4 Trailblazing Innovations in Sport

12 October 2023

What’s the saying from the iconic childhood story We’re going on a Bear Hunt? You can’t go over or under it, you’ve got to go through it.  

Same can be said for those in the sports industry, something pops up and they have no choice but to push through and find a solution.  

These pivots are a natural element of any business sector, but the one thing unique to sports is the almost limitless creativity the industry holds.  

Simply, sports have the people, funds, and competitive mindset, all working together to push the boundaries day in, day out. 

This gives teams and leagues the power to venture into new spaces and implement creative ideas.  

Some of the best and most original ideas we’ve seen come from those who quickly pivot to overcome any problem, so we decided to investigate some of the best.  

Fan Ownership in SailGP 

SailGP wanted to stand out from the pack, and since their first race in 2019 they have forged a path through the mainstream sports landscape. The league now sees the largest sailing audience in the US since the 1992 America’s Cup.  

With an eye for innovation and bold ideas, it’s no surprise to hear a fan owned team could be on the horizon. Until now sports team ownership has been an elite group for the incredibly wealthy. 

The regular fan had no way in, even though they hold plenty of influence (the announcement and 48-hour dismantlement of the European Super League due to intense fan backlash is a prime example), so why not tap into it? 

It’s a proposition SailGP believed in, with a fan owned SailGP team potentially joining the league next year.  

The owners will have a say on everything from athlete selection and commercial decisions, through to livery colors and a choice of purpose partner, making fans the decision-makers through decentralized governance.  

If this goes through, we’ll quickly start looking at other codes to see if they’ll adopt the same structure.  

MLS switch to streaming  

The TV landscape is particularly dicey in the US and it faces a rocky road of disruption ahead. You’ve got national broadcasters including NBC, ESPN and ABC who show a certain number of games nationally, with the rest left to Regional Sports Networks (RSNs) who broadcast to local audiences.  

Now with the introduction of streaming, RSNs are taking a hit, but still represent a significant element of broadcasting in the US. So, when MLS were looking at their next media rights contract, instead of brokering a deal between all the networks, they went for the emerging concept of exclusivity without any local blackouts.  

There are still some MLS games on cable TV, but this revolutionary deal with AppleTV enables the league to broadcast globally – a big drawcard with Messi’s arrival in the league this year – and keep production in-house, meaning they avoid the unpredictable RSN landscape in the process.  

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Phillies bring in facial recognition 

It’s pretty simple, no one likes waiting in a long line to make their way into the stadium, let alone making it to the front only for the person in front of you to have scanning issues, or your phone brightness set too low.  

It’s a clunky experience, and the Phillies felt the same way too. So, what do you do to remove mobile ticketing? Facial recognition of course.  

The MLB team pioneered the new MLB Go-Ahead Entry technology at Citizens Bank Park, with fans simply registering in the MLB app, and all tickets linked to their account enrolled in the system. On match day, all fans had to do was turn up and facial recognition technology letting them through the gate, no awkward stops or toggling with phone brightness necessary.  

Funday Football live from Andy’s room 

Now this one blew up all over social, with many dads collectively saying how thrilled they were that their children finally showed an interest in an NFL game, all thanks to Toy Story.  

There’s plenty of research to show that once you’ve captured a fan when they’re young, they’ll stick around (we wrote all about it here), and it’s notoriously difficult to do. So, what does the NFL do? Bring in Woody, Buzz and all their friends.  

Normally, fans at home could watch the broadcast live on ESPN+, but for the Falcons-Jaguars game, viewers had a choice: watch the regular game, or the Toy Story broadcast, fully animated in real-time, live from Andy’s room. 

The first edition of “Funday Football” was a success (albeit with some laggy moments), and the NFL is set to continue broadcasting games from the comfort of Andy’s Room, bringing a slew of young fans – and very happy dads – along for the ride.  

Innovations like these show the variety of ways fans connect with their team or league, no two fans are alike. That is why organizations need to build deep, meaningful relationships with their fans, and data led decisions are key to unlocking that level of engagement.

We can provide the platform to enable you to make those decisions, get in touch if you’d like to learn more.

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