sports trends 2018


2018 sports industry starting lineup

Six trends expected to disrupt and dominate the industry

Sport is big business… and getting bigger—will teams and sponsors convert the issues facing the sports industry in 2018 into opportunities for growth? Like most other industries, the sports industry is being disrupted by technology advancements and cultural changes. In our annual report, Deloitte’s Sports practice examines the sports trends that are redefining the business landscape—and identifies six major trends that should be included in every executive’s 2018 playbook.

Game on: 2018 sports industry trends

While professional and amateur sports continue to provide on-field fireworks in the games and events themselves, even more is happening behind the scenes.

What are the most significant 2018 sports industry trends?
  1. As sports franchises build state of the art stadiums, fan safety will remain top of mind.
  2. Innovative ticket packages will compete with the couch for fan attention.
  3. Advertising spend will shift to digital and social channels to reach millennials.
  4. Blockchain's capabilities offer potential emerging solutions to challenges the industry is striving to improve.
  5. The road to professional sports is changing as federal investigations shed light on the business, and corruption, of college sports.
  6. Social activism in sports is here to stay, and the clock is ticking on brands, leagues, and teams to decide where they stand.

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fingerprint sensor

Protecting the real MVP

As demonstrated by the 2015 bombing at a Paris soccer stadium and other recent incidents at large entertainment-oriented gatherings, sports venues can be vulnerable targets.1 In light of recent acts of violence around the world, one of the event security trends that unfortunately does not look to be slowing, we expect to see increased efforts in venue security to minimize any threats to fan safety.

As sports franchises continue to build state-of-the-art stadiums, physical security protocols are likely to be updated. But we also anticipate stadium operators will increasingly rely on digital solutions to bolster their security capabilities.

To contend with potential threats, stadium operators have begun implementing biometric recognition, electronic fingerprinting, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, and other similar technologies that enable them to inspect fans efficiently upon stadium entry, and evacuate and track fans quickly and safely in the event of an attack.2

Aside from mass attacks, unruly fan behavior in and around stadiums is also a factor driving down attendance.3 Curtailing any violent behavior to create a safe stadium environment is of paramount importance to sports franchises. As such, we expect incident tracking, fiber-optic camera surveillance, video analytics, and other noninvasive technologies as important sports trends that will play an increasing role in stadiums’ security strategy.4

By harnessing technology to ensure a safe fan experience, sports franchises can potentially minimize the risk of violent incidents being perpetrated in their stadiums, and avoid the subsequent revenue loss associated with such events.5

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"Investing in venue security is of utmost importance for all sports organizations, but fans will likely be sensitive to any disruption of their experience. Using tech-enabled solutions will be key."

Rebecca Chasen, US Deloitte Risk and Financial Advisory Travel, Hospitality & Leisure leader, Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP

fans cheering in stadium

Letting the fan calls the plays

Sports teams increasingly are competing with the couch and other entertainment offerings for consumer attention. With more options and busier schedules, fans who have traditionally purchased tickets to live events are expecting more flexibility than ever before if they’re going to attend games. As the temptation to experience games from the comfort and convenience of the home continues to rise, one of the most impactful sports ticket sales trends finds teams beginning to expand the definition of the “season-ticket holder” and evolve their ticket packages and offerings to engage a broader continuum of fans.

In an attempt to cater to a more diverse set of fans, organizations like the New York Jets have rolled out subscription-based mobile passes that allow fans to attend a predetermined number of games for a flat fee. Through these subscriptions, seat location varies depending on ticket availability, which allows for fans to have a unique experience at each game. In other cases, organizations like the New Jersey Devils are offering a “banking” system membership, whereby fans choose to make an advance deposit into an account, which is debited to purchase tickets throughout the season. By offering the ability to choose from any game and any ticket quantity at discounted prices, fans are given the flexibility that more traditional season-ticket packages don’t often provide.

At the same time, the continuing trend of innovating the game-day experience through stadium enhancements and participation opportunities has also spurred more tailored ticket offerings. One way baseball teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals are taking advantage of enhanced stadium experiences is through season-long subscriptions for standing-room-only areas within the stadium. This provides city residents the flexibility to treat the stadium not only as a place to watch their teams, but also a social hub for the venue’s restaurants and bars.

Teams are banking on this ticketing creativity to help bring a whole new generation of fans to the ballpark.

