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Perspectives

2019 sports industry game-changers

Sports trends expected to disrupt and dominate

Like most other industries, sports are being disrupted by technology advancements and cultural changes. How can sports executives capitalize on these industry changes in 2019? Our annual report explores eight trends that could redefine the sports industry in the year ahead.

Our starting lineup for 2019

2018 was an exciting year for sports. France beat out Croatia in a goal-filled match to win the World Cup. Simone Biles took home six medals at the world championship. The Red Sox won their fourth World Series title in 15 years. And the Capitals took home the Stanley Cup for the first time in team history.

Off the field, we’ve seen athletes grow as spokespeople for causes, front offices overhauled to bring in even more analytical rigor, and streaming media options grow in prominence. What trends will we be scouting this year? Our 2019 sports industry outlook covers eight trends to watch:

Download the full report to learn more.

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Athletes as content creators

Gone are the days of sports fans needing reporters to get news about their favorite players. Over the past few years, athletes are increasingly becoming content creators in their own right—be it through Instagram, Twitter, or long-form stories on websites like The Players’ Tribune.

While the athlete’s role as an individual content creator serves as a small complement to traditional media, this trend—buoyed by stars who were raised in the digital age—could become even more impactful and important in the coming years. This platform will enable further expansion and value of personal brands while also opening the door for the next generation of athletes to build their brands before they become household names.

"The fewer barriers there are between athletes and fans, the more commercial opportunities that will materialize. The value in having fans relate to their favorite players is immeasurable."

Brian Finkel, Deloitte Sports Research, Deloitte & Touche LLP

virtual reality headset

Augmented and virtual reality

As technology advances, the challenge of keeping fans constantly engaged has become more and more difficult. Any lull in the game leads to fans diverting their attention to their phones and consuming content from other venues.

However, the growing integration of augmented and virtual reality is transforming the customer experience by giving fans the opportunity to get “closer” to athletes while having a single platform to access a wealth of data. While there are still some kinks that need to be worked out, this is a time where prioritization of customer experience is at an all-time high.

“VR brings the best of the stadium into the home, while AR brings the best of home into the stadium.”

Allan Cook, digital reality leader, managing director, Deloitte Consulting LLP

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The offensive revolution

Few ideas are as widely accepted among sports fans and players as the old adage that offense sells tickets, but defense wins games. As we watch shootout after shootout across professional sports, during the regular season and the playoffs, analysts are beginning to wonder whether times have officially changed.

While viewership numbers are up, purists question whether such a focus on offense has impacted the integrity of the games they love. This presents teams with a tough decision to make: Do they keep investing in offense and hope that’s enough? Or do they consider strategic defensive investments that will enable them to play a different game to compete in both the arena and in the market?

"While increasing offense intends to sell more tickets, leagues will have to balance offense with maintaining the value of defensive skill and the historical backdrop of their sport."

Lee Teller, specialist leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP

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Sports betting trends

What happens in Vegas no longer needs to stay in Vegas. With states now free to choose whether to legalize sports betting or not, many key stakeholders see opportunities to monetize, while others raise concerns about the impact legalized gambling could have on the integrity of the game, and federal and state governments consider their roles and legislative next steps.

Not only will betting impact the relationship between leagues, gambling institutions, data providers, and the government, it’s already changing the way fans can interact with games. The NBA recently announced an offering that allows fans to stream the fourth quarter of a game for $1.99. While convenient for the busy fan who is only able to watch part of a game, this is particularly notable for gamblers staking bets on real-time game lines who want to watch critical moments in the games they bet on.

"September 2018 marked the first month of online sports betting dominance in New Jersey. With results from recent months, this trend has and will continue to be the dominant theme for the foreseeable future."

Jamie Poster, manager, Deloitte & Touche LLP

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Tackling mental health

The past few years have seen an increasing number of high-profile athletes, storied franchises, and top programs publicly address a topic that affects both MVPs and weekend warriors: mental health. Many stars have offered a glimpse behind the curtain of endorsements and champion podiums into lives affected by symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.

With one in four people worldwide affected by mental or neurological disorders during their lives, the notion that handsomely paid and highly visible athletes are willing to shed light on a topic historically burdened with a negative stigma is both a positive movement and refreshingly relatable. With each athlete that comes forward, it becomes increasingly apparent that the sports world’s investment in mental wellness is only just the beginning.

"Mental health is more than a hot-button societal issue, it has the opportunity to become a key long-term competitive advantage for the teams and countries that effectively engage, support, and work with their athletes."

Ramya Murali, senior manager, Deloitte Consulting LLP

soccer players and goalie

European soccer reaches America

Every two years, soccer’s popularity in America spikes as fervor surrounding the World Cup spreads throughout the nation. However, recent polling points not just to cyclical interest but long-term, sustained growth. Soccer is now the second-most-played youth sport in America and more Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 name soccer as their favorite sport over baseball.

European nations have taken note of this rise and are seeking to capitalize. The English Premier League inked a deal with NBC Sports in 2015 reportedly worth a billion dollars to stream its games to American households. And investments extend to human capital as well: European clubs are increasingly looking to young Americans to fill their rosters.

"The US market provides a massive marketing, financing, and talent opportunity for European soccer—from traditional powerhouses to lower division teams looking to regain relevancy."

Sam Ebb, senior consultant, Deloitte Consulting LLP

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eSports

With the vast audiences drawn to eSports and the increasing direct ties to professional leagues, we’ve seen players, executives, and owners jumping into the arena as team owners and avid gamers, as well as a way to continue to connect with teammates and fans off the court. As leagues look to continue building and expanding their fan bases, their eSports presence will be a major part of those interactions.

Over the coming year, we expect teams and leagues will continue to embrace eSports as a part of the existing major sports leagues, including efforts to integrate eSports opportunities into the existing sports experience, from eSports lounges in Topgolf facilities to an eSports arena in the Real Madrid’s new stadium.

"The eSports landscape continues to stabilize around the maturation of teams and leagues and increasing sponsor engagement."

Kat Harwood, senior manager, Deloitte Consulting LLP

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Personalizing fan engagement

While organizations have always collected data from season ticket holders, fan loyalty programs, and other fan engagement sources, many teams house this data in disparate databases and siloed customer-relationship management systems. These organizations, though, are starting to think about the fan holistically, requiring a centralization of these touchpoints into a single source of truth that can drive deeper, more personalized fan engagement—inside and outside of the stadium.

As sports teams and leagues build on and incorporate the successes of the e-commerce revolution, they’ll be able to connect all dots of a single fan’s journey, helping to sell additional tickets while also driving personalized connections and experiences that can increase the lifetime value of fans. Over the next year, we believe organizations will adapt their marketing functions to leverage fan data and become even more nimble and automated.

“A key question for teams remains who is in each seat, but more importantly, focus is shifting to who engages with the brand inside and outside the venue?”

Chad Deweese, manager, Deloitte Consulting 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 2019.

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