grow.”
Don, Satisfi Labs: “Simple can be executed. We have invested in fewer initiatives this year than in previous years to provide more capability in our core product, instead of adding a lot of new bells and whistles.”
How do you think the ways that fans will engage with content, their teams, and their sports will further change in 2023?
Ben, Spalk: “The rise of the ‘mega’ sports app. In recent months, we’ve seen DAZN, traditionally an OTT destination for live sports, has pushed into sports betting. OneFootball, which started as a football news site, has acquired a variety of media rights and developed several web3 projects. And FanDuel, originally a fantasy sports platform, launched a TV Channel and OTT streaming service in the US. The fight for attention and share of wallet from audiences has never been more fierce and expanding the scope of the services one can offer a sports fan is a natural way to fight this battle.”
Don, Satisfi Labs: “Fans still need to go to multiple places to engage with their sport or favourite athlete. The holy grail continues to be the achievement of a singular mechanism or portal where the content comes to them, providing the fans with information and answers, instead of them having to find it.”
Ari, FEVO: “We like to say that ‘business lives downstream of culture, and culture lives downstream of demographics.’ The brands that embrace that paradigm and evolve to meet changes in consumer behaviour – how they shop, how they communicate, the emotional and cultural touchpoints that resonate with them – are the ones that will thrive. As much as a team or club might say, ‘our fans are traditional’, or ‘our fans like things the old-fashioned way,’ those who put that theory into practice are writing their own obituaries. The 16-year-old today is not going to answer your phone call to buy a season ticket plan. They don't even answer their parents' phone calls! The demographic shifts we are seeing with sports fans are not in your favour if you're not adopting and adapting to new technologies.”
Daniel, Greenfly: “People are communicating via video more than ever before. And platforms like Snapchat and Tiktok have become really comfortable linguistic tools for people, as well as being powerful drivers of expression and creativity. We’ll continue to see more of that, and sports teams are becoming more comfortable with joining in the conversation. We work with a minor league organisation called the Savannah Bananas and they have an incredible TikTok presence, with many multiples of the New York Yankees in terms of followers and engagement. More teams will begin to understand these platforms and benefit from them. Another broader trend is the proliferation of DTC platforms operated by leagues and teams, with more sophistication on the OTT platforms offered by broadcasters, with richer auxiliary experiences.”
Ant, Move.ai: “We believe that there’s going to be a significant increase in how federations, clubs, broadcasters and fans utilise immersive digital content and gaming environments like Roblox, Unreal/Fortnite and Meta Quest. Not only do these channels allow brands to reach an incredibly fast-growth demographic of younger fans but also the ability to take existing IP into new areas and generate entirely new revenue streams. The work that the NFL is doing with Nickelodeon is a fantastic example of that.”
What should we expect from your company in 2023?
Ari, FEVO: “FEVO had a breakout year in 2022. We tripled revenue. We moved beyond the gravitational pull of being a young company and have now become a substantial business that has 700+ blue-chip brands on board. For 2023, we will continue growing our revenue base and reach profitability while entering new markets and international domains like the UK and continental Europe. We’re also expanding our platform into new categories like luxury retail and travel. We believe the world's consumption patterns are changing as demographics shift, and our job is to continue building software that helps companies to address that.”
Ant, Move.ai: “Outside of launching the mobile app in March – which already has 10,000 sign-ups to the beta – we’re incredibly excited about the launch of our real-time system in April. For the first time we’re going to allow any venue on the planet to effectively broadcast a live event into the Metaverse using markerless motion capture technology. Alongside this I’m really excited about the rapid development of the technology we’re developing with EA to enable full-pitch motion capture at high fidelity, which has never been possible before.”
Ben, Spalk: “2022 was our third year in a row of more than 2x annual revenue growth. Spalk has been buoyed by the international growth of a plethora of sports properties, and their need to localise live and video on-demand (VOD) content to suit new languages and audiences. We'll continue to lead sports content localisation in 2023. And we’ve also begun extending our partnerships reach to many of the major production companies. In 2023 we started working with Infront, Sportradar, LiveU, Pixellot, TATA Communications and a variety of other production companies.”
Don, Satisfi Labs: “Some big announcements. We’ve invested a lot of time and effort into several big product initiatives that will roll out during 2023. We have a number of new partner integrations that will bring conversational AI capabilities to content providers, fan engagement software and commerce providers.”
Daniel, Greenfly: “We’ll continue to look internationally. We’re in the process of making our first full-time hires in new markets and are seeing a lot of growth in the UK, Europe and Asia. Greenfly will have some big announcements related to our technology and feature set, as well as partners. We’re going to continue to focus on providing a comprehensive experience around the Big Four leagues, with the goal of becoming the foundational technology for activity around short form content for all major and minor leagues around the world.”
And finally, give us your boldest sporting prediction for 2023!
Daniel, Greenfly: “The USA women's team will win the World Cup in Australia. Chris Paul is an investor and big supporter, so I predict the Suns will win the NBA Championship as well.”
Don, Satisfi Labs: “A Satisfi client will win every major sports event in the U.S. and UK.”
Ari, FEVO: “The success of the Qatar World Cup will open the floodgates for that entire region to become more of a fixture on the global sporting stage, despite the extremely divisive cultural issues that come with it. The hope, of course, is that sports can act as a form of diplomacy and a catalyst for change, as it often has throughout history. But that change is earned, not inevitable.”
Ben, Spalk: “Brentford FC to make top seven in the EPL and qualify for Europe.”
Ant, Move.ai: “Tottenham to finally win a trophy? Probably too bold.”
For our in-house predictions on the year ahead, read this article: Top trends in sports, media and entertainment to watch in 2023.
To get the VC perspective of what the future holds, read this article: The year ahead: VC’s views of 2023.