The growing media interest in technology in sport

Things change quickly in sport. On the 26th of December, Chelsea visited the Emirates Stadium, with many speculating that an away win could spell the end for Mikel Arteta at Arsenal, and catapult Chelsea into the conversation as serious titles contenders.

Little more than a month on, Frank Lampard had departed Chelsea, Arsenal were slowly climbing the table, and Emile Smith-Rowe, seemingly a desperate inclusion and last throw of the dice by Mikel Arteta, was threatening to develop into a genuine Premier League star. Amid difficulty comes opportunity, and Chelsea’s demise was Arsenal’s salvation.

The rhetoric around the impact of the pandemic on sport has often focused, quite rightly, on the financial risks for governing bodies, clubs, and businesses in the sector. But one upshot of the events of the last ten months for businesses leveraging technology in sport has been the vastly increased sophistication with which journalists are covering stories off the pitch.

This has been borne in part out of necessity. The pausing of all sport during the initial 2020 lockdown left media outlets with a paucity of stories, all while knowing that readers needed a break from the monotony of the pandemic. For companies who do their best work off the pitch, this created a unique opportunity to capitalise and get their stories into national and international outlets, where the bar may previously have been far higher.

In football, this has been epitomized by the increasing use of data in stories. The most recent January transfer window shows just how significant the financial impact of the pandemic has been on even elite clubs. For those using data to enhance football club’s scouting departments, this created the perfect setting, with hitherto unknown companies from around Europe given the opportunity to discuss the thesis behind their analysis platforms, and how clubs can use data to find better value in the market.

For companies working in sports financing, a topic covered in the very broadest of brush strokes just a few years ago, the landscape has completely shifted. While the money in sport has often been discussed and lamented, the intricacy in which it is now being covered in the media is developing quickly. Whereas those working in PR often had just a few niche names to pitch sports business stories too, or to seek to profile those working in private equity or investment, a plethora of potential targets now exists, with national media outlets dedicating increasing resources to covering the financial side of sport. For more innovative businesses who seek to add value to clubs in other ways, the context of no matchday revenue provides an ideal backdrop to sell their wares and solutions to journalists hungry for content.

The trend is only set to continue. Pandora’s box has been opened, and we’re seeing other sports catch up with the likes of cricket, which has often been ahead of the curve in the level of analysis it demonstrates, driven by companies like Cricviz.

Companies using data and technology in sport to enhance performance, provide greater insight, or to deepen our understanding of niche aspects of sport will only become more relevant. The media has only scratched the surface of what is possible in terms of technology in sport, and with the average fan now able to access data and analysis technology, through companies including PHA client Metrica Sports, the bar for quality of reporting will continue to rise.

Sports fans and stakeholders alike are also eager to understand what the sporting landscape might look like in a post-COVID world, presenting industry analytics and advisory firms with a unique opportunity during these challenging times to provide much-needed insight and consultation via earned and owned media channels.

We can expect to see new trends emerge in the coming years. Injury prevention is a topic that is building greater momentum, particularly with the debates around concussion in rugby, football and cricket. Businesses such as Sports & Wellbeing Analytics (SWA), who are ahead of the curve in providing objective data to better inform medical or welfare issues to sport’s major players look set for a boom in media coverage in the near future.

COVID has presented incredible challenges to the sporting world. It has changed the conversation, but for the businesses who were trying to change sport anyway, there is opportunity amid the chaos.

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