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“Flexibility and customization are increasingly important for season ticket holders and more casual fans alike. New ticket offerings are providing fans the options they need to get off the couch and back into stadiums and arenas.”

Ramya Murali, senior manager, Deloitte Consulting LLP

watching soccer on mobile

Winning the hearts and wallets of millennials

Over the past few years, we’ve seen an increased splintering of the cable TV bundle and the proliferation of streaming services that deliver programming. In the same way that sports viewership has been upended by changes in the media industry, we’re also starting to see a shift in how teams and brands serve ads to fans consuming their content. Soon to be gone are the days of mass marketing home games on billboards and TV commercials. Instead, as individuals increasingly watch sporting events over digital platforms such as SlingTV or DirecTV Now, the data trail left behind will be used to target fans with personalized offers to buy tickets or merchandise.6

By moving ad spend to digital and social channels, teams can more effectively target fans who are already interested in their content. One team leading this trend is the Miami Dolphins, who over the past year has used much of its marketing budget on content development, using social engagement as a mechanism to identify and grow its fan base.7 This method is particularly important for organizations hoping to capture the loyalty of millennials, whose preferred media mediums are smartphones and mobile applications. By reaching fans where they are and with targeted content, teams will likely grow revenue in ways not possible just a decade ago.

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"Meeting fans where they consume content—in the palm of their hand—is crucial, especially given how comfortable consumers have grown making purchases via mobile."

Brian Finkel, Deloitte Sports Research, Deloitte & Touche LLP

digital coin

The digital coin taking over the world

Consider a sports gambling platform that provides full transparency in the establishment of odds and the resolution of bets. Imagine a technology that enables full control of the ticket resale market, and prevents tickets from being fraudulently copied or shared. All of this (and more) is possible through two of the hottest trends rocking the financial markets—cryptocurrency and blockchain.

These digital assets have the potential to disrupt the sports industry through their ability to mitigate risk, create new sources of value, and enable new secure transfers of information. Although still in its relative infancy, blockchain offers potential emerging solutions to many challenges the industry is striving to improve.

  • Ticket traceability and data capture: Tracking tickets sold in the secondary market and gathering accurate information about each fan who actually attends a game is a significant challenge for many sports franchises. These emerging technologies can provide a more transparent view of the real demand/supply for each event, enable peer-to-peer transfer of tickets without a third party, and more accurately track the life cycle of a ticket, particularly when it changes hands.
  • Engagement throughout the fan journey: Teams continue to look for ways to engage and reward fans for behaviors beyond attending the game. By rewarding fans with digital currencies, teams can drive greater social media use, enable participation in community events, reward engagement with content distribution channels, and strengthen corporate partnerships/sponsorship opportunities.
  • Gambling/daily betting: New mediums for predicting the outcomes of seasons, games, and even individual plays continue to arise. Blockchain is a crowd-enabled technology, which can create new markets where fans can make wagers in a more transparent marketplace.

From Mark Cuban investing in an e-sports betting startup enabled by Unikoin Gold to startups using tokens to sponsor and support young athletes, the time to act is now. Sports enterprises can be late adopters of new technologies—for instance, virtual reality is not yet a fast-emerging sports trend. But in this instance, they may be the actors showing the world the full scope of blockchain’s capabilities.

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"Blockchain is a once in a generation kind of technology that has the potential to disrupt the industry—from ticketing innovation to fan engagement, and, if legalized, sports betting."

Eric Piscini, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP

player holding basketball

Rethinking the student-athlete

March Madness, with its dramatic upsets and Cinderella stories, captivates sports fans across the country and thrusts the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) into the national spotlight every year. Fueled by billion-dollar television deals, this annual basketball tournament turns many collegiate players into household names and is a tremendous revenue generator for the NCAA, teams, and sponsors. Current NCAA policies prevent these student-athletes from receiving any financial compensation beyond the cost of attendance at their university. However, the recent FBI investigation—involving wiretaps, arrests, and implications for many elite, Division I programs—has brought national attention to the business of college sports and is likely to continue to be one of the issues facing the sports industry in 2018 and beyond.8

When coupled with the NBA’s one-and-done rule, which prohibits entry into the league until an athlete is a year removed from high school, amateur athletes are increasingly exploring alternative paths to the NBA.9Many high school stars are avoiding college basketball altogether and are venturing to professional leagues in countries like Australia, China, Lithuania, and Spain until they are eligible for the NBA draft.

