Pinsent Masons’ Annual Sport Forum: Some talking points for digital disruption

As Christmas approaches and 2018 enters its final few weeks, the natural impulse is to reflect on what we’ve learned this year and where we’re going in the future.

The first Monday in December seems like the perfect time for such reflections and global law firm Pinsent Masons hosted an annual forum on sport at their offices in central London – a venue which has also hosted some of our own DSLondon events in 2018.

This time we were treated to three on-stage talks – two panel discussions and a one-on-one interview – tackling diverse problems within sport. From starting up new businesses in the sports ecosystem to the current state of the sponsorship and investment models via a detour into the world of innovation with the 2019 Cycling Road World Championships to be held in Yorkshire.

Here are some of the best bits:

Is “small” more innovative than “big”?

Yes, it’s a well-known trope: startups do the innovating while the big players try to keep things exactly as they are.

But in few other industries is there quite so little innovation by those right at the top. The question isn’t just why are bigger organisations so slow to adopt change, but we should also ask what’s the incentive for them to innovate?

If big companies are the ones gaining from the status quo then why would they vote for change? If broadcasters are happy with the current linear TV model of distribution then why would they lead the charge towards OTT?

But that’s not the only reason that big companies often fail to innovate in sport: there’s also the culture. If there’s a culture of innovating, then innovation will take place.

Don’t be afraid to fail!

Startups, however, have a different priority list. Innovation means taking risks, and although some of the biggest mistakes made by fledgling sports products are naivety and a lack of experience, there’s another side of the coin: being afraid to fail.

Failure happens but we all learn from our mistakes. Some of the most valuable lessons happen from failed ventures.

Are we really progressing?

David Cipullo, Head of MMCC for InFront Sports noted a 2011 trends report he’d been looking over in recent weeks (you simply have to applaud such attention to detail)! The report included “the same things we’re talking about today” – grassroots participation, women’s sport and digital transformation.

Here we are nearly eight years later. So have we actually made much progress? Why are the ‘next big things’ of 2011 still the ‘next big things’ of today?

Old in a new way

That’s not to say there’s nothing of any note happening.

Take Jeremy Wray, the former Chairman of Swindon Town football club who is now CEO of Championship Racing – an attempt at adding a new dimension to the sport of horse racing.

So often we hear that in order to appeal to fans in the modern world, sports need to ensure that storytelling is at the forefront of their content. Horse racing’s main protagonists either aren’t human or else they’re stuck behind helmets and changing their clothes every half an hour. This is one way of changing all that.

Innovation to some means trying to overhaul the entire status quo, but to others it’s to do old in a new way.

The impact of ‘digital’

And there are plenty who agree.

Many sports are using digital media to promote their product. That is, to do what they’ve always done, but over the internet this time.

World Surf League have found success with Facebook Live, so too did the Crossfit World Championships. The FA Women’s Super League have two live games per week on what we’re tentatively calling ‘free-to-air’ digital platforms like the BBC Sport website, Facebook and Twitter.

OTT and live-streaming allows smaller or mid-tier sports to boost their audiences without having to rely on TV channels finding slots in their schedules for midnight highlights packages. It’s a real game-changer.

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 733 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and editor of Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan_

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