Our Thinking

Technology that will define Sports & Media in 2022

A look into some of the key trends that we think will shape the way that sports and media organisations engage with their fans in the year ahead.
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Andy Selby
December 3, 2021
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December means two key things - Christmas, and industry trend predictions for the following year! Below we discuss a few key trends in sports and media that are top of mind for us as we head into 2022.


Demand for digital engagement between fans and teams is here to stay

Covid pushed much of fan engagement online, and in doing so led to teams seeking out new technologies to speak with fans and connect them with the club. With geography no longer a limiting factor, domestic and international fans found themselves on level pegging for access, as clubs used technology to quickly offer alternative sponsor activations, including fan meet and greets and UGC challenges. The return of fans to stadiums has done nothing to diminish this - much of fan engagement has stayed online and has offered a more scalable solution. Platforms offering greater specialisation in this space will continue to see adoption, particularly where they can seamlessly handle event access, broadcast and group viewership.

Meanwhile, OTT platforms are increasingly allowing for active participation in live content à la Twitch with live comments and polls from fans making their way into broadcasts. Additional functionality including social viewing, trivia games and merchandise sales can all sit within the one platform, keeping viewers engaged with content. Expect further personalisation of content too, with fans able to choose from a range of commentators and camera angles, and be served relevant match, betting and fantasy sports data whilst watching. Continued legalisation of sports betting in the US is helping to drive fan demand for data in live matches, and companies that capture, share and integrate this into broadcasts will continue to see demand as it levels up the storytelling abilities of broadcasters and pundits alike.


Sports teams and leagues deepen their relationship with gaming

Sport's relationship with gaming has for a while now extended beyond the FIFAs and NBA 2Ks of the gaming market, with teams signing professional esports athletes, and leagues and federations running tournaments for their teams. With Covid pushing clubs to find alternative means of fan engagement beyond matchdays, we saw an accelerated interest in the space, with clubs running gaming tournaments to engage fans and activate sponsorships.

Looking forward to 2022, teams are increasingly waking up to the value of gaming as part of their content strategies, and as such we should expect to see growth in the signing of gaming content creators to work with teams. We've seen this work well where teams have collaborated with content creators who are genuine fans of their club - allowing for long-term relationships in which clubs provide content creators with club access and in return, reach their Gen Z audience in a new and authentic manner through a legitimate brand advocate. In turn, expect to see content product tools used for sports reaching further into gaming & esports.

We're also expecting to see further steps taken by sports teams to expand beyond sports games, and into new geographies. 2021 saw the likes of Manchester City take their first step beyond football with the signing of a professional Fortnite player, while FC Barcelona stepped into the Summoner's Rift with the announcement of their first League of Legends team. Expect to see teams leveraging their brands abroad too - PSG's 2020 partnership with Hong Kong-based Talon Esports is something we should expect to see more of, particularly as major esports events return. Expect to see growing demand for gaming & esports analytics tools from traditional sports teams - both in-game performance and sponsorship management and measurement.


Sports NFTs will need to offer community and utility

Collins Dictionary's word of the year, NFTs stepped out into the bigtime in early 2021 following the success of Dapper Labs' NBA Top Shots. Historic NFTs such as CryptoPunks ballooned in value, while new projects such as Bored Ape Yacht Club took a step into the cultural mainstream with Universal Music announcing a new group, Kingship, made up entirely of NFT characters. NFTs came along as a new potential revenue stream at a time when sports organisations continued to reel from the effects of Covid, with a flurry of everything from virtual ticket stubs and trophies to digitally signed autographs available for fans (or investors) to buy.

Looking into 2022, investors in sports NFTs will see the utility offered by other NFT projects (airdrops of further NFTs, active Discord servers, active participation in projects' directions through DAOs) and expect the same from their sports NFTs. While art-led pieces may last the test of time, and NFTs within platforms such as NBA Top Shots and SoRare will benefit from the continued development of those platforms, one-off releases with little utility or community will lose popularity. NFTs are yet to really achieve mass market adoption among sports fans, and they will need tangible reasons to step into the space. Expect to see sports organisations seeking the support of agencies and companies to help them offer NFT holders access to exclusive content and merchandise, and a say in the direction of future NFT releases. We might be waiting a few more years for a DAO-run sports franchise however…


Sports brands are entering the metaverse

If NFT was the buzzword of the first half of 2021, the latter half surely belongs to 'The Metaverse'. Is it the merging of our real-world and digital selves, or a description of the long established (Fortnite, Roblox) or emerging (Decentraland, The Sandbox) digital spaces where gamers play and socialise? Either way, expect to see a continuation of grand announcements of sports organisations "joining the metaverse" through partnerships with these platforms as sports teams and brands see another opportunity to engage and monetise younger generations. Whether newer blockchain-based platforms can successfully capture users from those more established ones remains to be seen - the development of Nikeland in Roblox seems more likely to engage gamers in the immediate term. 

80% of Gen Z consider themselves gamers and spend over 10 hours a day online, so expect to see continued growth in the sales of Fortnite style virtual clothing and avatars across other games and within social media platforms. Whether fans will want to play in standard team jerseys or expect more elaborate designs that gamers are accustomed to will be interesting to follow - sports brands (or third parties acting on their behalf) will need to think about virtual merchandise in an entirely different manner, free of the limitations of real world materials. 


Ecommerce becomes Vcommerce 

For most sports entities, the club shop exists at the stadium, and online as a grid of static 2D images, perhaps with some video content across internal and social channels. Virtual viewing of goods before purchase through augmented reality is gaining traction - Amazon offers an AR view of furniture that can be viewed in 3D within your home environment. Expect this to become more commonplace in sports ecommerce with shoppers able to “virtually try on” clothing before purchase. This further facilitates a more social form of ecommerce - with shoppers sharing content to social media for input, or live browsing with friends from the comfort of one’s home. Expect sports organisations and their retail partners to be seeking out the support of companies facilitating virtual recreation of goods and social shopping experiences.


Conclusions

All our mentioned topics are intrinsically linked, and point towards the continued push from sports and media organisations to engage with their young global fanbases every day of the week. At Sports Loft we aim to provide the bridge between leading technology companies and the sports & media industry, facilitating the furthering of audience creation, identification, engagement, and monetisation. If you want to learn more about how SportsLoft works with its members or those in the sports and media industry, please don't hesitate to reach out to charlie@sportsloft.co and andy@sportsloft.co.

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