The final chapter of this story is yet to be written. Will the investigation continue to reveal a pattern of similar activities across sponsors, teams, and sports? One thing is clear—this will still be top of mind when the Big Dance tips off this year.

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"The FBI investigation has brought national attention to the college sports operating model, and the current state of college athletics may be rapidly changing."

Mike Brodsky, Deloitte Risk & Financial Advisory managing director, Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP

social activism

Social activism: The story continues

A year ago, the sports industry witnessed a resurgence of prominent athletes staging demonstrations to raise awareness of various social issues. Fast forward one year, and it’s apparent that social activism in sports is not just a fad. Player activism has now become commonplace, partly due to the politicization of their efforts. Athletes may finally have drawn attention, but their message has been lost. Rather than sparking a conversation about racial inequality or police brutality, these protests have become political, something to cheer or reject depending on your perspective.

Athlete activism may also be impacting the bottom line of the league. TV viewership is down,10 and while it could just be cord cutters, sponsors are anxious about associating their brands with an uncertain product. Soon, leagues and players alike will likely have to make a decision about what is most important: The bottom line or social activism. Some leagues are supporting their players.11 The NFL has committed to financing a social activism boot camp and supporting criminal justice reform legislation.12 Yet not all team owners are onboard with lending league-wide support, conflicted either by personal beliefs or potential business ramifications. And that is the problem: The issue of social activism in sports is hindered by a hyper-politicized environment where picking sides becomes greater than picking a cause.

Profit and societal change aren’t mutually exclusive, but as evidenced over the past year, marrying the two is likely easier said than done. While the activist issues of today might not mirror the issues of tomorrow, we expect both leagues and player unions to make the governance of, and response to, social causes a key topic in the next round of collective bargaining negotiations.

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"Social activism in sports is here to stay, and the clock is ticking on brands, leagues, and teams to decide where they stand. The stakes are higher than ever before, particularly for the bottom line."

Tamika Tremaglio, Deloitte Risk & Financial Advisory principal, Deloitte & Touche LLP

Let’s talk sports industry trends

We believe these topics are going to impact the business of sports, both on and off the field, over the next 12 months. But invariably new stories, trends, and themes will emerge that further disrupt the industry, derail the game plan for executives, and delight us as sports fans. Please tweet #DeloitteSports to share the sports trends or opportunities that are on your mind in 2018.


1 Calvin Hennick, “Stadiums need physical and digital security to keep players and fans safe,” BizTech, July 20, 2016,, accessed December 2017.

2 Alan Levin and Jonathan Levin, “Sports stadiums and arenas increase high-tech security tools,” Chicago Tribune, January 1, 2017,, accessed December 2017; Stephen Mayhew, “IDEMIA to equip Levi’s Stadium with biometrics-based technology, deploy trusted fan program,” Biometric Update, October 23, 2017,, accessed December 2017.

3 Dennis Van Milligen, “How to prevent fan violence at sporting events,” Athletic Business, February 2015,, accessed December 2017.

4 Eifeh Strom, “Analytics keep stadium crowds under control,” asmag, July 8, 2016,, accessed December 2017.

5 Kent Babb and Steven Rich, “A quietly escalating issue for NFL: Fan violence and how to contain it,” The Washington Post, October 28, 2016,, accessed December 2017.

6 John Ourand, “Nielsen to change definition of “live” TV to better account for streaming services,” Sports Business Journal, December 19, 2017,, accessed December 2017.

7 John Ourand, “Dolphins plow marketing budget into content and get results,” Sports Business Journal, March 27, 2017,, accessed December 2017.

8 Andrea Adelson, “The uncomfortable return of college basketball,” ESPN, November 10, 2017,, accessed December 2017.

9 Shannon Ryan, “As college basketball tips off, FBI probe promises to linger over season,” Chicago Tribune, November 5, 2017,, accessed December 2017.

10 Scooby Axson, “NFL TV ratings down 7.5 percent,” Sports Illustrated, October 18, 2017,, accessed December 2017; Wayne Friedman, “NFL TV ratings down 5 percent to date for the season,” Media Post, November 27, 2017,, accessed December 2017.

11 Darren Rovell, “NFL ratings continue fall, latest Nielsen numbers show,” ESPN, October 18, 2017,, accessed December 2017.

12 Cody Benjamin, “NFL to formally endorse criminal justice legislation, finance activism boot camp,” CBS Sports, October 16, 2017,, accessed December 2017.

soccer pitch
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